- Virtual summit shines light on federal Ticket to Work program connecting individuals receiving disability benefits to jobs; vitality of program important in wake of long-COVID impacts on U.S. workforce
Social Security Administration (SSA)-approved Employment Networks (ENs) and employers gathered recently for an important virtual summit, Bridge to Employment. The summit focused on Social Security’s Ticket to Work program and the need to recruit job-ready individuals with disabilities to increase the number of individuals with disabilities in the workplace. The timing is vital with jobs data showing an economy in motion and opportunities for remote work that can more readily accommodate workers with disabilities.
Members of the Secure Work Coalition (SWC), a group focused on protecting and improving Social Security work incentive and benefits counseling programs, participated as panelists. The Coalition is comprised of ENs from across the country and national disability advocacy groups that support and provide services for those seeking employment opportunities.
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Panelist LeighAnn Jarry, Assistant Vice President, Allsup Employment Services, said, “This two-day event offered a platform for Employment Networks and employers to discuss how we can successfully bring more people with disabilities into the workforce. Social Security’s Ticket to Work program is a clear path for doing so, and we are eager to explore ways to improve job opportunities so more people with disabilities receiving disability insurance can consider returning to work.”
Since 2019, the SWC has been actively working with members of Congress and the Administration to maximize the potential of the Ticket to Work program, not only for employers who benefit from having the experience and talents of individuals with disabilities, but also for the beneficiaries and participants themselves. According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy as of Oct. 21, 2021, the unemployment rate for people ages 16-64 with disabilities was 9.9% as opposed to 4.1% for people without disabilities. The pandemic’s impact on the U.S. workforce continues, including anticipation for more disability applicants among workers experiencing the health effects of long-COVID.
Kevin Nickerson, co-director of the American Dream Employment Network (A Division of National Disability Institute), also a Coalition member, said, “The more we can reduce barriers to employment and ensure equal access for those with disabilities in the workplace, the more we can increase those numbers. However, we need to spread the word to employers that TTW participants are former workers with skills and a desire to work again. Together we can help reduce unnecessary roadblocks that prevent people with disabilities from returning to work.”
The SWC believes that when more individuals with disabilities return to work, the benefits are significant for both workers and employers nationwide. “From the personal and professional fulfillment of returning to work to increased productivity and a more inclusive company culture, the upside is measurable,” Jarry said.