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When your child reaches adolescence, you may realize that radically different benefits will soon replace many services on which your child has long relied. Most of these new benefits will abruptly come into play once your child leaves the public education system, which often provides the bulk of their care and daily structure.

One of the most important aspects of this transition to adult hood is securing additional educational and employment services for your child.

In 2022, about 21 percent of all Americans with disabilities were working at either a full- or part-time job. Some are unable to work at all due to their disability. Others don’t have a job because they lack the skills necessary for gainful employment. Several federal laws address this situation with the goal of providing vocational education to a wider segment of the disability community.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that special education plans begin transition planning when a child turns 16. At this point, the child’s Individual Education Plan must have a transition plan, outlining the steps the school will take to help the child acquire skills necessary for an eventual move into the workforce.

By the time the child turns 16, a school’s special education team must steer the child toward development programs keyed toward the child’s individual vocational preferences. The law also mandates periodic measurement of the child’s progress to ensure that they receive attention from the proper vocational advocates.

Ticket to Work

Once a child reaches 18 and receives either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments, the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers several programs to encourage them to work. The best-known program, Ticket to Work, is a program that seeks to offer individuals a way to begin a career without having to worry about losing their SSI or SSDI benefits.

Under the program, any month that a beneficiary earns more than $1,050 counts as a month (in 2023) of “trial work.” If during any 60-month period they have nine months where they earn more than this $1,050 limit, the trial period ends.

After the end of the trial period, a beneficiary does not receive an SSDI payment in any month where they make “substantial earnings” of more than $1,470. For three years after the end of the trial period, the SSDI recipients can immediately regain benefits if they fall below the substantial earning level and still havea disability.

Also, a beneficiary receiving Medicare because of participation in SSDI can continue to receive free Medicare Part A services for up to four and a half years following the end of the trial period. While complicated, these rules make an SSDI recipient’s transition into the workforce slightly less burdensome than if benefits immediately ended.

SSI recipients, on the other hand, must conform to very strict income and asset limits. Often, those who could hold a job don’t pursue one for fear they will earn too much and lose their benefits.

While this is certainly a concern, the benefits of employment may outweigh the loss of SSI. Furthermore, the government provides specific incentives for SSI recipients to work. For instance, if a person with disabilities is under 22 and at school or in a vocational training program, $2,220 of their monthly income (in 2023) does not count against their SSI benefit, up to a yearly limit of $8,950.

PASS Program

The SSA also offers the PASS (Plan for Achieving Self Support) program for SSI recipients who would like to work. Under this program, an individual receiving SSI presents the SSA with a detailed plan for obtaining a specific type of employment. Once their plan secures approval, the SSI recipient can set aside income and assets to go toward achieving their professional goals.

They can use these funds for things like child care, transportation, books and supplies, additional education, and more. At the same time, these funds will not count against their benefit.

Consult With an Expert

Many programs are available for people with special needs to seek employment if they would like to do so. Unfortunately, the rules for most of these programs are complicated, and the SSA is often not very good at explaining them.

Begin planning well before your child turns 18. This will offer them the best chance of navigating the maze of educational and employment opportunities successfully. Seek out the assistance of local vocational agencies and your special needs planner. 

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