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With some education, I think I could work full-time and end my SSI Disability eligibility. How can I get money for schooling?

By   /  March 3, 2016  /  8 Comments

See how a Plan to Achieve Self-Support can lessen your dependence on SSI or achieve financial independence for you and end SSI disability eligibility.

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Use a PASS to Meet Your Work Goals

SSI law includes many incentives to help people with SSI Disability eligibility reach vocational goals while getting SSI. These work incentive programs and income exclusions are presented in our article “I Want to Work. Can You Tell Me How to Get SSI While Working?

One of the most valuable work incentives is the Plan to Achieve Self-Support, known as the PASS. A PASS is a written plan of action for getting a certain kind of job or starting a business. You can write the PASS yourself or use a vocational counselor to help you. In either case the PASS must be approved by the Social Security Administration. When approved a PASS allows you to set aside non-SSI income and resources to use to fund expenses related to your PASS. This in turn allows you to become eligible for SSI or to receive a larger amount of SSI than you would without a PASS.

How a PASS Works

A PASS is a written description of how you are going to move toward getting a specific type of job or toward opening a certain type of business. You can use a PASS to newly qualify for SSI or to set aside money while getting SSI to receive a higher SSI payment to cover the income set aside for attaining your vocational goal.

Here’s one example. You may have worked in construction all your life but can no longer do the required heavy lifting. You have always been interested in medicine and would like to become an x-ray tech. The x-ray-tech course takes a year and costs $3,000, plus $450 for books and fees, $75 for a license, and an estimated $300 for transportation to get to school. Your income consists of $400 a month Veteran’s Administration compensation and $353 SSI. You need all your income for daily living expenses.

Here’s where a PASS comes in. If the Social Security Administration approves your PASS, you can set aside $380 of your VA benefit toward the $3,825 you need to cover your schooling costs and license. Your $20 remaining VA income will not count against your SSI payment because of the $20 general income exclusion. Your SSI benefit will then be the maximum Federal Amount of $733. With the $20 VA you did not set aside, you total income available for non-school needs would be $753, the same as it was before the PASS. And, you will be saving $380 a month toward your work goal!.

Getting Help with Your PASS

The first step in getting a PASS is to obtain a PASS application form, which is form number SSA-545-BK. You can get one either from your local Social Security office or online at www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ssa-545.html. The form provides a basic outline of the information you must supply.

If you would like help with developing your plan and with completing the SSI PASS application form, the Social Security Administration can refer you to a vocational counselor. Just call Social Security’s toll-free number 1-800-772-1213 and ask for the PASS specialist’s phone number. You can also ask for the helpful pamphlet “Working While Disabled—A Plan to Achieve Self-Support,” which is Publication 05-11017. The pamphlet is also available at your local Social Security office and online at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/11017.html.

Components of a PASS

Your PASS must include your work goal, that is, the job you want to obtain or the business you want to start. It also needs to include the steps you will take and the things you will need to achieve your work goal. These might be education, transportation, child care, vocational services, supplies to start a business, equipment or tools to perform a job, or assistive devices. The PASS also needs to include a timetable to achieve your goal and a list of the resources or non-SSI income you will set aside to pay for the needed items and services.

The Social Security Administration suggests the following steps to help you set your plan.

  • Decide your work goal considering work that interests you and that is within your capabilities. Using a vocational counselor and vocational testing can be helpful in defining your goal.
  • Find out all the steps you will have to take to reach your goal and how long each usually takes.
  • Research what is required to be qualified to work in the occupation you have chosen.
  • Get cost estimates for the services and goods you will need to complete your plan.
  • Figure how much money you will set-aside each month, keeping in mind that SSI will exclude the funds you set aside so your SSI will increase, but only up to the maximum SSI payable, which in 2016 is $733 for individuals and $1,100 for couples. Social Security will estimate your new SSI amount so you can see if the amount of your set-aside will work with the income you will have for your other expenses.
  • Decide how you will separate your PASS set-aside money from your other money. The simplest is to set up a separate bank account.
  • If you want to start a business, you must also include a detailed business plan. When developing the plan, it is advisable to contact the Small Business Bureau, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, a vocational counselor, or another person who is familiar with helping people start a business.
  • Complete all the questions on the PASS Application Form and deliver or mail it to your local Social Security office.

Social Security’s Evaluation of your PASS

A Social Security plan expert will review your plan to be sure it is complete. If it is then he or she will decide whether your plan will give you a good chance of reaching your goal, whether the expenses you list are necessary to reach the goal and whether they are reasonably priced. Sometimes, the reviewer will identify changes that are needed and will discuss the changes with you. The plan is also evaluated to determine whether your dependence on SSI and Social Security will be decreased if you reach the goal. When the review is complete, you will then be sent a letter telling you whether the PASS was accepted or not.

