The Social Security Administration’s Ticket-To-Work (TTW) program was kicked-off in Minnesota on November 5, 2003 in a ceremony held at the Landmark center in downtown St. Paul. The occasion was hosted by Joanie Werner, who is the Minnesota Area Work Incentive Coordinator for Social Security. There were individuals from all corners of the disability community and many others who were honored for their participation in bringing the TTW program to our state. There were other Social Security Administration (SSA) employees, as well, including Minnesota’s Regional Commissioner, James F. Martin, who awarded the first Ticket-to-Work in our State to Michael Brickley, who will be graduating from University of Minnesota soon with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Brickley plans on using his ticket for job placement. First, he will need the ticket to find someone to help him update and enhance his resume’ for the tight job market.
Martin serves as the regional executive for over 9,700 federal and state employees in our six- state region. He is responsible for 234 field facilities, administering SSA programs for over 8.8 million people, and paying monthly benefits in excess of $5.5 billion. In earlier days, he had managed the Supplemental Social Security Income and Disability Quality Operations in the Boston Regional Office, which gave him his disability experience.
I was lucky enough to have a few minutes to talk with Mr. Martin and he was happy to answer my questions. The answers were vague because of the newness of this particular program. But, our concerns are with the formula for the appropriate changes and improvements. I asked if there were any plans to running a demonstration project that would match earnings over the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) 2 for 1, which would mean rather than losing your Social Security Disability check completely at $800 of earnings you would loss only one dollar for every two you earn over SGA. He said no, but encouraged me to take my concerns to the Work Incentives Advisory Panel. Also, I asked if there were any plans on re-evaluate the amount of Substantial Gainful Activity. He said that the SSA is always evaluating the numbers, but those numbers are not often changed.
The most positive thing that Mr. Martin and several others brought up was that Rep. Torrey Westrom is on the Ticket-To-Work and the above-mentioned Advisory Panel. They are already making positive changes within the program. Check out their web site at, http://www.ssa.gov/work/panel/panel_documents/briefingpapers.html.
So in our own backyard we have a person on the inside to whom we can suggest changes and improvements. Also, as you may recall, Rep. Westrom, himself, has a disability and understands the need for people with disabilities to have positive incentives. People with disabilities are unwilling to risk losing their healthcare coverage.
This is a good program and should be one which everyone with a long-term disability needs to look at for their own financial and health benefits, and possibly the benefits of their own community.