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Recent Research Begins to Identify Best Practices in the Delivery of Work Incentives Counseling Services

Emerging Best Practices in Work Incentives Counseling

Researchers have repeatedly documented that work incentives counseling services can improve the employment outcomes of individuals with disabilities receiving Social Security disability benefits. (Gruman, et al., 2010; Livermore, G., S. Prenovitz, and J. Schimmel, 2011; Nazarov, 2013). For example, after studying the results of work incentives counseling activities in Wisconsin, Delin, Hartman, and Sell concluded:

To the extent that the public and policymakers are interested in encouraging fuller labor market inclusion for those with severe disabilities...the continuation, and indeed expansion, of work incentive benefits counseling services appears to us to provide an effective policy tool for helping to achieve that goal (p. 106).

Similarly, after studying work incentives counseling programs in New York, Nazarov stated:

This economic analysis demonstrates that benefits and work incentives counseling services may not only improve labor market outcomes of SSI/SSDI beneficiaries but also, in a single year, generate enough revenue to offset any expenses related to preparing a large number of benefits and work incentives counselors (p. 24).

In addition to examining the overall effectiveness of work incentives counseling services, researchers have begun to identify the specific practices associated with improved outcomes. For example, in a non-experimental analysis of 1,425 SSI and SSDI beneficiaries served by the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, Wilhelm and McCormick (2013) found that the development of a written benefits analysis was associated with improved employment status, earnings, and case closures. The goal of the written analysis was "to provide recipients with detailed information about the impact of increased earnings so they can make an informed choice about employment." This is the first study to clearly show a relationship between a written summary and employment outcomes, providing a better understanding of the importance of specific practices in work incentives counseling service delivery.

In Wisconsin, Delin, Hartman, and Sell (2012) analyzed the activities of two recent return-to-work demonstrations that focused on the effect of work incentives counseling on beneficiary employment outcomes. Results indicated that the receipt of work incentives counseling services improved beneficiaries' likelihood of employment and monthly earnings. Significantly, the authors found that receiving higher dosages (more hours) of work incentive counseling services leads to better employment outcomes. The results begin to shed light on the amount of time spent with beneficiaries in the delivery of work incentives counseling services, which has implications for topics such as time management, caseload size, and other issues.

Work incentives counseling services are a proven employment support service, particularly when combined with other rehabilitation and employment services. Going forward, research should focus on the components of work incentives counseling that work best for specific groups of individuals (e.g. persons with extensive prior employment histories, individuals entering employment for the first time, transition age youth, or persons served by Employment Networks through the Ticket to Work program).


Delin, B., Hartman, E., & Sell, C. (2012). The impact of work incentive benefits counseling on employment outcomes: Evidence from two return-to-work demonstrations. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 36(2), 97-107.

Gruman, C., N. Shugrue, K. Kellett, J. Robison, and A. Porter. 2010. "Medicaid Infrastructure Grant: The Impact of Benefits Counseling and Vocational Rehabilitation on Earnings." Working Paper. Farmington, CT: University of Connecticut Health Center.

Livermore, G., S. Prenovitz, and J. Schimmel. (2011). "Employment-Related Outcomes of a Recent Cohort of Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) Program Enrollees." Final Report. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research.

Nazarov, Zafar E., Can Benefits and Work Incentives Counseling Be a Path to Future Economic Self-Sufficiency for SSI/SSDI Beneficiaries? (August 2013). Available at SSRN:

Wilhelm, S., & McCormick, S. (2013). The impact of a written benefits analysis by Utah benefit counseling/WIPA program on vocational rehabilitation outcomes. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 39(3), 219-228.