For many with severe physical ailments or mental conditions, Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are a lifeline. They have lost their ability to work and the receipt of SSD benefits help them buy food and keep a roof over their heads.
Their conditions may be irreversible, and they know they will never be able to engage in the Social Security Administration's definition of substantial gainful activity, or in simpler terms, be employed at a job that would allow them to earn enough income that they would not need SSD benefits.
On the other hand, there are some who could return to work, sometimes with retraining for a different type of work or with some accommodation from an employer. And SSA has a program, called Ticket to Work, that will allow them to try out a return to the working world.
But this program has specific rules and many applicants are so exhausted from the arduous activity of applying for and obtaining SSD benefits, that a program like Ticket to Work scares them. It is no simple matter to return a disabled worker to some form of significant gainful activity.
They worry that after years of waiting to obtain their SSD benefits, working could cause them to become ineligible and they will lose that safety net. Or, given the tenuous nature of many jobs, especially the entry level jobs many would be likely to obtain, they risk working for a year or two and then being laid-off or having their work outsourced.
Changes could be made with SSD that would improve the opportunities for the minority of applicants who could return to some form of employment. However, to be successful, it would need to be adequately funded so that SSA could properly screen and provide assistance to those who are most likely to be able to return to work.
Theatlantic.com, "Why Is It So Hard to Find Jobs for Disabled Workers?" Olga Khazan, March 30, 2015