‘No Consistent Evidence’ $3 Billion Disability Program Helps Recipients Find a Job

'Very few participants return to work'

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The Social Security Administration has spent $3 billion on programs designed to incentivize disability recipients to go back to work over the past 16 years. So far, less than 3 percent of beneficiaries have signed up, with "no consistent evidence" the program has helped participants find a job.

The inspector general for the agency released an audit last week calling for Congress to evaluate the "viability" of the programs, including Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency (TTW) and Achieve Self-Support (PASS).

"SSA has spent about $3 billion administering two ongoing congressionally mandated return-to-work programs and a time-limited demonstration project designed to determine whether a policy change would help beneficiaries return to work," the inspector general said. "However, these programs and demonstration project enticed a small percentage of disabled individuals to return to work."

The Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency program provides tickets to disabled beneficiaries that they can use at partnering organizations for a job or vocational rehabilitation.

The audit found the program can save taxpayers money, though few have signed up, and the program lacks evidence that recipients are actually finding employment.

Since it began in 2000, the TTW program has cost $2.8 billion and enrolled 1.2 million disabled welfare recipients, a participation rate of only 2.6 percent. Those beneficiaries have saved the government approximately $5.9 billion. For each beneficiary served, the government spent $2,300 through the program, as opposed to the average $5,000 benefits forgone.

An independent analysis of the program found it had a "limited, but positive, effect on the employment of disabled individuals and motivated some beneficiaries to pursue employment."

The analysis, however, "failed to identify strong evidence of the TTW program's impact on employment outcome and found no consistent evidence that TTW affected employment and benefit receipt."

Achieve Self-Support is a separate program that allows enrollees to set aside income to pay for items or services, like tuition or business equipment while working toward an employment goal.

The Social Security Administration has operated the program for nearly four decades, but could not provide any information on enrollment, costs, or success rate to the inspector general.

"We also found internal control weaknesses left the PASS program vulnerable to misuse," the inspector general said.

In previous reviews, the inspector general found PASS program "costs outweighed the savings."

"Despite the significant dollars spent to operate the return-to-work programs and project we reviewed, only a small percent of participants have returned to work," the inspector general said. "SSA should evaluate the viability of the existing programs and ongoing demonstration projects and advise Congress sooner of the results and costs."

The inspector general said Congress should reevaluate the effectiveness of the billion-dollar programs.

"With this information, Congress can make timely decisions to determine whether the existing programs and early results of the demonstration projects warrant continued expenditures, and make necessary legislative changes accordingly," the inspector general concluded. "Otherwise, SSA could continue spending trust fund dollars to conduct these return-to-work programs and projects while very few participants return to work and/or reduce their reliance on disability benefits."