It used to be that people with disabilities who received Social
Security benefits were effectively penalized for taking a job. Any income
above certain limits set by the government was deducted from one's
benefits, thus jeopardizing the only source of health insurance available to
people with long-term health conditions.
While many continue to see disincentives to working (few of the
people who get Social Security and SSI disability benefits leave the rolls
each year to go to work), policies have improved. Want to get a job without
worry about health insurance? It can be done. Below are details on two
Social Security programs designed to encourage people with disabilities
to enter the job force without fear of losing benefits. One is the Ticket to
Work program, the other the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS).
The Ticket to Work
The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999,
revised in 2007, increases choices for people with disabilities to obtain
rehabilitation and vocational services while removing barriers that require
a choice between healthcare coverage and earning money.
Social Security sees the Ticket as a good fit for people hoping to
improve their earning potential and who are committed to preparing
for a long-term career in the workforce. Ticket to Work offers improved
access to employment with the help of specialized providers and a variety
of free employment support services. Keep benefits while you explore
employment, get vocational rehabilitation, or gain on the job experience.
Cash benefits often continue throughout your transition to work and are
eliminated only when you maintain a certain level of earnings.
Here's how it works: Beneficiaries of Social Security and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receive a "Ticket" to obtain
vocational rehabilitation and other employment support services from an
approved provider of their choice. The Social Security Administration
(SSA) contracts with providers (employment agencies, independent living
centers, state vocational rehab offices, community nonprofits, churches,
etc.) to become Employment Networks (ENs). These providers work
with beneficiaries to provide support and employment-related assistance.
Beneficiaries with a Ticket may choose any EN to design an employment
plan. Both you and the EN agree to work together and develop a plan
that describes your employment goal and outlines what the EN will
provide to help you reach that goal. A Ticket can also be used to obtain
services and supports to help you become self-employed or start a
business. For self-employment, tell the EN early on in the process; some
ENs might not accept the Ticket assignment from someone who has
self-employment as a goal. You are free to talk with as many ENs as you
want before assigning your Ticket. You can always un-assign your Ticket
and take it to another EN. For help choosing an EN, call the Ticket to
Work hotline toll-free, 1-866-968-7842; visit www.ssa.gov/work or go to
Preparing a PASS
The PASS (Plan to Achieve Self-Support) is a work incentive plan
that allows people to work and keep Social Security healthcare benefits.
Under regular Supplemental Security Income rules, your SSI benefit
is reduced by any other income you have. But income you set aside for
a PASS does not reduce your SSI benefit: You get a higher SSI benefit
when you have a PASS.
A PASS lets you use your income or other things you own to help
you reach work goals, such as going to school or getting special training.
The job that you want should allow you to earn enough to reduce or
eliminate your need for benefits provided under both the Social Security
and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.
A PASS must state a specific work goal. "Getting a degree" or
"buying a car" are not acceptable goals. You have to demonstrate a
reasonable chance of achieving goal, within a reasonable time frame
with beginning and ending dates, and milestones to mark progress. One's
plan is submitted to Social Security, usually with the help of a counselor,
stating what the work goal is, what is needed to achieve it, and what it will
cost. The work goal can be anything you realistically expect to accomplish
that will generate adequate income. It can be part- or full-time, at home
or not, working for wages or starting a business of your own.
The things you buy must be related to the goal -- training, testing or
tuition, a car or van, a computer or tools and supplies of your trade or
business, daycare for a child while you work or attend school, other sorts
of adaptive technology, etc.
To start, ask your local Social Security office for a copy of PASS
form SSA-545-BK. This has most of the information needed to review
your plan. Next, choose a work goal for a job you want to do. Figure out
what steps you need to take to reach your goal and how long it will take
you to complete each step. Find out how much money you'll need to set
aside each month to pay for items or services you will need to reach your
goal. Get several cost estimates for the things you need.
If you're planning to set aside income for your plan, your SSI benefit
will usually increase to help pay your living expenses. Contact Social
Security; the agency can estimate what your new SSI payment will be.
Keep any money you save for your goal separate from any other money
you have; open a separate bank account for the PASS money.
If you intend to start a business, you will also need a business plan
describing what kind of business you want to start, hours of operation
and location. You should also explain how you will pay for your business,
how you will market your product or service, who your suppliers and
customers will be, and your expected earnings.
It may be a good idea to get help writing your PASS from a
vocational rehabilitation counselor, an organization that helps people with
disabilities, or the people at your Social Security office. After you submit
your plan, Social Security will review it and decide if there is a good
chance that you can reach your goal, if the things you plan to buy are
necessary and reasonably priced, and if any changes are needed. They
will discuss any changes with you. If your PASS is denied, there is an
appeal process. If your plan is approved, Social Security will contact you
from time to time to make sure that you are following your plan and on
the way to your goal. Make sure that you keep receipts for the items and
services you buy for the plan.