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Fear of losing benefits holds some back from rejoining the workforce

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Tuesday, January 29, 2019  |  Article  |  By Scot Bertram

Disabled (47) , Employment, Jobs (40) , Public Aid (75)
Efforts continue to bring more Illinois residents back into the workforce.

While the state’s jobless rate currently sits at 4.1 percent, disability employment lags behind that number. Mary Dale Walters is senior vice president with the Illinois-based Allsup Employment Services, an employment network funded by the Social Security Administration to help people find jobs.

“There’s a lot of need out there for people who have some type of disability to find a job and stay at work,” Walters said. “If I’ve been on the benefits for a couple of years, I’m probably still struggling financially. I’m nervous, though, about trying to go back to work and not being able to stay at work and jeopardizing that money that I’m getting.”

Walters and Allsup participate in a free program funded by the Social Security Administration called “Ticket To Work.”

“With the ‘Ticket To Work’ program, your monthly benefit is protected for a while to see if you can go back to work,” Walters said. “And if you can’t, you haven’t lost anything. If you can, you have extra benefits to help sustain that transition.”

That can ease the transition for many, but Walters also says motivation is a key factor.

“They’ve got to want to do it,” Walters said. “And they need to feel like people are there to help them. They have to feel like there’s no mysterious ax waiting to fall if they cross a line they don’t know exists.”

There are more than 460,000 eligible disability beneficiaries in Illinois.

About 3 percent of them currently are using the “Ticket To Work” program. And despite the unemployment rate dropping across the state, the number of eligible beneficiaries hasn’t changed much.

“It’s been pretty stable,” Walters said. “If you go back to 2014, you’re looking at 471,000 people, so you’ve only seen a 10,000 person drop. One of the big challenges is to even let people out there know that they have a support program out there to help them accomplish their goal.”

Amid a tightening labor force, many companies are now competing for employees, Walters said.

“If you look how our work environment is changing, there are lots of opportunities in every state, especially Illinois which has its own high-tech nature to it,” Walters said. “I think there’s a great opportunity for people in Illinois to find work.”

Information about “Ticket To Work” is available online at choosework.ssa.gov.