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Opening Statement of Ranking Member Sam Johnson

May 19, 2009
(Remarks as Prepared)

The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act was signed into law on December 17, 1999, having received nearly unanimous support of the House by a vote of 418 to 2 and the Senate by a vote of 95 to 1.  The legislation was about work and it was intended to help individuals with disabilities get back to work in order to support themselves and their families.

At that time, fewer than one-half of one percent of those receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income or SSI disability benefits were leaving the disability rolls due to work. The Ticket was designed to help those receiving disability benefits take advantage of advances in medicine, technology, and the field of rehabilitation by removing barriers that had prevented them from becoming self-sufficient. 

Topping the barrier list was fear of losing health care benefits, followed by limited choice in selecting rehabilitation services and the providers of those services.  To address these concerns, Medicare coverage was extended for a total of 10 years for Social Security disability beneficiaries who work and Medicaid benefits were extended to certain SSI recipients who work.

Also, Social Security would begin offering new tickets to those receiving disability benefits to obtain needed services from providers of their choice to help them enter the workforce.  Social Security would pay for those services, rewarding results by paying service providers part of benefit savings once benefits were no longer received. 

We now fast forward to today, nine and one-half years later. 

Thanks to the hard work of many, Social Security has assembled, piece by piece, a new Ticket to Work program to issue tickets and pay for services available to over 10 million people receiving benefits.  They’ve worked to educate those receiving benefits and the public about the program, recruited new service providers known as employment networks, and developed and implemented new program rules.

By September 2004, when the program was fully phased-in, over 11 million tickets had been issued and all State vocational rehabilitation agencies and 1,300 employment networks were enrolled in the program. 

Unfortunately, these achievements were followed by serious setbacks.  Congress anticipated these new programs would need to be adjusted and provided the Commissioner the authority to make fixes along the way.  But Social Security’s ability to find problems and implement solutions has been slow at best.  For example, new program regulations initially proposed in 2005 were met with broad praise but took more than three years before finally being put into place last July.  Even molasses would be embarrassed if it moved that slow.

This delay took the wind out of the sails of the ticket program.  Employment Networks withdrew, recruitment of new networks stalled and concerns that the program wasn’t working spread. 

In addition, real choice of services and who provides these services has barely materialized.  As of December 2005, less than one-half of the 1,300 Employment Networks had accepted a ticket to provide services and 88 percent of tickets used were assigned to State vocational rehabilitation agencies under the traditional system in place before the ticket program was created. 

Most importantly, in a report issued last summer, Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General found that in fiscal year 2005 Social Security made a payment for services resulting in work for 3,800 of the 10 million who had received a ticket, or less than one-tenth of one percent of all ticket holders. 

The report concluded that “implementation of the Ticket Program did not appear to increase the percentage of disabled beneficiaries who returned to work, nor realize the outcomes and savings envisioned by the Congress.” 

Put simply, we were spending money and not getting results. 

Last week we learned Social Security’s looming insolvency is worse and in just eleven years there won’t be enough payroll taxes to pay full disability benefits.  At the same time the American people face unacceptable delays when they visit or contact a local Social Security office, call the 800 number or wait over 16 months for a decision on their disability appeal before an administrative law judge.
Now, more than ever, how every taxpayer dollar is spent matters.  Programs that don’t achieve results must be fixed or must end. 
Fortunately, we are beginning to see promising signs of success in the ticket program since its new regulations were implemented last summer and our witnesses on our first panel will remind us of the positive impact the Ticket Program can have on people lives when it works.   

The question we must answer today is how we get the Ticket Program to achieve the results Congress and the taxpayers expect and those with disabilities deserve.