Dec. 1, 2003 Beatrice Disman, third regional commissioner of the Social Security Administration's New York Region, announced Monday that up to 1,600 Virgin Islanders currently receiving disability payments from the SSA will soon have the option to return to work under a new federal program.
Congress enacted the "Ticket to Work" program in 1999 to give more options to Americans receiving disability payments from the federal government as well as to help reduce the billions of dollars spent on disability payments to SSA recipients.
"I look at what we are going to do as a journey," Disman said. "They (SSA disability payment recipients) tell us they want to return to work."
The program aims to help do just that, and the Virgin Islands is one of 22 locations the program is being tested in before the effort is expanded to include all states and territories.
Currently, 3.4 million people who are classified as disabled by the SSA will receive an invitation to return to work. Those who qualify for disability under SSA guidelines now have the option to receive assistance, training and job placement necessary to return to the working world.
The program allows people currently on disability to receive services from MAXIMUS, a private company acting as an "employment network" designed to meet with individuals qualifying for disability payments and to develop an employment plan to determine what skills and employers are a good match.
MAXIMUS will then set the individual up with the necessary training and job placement to return to the workplace. The SSA will pay the private company based on its success rate in returning people on disability to work.
Anyone returning to the marketplace under the Ticket to Work program can continue to receive Medicare or Medicaid while he or she works, and are no longer required to submit to medical reviews of their disability as normally required to receive benefits.
Those currently on disability who do not wish to take part in the Ticket to Work Program are not under any obligation to do so and will not lose any benefits, Disman said.
Those who try to reenter the workplace under the program but are unsuccessful or decide to return to the former arrangement can do so through an "easy back" process provided by the SSA, Disman said.
Both Working World and the VI Vocational Rehabilitation Network have signed on to help provide job training for persons in the Virgin Islands who wish to take part in the program.
Disman said the before the Ticket to Work program, only 0.2 percent of those receiving disability payments from the SSA returned to work, and there were few options for those who wanted to. That will now change, she said.
"There are a lot that people (on disability) can do," Disman said. "I think that no one should be denied that sense of satisfaction if they want to work."
Whether individuals taking part in the program want to learn new computer skills to obtain a new job or simply return to work, the program will offer a new option to those receiving disability payments, Disman said.
Although no employers in the Virgin Islands have yet signed on to meet with or possibly hire anyone taking part in the program, that will soon change once word of the program spreads, Disman said. Once MAXIMUS begins meeting with persons in the program, they will be "knocking on employers' doors," she said.
Wrinkles in the program would also be ironed out once SSA administrators get a feel for who opts to take part in the program and what groups of employers are willing to hire participants, Disman said.
"Two to three years from now, we will have more history to know what works," she said.
Anyone receiving disability in the Virgin Islands can obtain a Ticket to Work and more information on the program immediately by calling 1-866-YOURTICKET. TDD/TTY users should call 1-866-833-2967. More on the program can be obtained from www.socialsecurity.gov/work.
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