Social Security’s PASS program allows people on disability to go to school, buy equipment, or otherwise prepare themselves for work, without endangering their disability benefits. PASS plans must be submitted in writing to Social Security. They can last for up to three or four years. They must include “reasonable” and “feasible” job goals. The PASS program applies to people on both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
PASS is designed to protect SSI benefits from other sources of income while you pursue educational goals or prepare yourself for business. Normally, if you earn wages or receive other income, that income would be deducted from your monthly SSI. PASS allows you to “set aside” your other income and assets until you achieve your goals.
For example, if a family member gave you $4,000 a year to pay college tuition, that $4,000 would be over the SSI’s “assets” limit. You would lose your SSI. Or, if you worked part-time earning $800 a month to pay for school, you would lose almost $400 a month from your benefit. Under a PASS Plan, you keep your regular monthly SSI, as long as you use your other income to finance your schooling. You must account to Social Security, with bank statements, receipts, etc., for how you spend the money you “set aside.” Your PASS Plan must eventually lead to a job.
Under PASS rules, people on SSDI can “set aside” all or part of their monthly benefit to pursue an educational or vocational goal. Social Security can then replace your income with SSI. In California, SSI currently pays $870 per month (2009). You must prove to Social Security that you are SSI eligible and can live on the $870 per month. Income replacement allows you to fund your PASS goals using assets or your SSDI benefit. SSDI recipients who qualify for SSI income replacement through PASS also receive SSI-based no share of cost Medi-Cal.
For example: A woman receives $720 a month from SSDI. She wants to send herself through nursing school. She “sets aside” her $720 (or $8,640 a year) to cover tuition and expenses. SSI replaces her set-aside income with $870 per month from SSI.
PASS plans can pay for tuition, fees, books, expenses, travel costs, incidentals, or anything else related to your plan. PASS plans occasionally cover vehicles and computer equipment. All PASS expenses must be documented and must lead to your vocational goal. PASS expenses may include business start up costs, if you can prove to Social Security that your business is “realistic” in today’s marketplace. PASS can also pay for expenses associated with your disability (wheelchair vans, electric wheelchairs, computer modification equipment, etc.). If you want to become a medical lab technician, Social Security would insist that you go to the least expensive school. Public schools and universities generally cost less than private schools. However, if the program you select is only offered at a private school, then you should document that to Social Security. Before you submit a PASS plan, consult a benefits or vocational counselor. Some agencies charge for writing PASS plans. The cost can be included in your plan. PASS plans can be approved “retroactively” to cover some past expenses or savings that contribute to your plan.
PASS plans must be submitted in writing to a local Social Security office. The PASS application is available from Social Security or APLA’s Benefits & Work Services program. APLA’s Benefits & Work Services program has Benefits Counselors that can assist you in constructing a PASS Plan. The application provides you with a step-by-step format for constructing a PASS plan. You must account for expenses, like tuition, well into the future. PASS Plans can be used in conjunction with assistance from Vocational Rehabilitation as well as grants, scholarships and loans from educational institutions. Before you submit a PASS plan to Social Security, focus on your goals and provide comparative costs. Accumulate all the documentation you can, on costs, educational programs, market feasibility, etc. Local Social Security personnel do not approve plans; regional PASS specialists will examine your plan. PASS plans can be suspended, without penalty, if your health fails and you are unable to complete your plan.
PASS plans are complicated to construct and sometimes difficult to get approved, however, Benefits Counselors at APLA are available to assist you in writing up a good program. PASS Plans work well for focused individuals who have a clear idea of what they want to do, and are interested in increasing their level of self-support.