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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Getting Work

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 www.choosework.net.

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.

Disability.govserves as the official government website on disability resources for the public. It was created by the federal government to serve as the single online point-of-reference for information and programs related to disability. The site is managed across all federal agencies under the New Freedom Initiative.

Model Systems Knowledge Translation CenterThe factsheets listed at the MSKTC were produced through a collaboration between the MSKTC and the SCI Model Systems. These materials undergo expert and consumer reviews to ensure they are up-to-date, evidence-based, and consumer-friendly.

Just One Break-JOBEmployment placement service for people with disabilities.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN)The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free consulting service that provides information about job accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the employability of people with disabilities.

PASS TutorialTutorial on completing the Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS).

Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement ActThis site provides information about the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.