To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal program that provides people with disabilities a monthly stipend, individuals must conform to very strict income and asset limits. Often, SSI beneficiaries who could hold a job opt not to because they worry about losing their benefits if they earn too much. While this is a valid concern, a program known as PASS offers these individuals the opportunity to pursue their professional ambitions while continuing to receive SSI payments.
Through the Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS), SSI beneficiaries can use their non-SSI income to pay for job training or to start a business. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will not count income used for a PASS against SSI beneficiaries’ awards. This makes it possible for beneficiaries who see their SSI awards reduced because they receive additional income (either from working, SSDI payments, or other unearned income) to use that income for job training — without losing their SSI benefit.
To set up a PASS, submit an application. The beneficiary must outline a detailed plan for a work or business goal they are interested in pursuing, along with the steps and timeframes necessary for reaching that goal. As part of their plan, beneficiaries must also explain in detail what items, skills, and services they will require, as well as specific cost estimates for those items.
Successful applicants will interact with a PASS Specialist from the SSA to make sure they progress toward their work goals. They can then use income withheld through PASS to pay for what they need to achieve that goal, including such expenses as transportation to work or school, child care, tuition, and supplies.
Consider this quick example to understand how PASS works:
Barbara is a 25-year-old woman who receives SSI benefits. If she had no other income, Barbara could receive up to $841 a month from SSI (this amount differs in each state). She also receives $500 per month from SSDI, which, as it is unearned income, reduces her SSI award to $341 (the original $841 - $500 unearned income, deducted on a dollar-for-dollar basis).
Barbara applies for the PASS program with the goal of becoming a florist and is approved. Her plan allows her to spend $500 a month to attend a floral design school. The SSA will allow her to set aside $500 in unearned income to pay for her schooling — without penalty. As her $500 SSDI payment now funds her PASS plan, it does not get deducted from her SSI benefit as unearned income. Barbara collects her full $841 monthly SSI payment, and she gets to become a florist!
Putting together an effective PASS application is complex, but a qualified special needs planner can help to determine whether PASS may be a fit for you or your loved one.