Your Responsibilities after Your PASS Approval?

If your PASS is approved, your next step is to bring Social Security proof of a bank account dedicated to PASS funds and to declare to the first month you will set aside money.

As soon as there is enough money set aside to take the first step of the plan, you must start that step. If you stop working toward the goal listed in the PASS without notifying Social Security, you may be overpaid and subject to a penalty. You must also notify the Social Security Administration before the tenth of the following month, if you change your goal or the planned PASS expenses change.

Your Right to Appeal

Disapproval of your PASS does not affect your SSI disability eligibility. If you think disapproval of your PASS is in error, you have the right to appeal within sixty days. Alternatively, you can revise your plan and submit a new PASS with a different goal or different details on how to achieve the goal.

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  • Published: 8 months ago on March 3, 2016
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  • Last Modified: March 4, 2016 @ 4:31 pm
  • Filed Under: SSI


  1. Dee says:

    Hi Kay

    I attended a consultative exam scheduled by my case examiner. The Physician conducting the exam informed me that X-rays would need to be done at our local hospital. Later that day I went to have the X-rays taken and was told by the hospital X-ray technicians that the X-ray order was not written correctly and a new order would need to be issued. The CE physician did not indicate if the X-ray was bi-lateral, right or left hands. After trying to get in touch with the Dr’s office to no avail, the tech told me to call the Dr and get a new order written. During the past week I have called and left 3 messages on the Dr’s voicemail that I need a new order written per the hospital and due to a lack of specifics and have not received a return call. I contacted my attorney who then contacted my case manager who had already received the Dr’s evaluation which stated X-rays were ordered and results will be forwarded. Can my case be decided without the X-rays or will I have to wait to be issued a new xray order or be told I need to see a new dr?

    Thanks Kay

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Dee,

      If your claim can be approved without the x-rays, it might be. If the x-rays are needed for the decision, I would expect that the order will be rewritten correctly and you will be asked to go for the x-rays.


  2. Kay Williams says:

    I am going back to school in January 2016 and I was told that if after my tuition is paid…and the amount left over is more than $2000, my SSI case will be closed and I’ll have to pay for my medical care through the Marketplace. I have psychiatric and physical disabilities. They’re not going to go away when I go back to school (and later work). I’ve been disabled since 1986 (I was born in 1983) and it’s very difficult to maintain my mental health with the disabilities I have. Even when I go back to school, the disabilities I have will still exist. What can I do in my situation? I have no other income coming in and haven’t since 2006 (approved for SSI in 2010)

  3. Kat says:

    I am on SSI and they are counting my FAFSA granted financial aid package I get from the college (Pell Grant, SEOG, federal loans, commingled with low amounts of state and institutional scholarships under tuition amounts) as a resource in the same semester I received it and saying I owe thousands to the SSA now. I was under the understanding that if I received Title IV funds the aid package is exempt, and no one I have contacted seems to know what to do to stop the SSA from claiming I had excess resources due to this financial aid and charging me back SSI for those semesters. The SSA is saying the only education expense is actual tuition and course fees so the rest counts against my SSI and medicaid as a resource; I don’t even need books and supplies according to the letter i received. I have one semester remaining to graduate, and I am being forced to quit college over this. I am terrified of owing even more if I continue college. I don’t know what to do. I want to finish college but can’t keep up with college while fighting the SSA.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Kat,

      Here is the link to Social Security’s regulations on financial aid: https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0500830455.
      It does show that Title IV assistance is excluded from income and resources regardless of use. Other types of student financial aid must be used for school related expenses, which are defined, in order to be excluded.

      I suggest that you file and appeal and spend your holiday break from school to (research if needed) and itemize out how much of your aid is Title IV and how much comes from other sources. Show the amounts from each source. Make copies of all your paperwork for every item on the summary. Also submit a copy of the website pages from the link I am giving you. Be sure not to miss your sixty day appeals period for filing the appeal, even if you do have all the evidence available. You can put on the appeal that you are gathering proofs.

      If the sources other than Title IV were used for paid tuition and other allowed school expenses, they will not count. Title IV money will not count because it can be used for housing or anything. Finally bonafide loans of any kind are not income because you have to pay the money back.


  4. Chris says:

    I want to take an online course for an associates In hospitality management my SSI disability Is of the psychiatric nature if I am approved for grants and do attend school and do not finish school dropout if I feel that is too overwhelming how will I be charged or what is the consequences?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Chris,

      I suggest that you make an appointment to talk with a Social Security claims representative about your plans. Usually grants that pay tuition and books are not counted as income for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If your education prepares you for work that your health will then allow you to do, your claim could be closed when you complete your education because you would no longer disabled.


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