What Working Women Should Know About Disability Benefits
Women have taken major strides in a workforce once dominated by men. As women continue to climb the obstacles to equal pay and C-suite leadership roles, another potential barrier they cannot afford to overlook is the possibility that they will experience a life-altering disability. A disability will turn someone’s life upside-down, and the working women who experience one will probably face even more workplace hurdles than they already do.
One hurdle stems from the fact that many companies still hesitate to hire individuals with disabilities even though the U.S. Department of Labor finds that employers who do have higher rates of retention, productivity and workplace safety. A new report by Accenture sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN reveals even more advantages—employers who hired people with disabilities between 2015 and 2018 doubled their net income and had 28 percent higher revenue.
Overlooked Due To Disabilities
All of these financial incentives for employers exist, and still only a quarter of the employers who responded to Kessler Foundation’s National Employment and Disability Survey said they had goals to hire people with disabilities. This low number should raise red flags for working women everywhere. Qualified, capable females are being overlooked due to their disabilities, and their valuable contributions to employers and society are being ignored as a result.
Women can’t stop fighting to be equal participants at work, and if they experience a disability, they will have to fight even harder. One in four of today’s 20-year-olds will experience a disability before they turn 67, and for women specifically, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that they are more likely to suffer from potentially debilitating musculoskeletal problems and mental impairments than men. Should this happen and they be at least temporarily unable to work, women can find financial and healthcare support through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a federal benefit through which approved applicants can receive income during their recovery. To qualify, applicants must have paid FICA payroll taxes for five out of the last 10 years, have a physical or mental disability that will prevent them from working for 12 months or more, and have strong medical evidence.
Having this safety net is critical considering that four in 10 U.S. adults report they can’t afford a $400 medical expense, finds the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017. However, the majority of people receiving SSDI aren’t content with a future of living on benefits for the rest of their lives. We have found that more than half of initial SSDI applicants want to return to work if their condition improves.
This shouldn’t surprise us. We seek fulfillment through our work and, of course, we work to support ourselves and our families. But, the estimated 2019 average SSDI benefit is only $1,234 per month—less than $15,000 a year, which is barely above the national poverty level. It’s possible this monthly benefit amount, based on work earnings history, could be even lower for women who still seek wage parity in the workplace.
Ticket To Work Program (TTW)
This is one of the many reasons that the SSA’s Ticket to Work (TTW) program is so important, especially to women. Free for all SSDI recipients to access, the TTW program helps beneficiaries return to work when they are ready and medically able to do so. Given employer misconceptions like those outlined above, the TTW program can make a big difference for women hoping to overcome gender- and disability-related employment barriers and re-enter the workforce.
Through the TTW program, Employment Networks (ENs) like Allsup Employment Services work with beneficiaries to prepare them to work again and identify jobs. Most important, the EN helps ensure the returning worker with an acquired disability gets the protection of the TTW program. Ticket users have a trial work period that preserves their benefits no matter how much they earn at work, they are not distracted by SSA-initiated disability reviews and can keep their Medicare benefits for almost eight years. It’s a solid safety net.
Don’t Let Disability Stop You!
Women have fought for their right to work, for fair treatment, and have shattered a lot of stereotypes. That momentum shouldn’t stop just because they happen to acquire a disability, short term or long term. Thanks to SSDI and the TTW program, it doesn’t have to—women with disabilities can keep making progress and set records as they revolutionize the world of work.
This guest post was authored by Mary Dale Walters
Mary Dale Walters is the senior vice president of Strategic Communications at Allsup. She focuses on the company’s efforts to advocate, educate and ensure access to a continuing quality of life for tens of thousands of people with disabilities across the country.