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Getting by with a little help from my friends: SSA is becoming user-friendly.

Over the past few years an opportunity to become self-supporting built into the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) rules some years ago has become more widely used and the Social Security Administration (SSA) wants you to know about it. In fact, this program fits very neatly into SSA Commissioner Gwendolyn S. King's drive to upgrade the image of this source of aid to America's neediest citizens: "I believe our programs should, in every case possible, be used as a leg up, as a stepping stone to a higher plane."

Nowhere is that idealism more fully realized than in the "Plan for Achieving Self-support" (PASS). This user-friendly program can truly be a "pass" from a life of dependency and stagnation into the mainstream of work and maximizing potential. Doesn't that sound like something you should be investigating? The possibilities it offered were buried in the pages of dry and dusty federal gobbledygook. However, in the last few years SSA has placed greater emphasis on PASS and begun to make this Congressionally-mandated program take on meaning in the real world, helping real people fulfill their dreams. The National Parent Network on Disabilities (NPND) offers its informational and training network to guarantee you have the best possible advice and support as you explore what opportunities may lie just ahead for your family.

If you have never known about PASS or been discouraged in attempts to learn more about it, you are not alone. There was obvious need for publicizing its potential.

Todd's Story

It was about five years ago that a young man with disabilities named Todd first heard that word "PASS." Somebody told him it would allow him to save up money to start his career as an artist. He had always loved to paint and had sold a few of his watercolors to family friends. But if he could set up a Christmas and birthday card business, he thought he could turn a trickle of money into a stream of income great enough to give him independence. His family and teachers agreed it would be a good idea. He called his local Social Security office several times for information about this program. His father called too. Finally Todd went to an organization which had helped with his rehabilitation. The social worker made several inquiries to no avail. Todd's dream of self-support waned as his discouragement grew.

Then in 1991 he received a notice from that same disability organization which had previously been unable to help him with his search for PASS information. The flyer announced a meeting where officials from the SSA would discuss PASS and answer questions. Todd had doubts but he and his father attended the training session. New possibilities opened.

Lucy's Story

The Cooks' experience with PASS came only a few months ago. While there was some confusion, it faded more quickly than for Todd's family. Mrs. Cook had talked to the counselors at her daughter's school about a new program she had just learned about. She'd been told it might allow Lucy to save up the money necessary to pay for a job coach. Lucy was a pleasant young woman who had a lot of people skills and wanted to work in a casino where some of her friends had jobs. But she really needed a job coach to help her learn all the details of the job she thought she'd enjoy: a salad girl in the kitchen. The school's staff said they'd never heard of such a program.

Ten days later Mrs. Cook received a call from the head of the counseling program. "We think what you're talking about might be a part of the work incentive programs of the Social Security Administration." "I wouldn't be surprised," said Lucy's mother. Within several days mother and daughter were back at the school filling out the forms which would allow Lucy to move toward her job goal.

Actually, this program is not a new one. But it is now working for more Americans seeking a way out of dependency every day Maybe you should investigate what PASS could mean to your child or young adult with vision impairments or disabilities. Recent campaigns have ensured that both the line workers of the SSA system and professionals working in the field of disability are better informed about its possibilities. This means you will probably not experience the frustrations faced by either Todd's or Lucy's family. But even so, the NPND will be there to help you over the rough spots and past the detours, if you should encounter them.

A Step-by-Step Process

National surveys show that the employment level among America's 43 million citizens with disabilities is extremely low. Probably not more than 25 percent hold full-time jobs. Eight out of 10 of those not working want a job. And PASS can be used to meet the expenses of: returning to school; buying essential tools or equipment; transportation; and supported employment expenses such as job coaching and attendant care. All this can mean the difference between being ready to work and just waiting for a solution from some unknown source.

How You Can Get a Plan Started for Your Son or Daughter

This program is geared to allow recipients of SSI to set aside funds to pay the expenses required to reach a specific employment goal. If your child or young adult is currently on SSI, PASS may very well raise the amount of payment which will be available to support those plans for a future job or career. If your child is not receiving SSI because of too high a level of income or resources, that status might change when the amount to be set aside for the job goal is subtracted from those resources which cause the ineligibility.

Almost any job-related expense can be included in the PASS. But obviously these costs must be tied directly to the specific job one intends to fill. Either paid employment or a business one wishes to start are appropriate. The goal must be realistic and it should not take more than three years to reach unless the individual is in school. In that case the PASS can continue for up to four years.

Knowing what specific items, services or training are essential to qualify for a job and how much they are going to cost is absolutely essential. The road map may be helpful in getting a picture of the trip to success you and your son or daughter might begin planning.

Directions for Filling Out the PASS

Map: Name Your Destination

The first task is to name your destination. It could be somewhere close to those chosen by Lucy or Todd or it could be completely different. Some people want to work inside, others outdoors; some with computers or other office equipment, others with flowers; some in the country, others in the city; some with people, others alone. This is a very personal choice based on your interests and abilities. Get help in deciding what tasks you can and like to do.

Sign Posts

Lucy's PASS to working in a casino took less than a year. She received 12 checks and they covered the costs of her job coach and transportation until she got her full-time job. In contrast, Todd's sign posts stretched out for three years. After checking with people in the greeting card business, it seemed best to get additional training. There were art supplies and equipment he needed before he could meet essential standards for commercial success. He needed more sign posts than Lucy but both moved along the path they had charted for success.

To set up your sign posts, figure out how much help you will need along the way. Moving along your trail may require a motorized wheelchair or a guide dog; it may require a lot of effort on your part. But if you have a realistic goal in mind, it can be reached if those sign posts are placed along the route.

Costs of the Trip

Nobody plans a trip without figuring out how much it is going to cost. When the family takes a vacation, someone has to add up things like transportation, lodging, entertainment and food. On the important trip to a job opportunity, one must figure out the costs of any training, services, assistance, devices, supplies and equipment needed. It is wise to go over plans with friends and family as well as others who may have reached the same job goal.

Most PASS trips will not last more than three years. This means you might be able to invest up to 36 monthly checks in your plan. Add up the costs and figure out how many months it will take to reach your destination.

Making the Best Use of SSA'S Stepping Stones

As you and your child or young adult work out this map to success, help may be available from a number of people: an organization such as the NPND, a friend or relative; a teacher or counselor; a vocational rehabilitation professional; an employee of the SSA or an interested employer.

When you have developed the road map which shows where your son or daughter is, where he or she is going and the supplies and services essential to reach that destination, you are prepared to make an application to the SSA for the PASS. There is no required form. Contact the National Parent Network on Disabilities for more information.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed on the lawn of the White House on August 26, 1990, several thousand people watched and listened. President George Bush spoke to every parent of a child with a disability as he called on the nation to remove stumbling blocks from the path to a meaningful life:

"And now I sign legislation which takes a sledgehammer to another wall which has, for too many generations, separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse but not grasp. Once again we rejoice as this barrier falls: For claiming together we will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America."

Slowly but surely, the stepping stones which will allow your child or young adult to reach a life of dignity and self-determination are being offered to parents. Utilizing those paving blocks will require effort on your part. But the results will be well worth that effort. The trail you blaze together to reach that goal of economic independence will become more widely traveled in the years ahead and your family will have assisted in creating a new definition of the future for people with disabilities.

Not every SSA and rehabilitation official you meet will know as much as you do about the PASS rules. Even if your child is refused upon the first try, you have the right to appeal and to make another plan. There is an increasing level of support for freedom and dignity for people with disabilities in this country today. With a bit of help from your associates within the various organizations established to educate parents about their youngster's rights, all have a better chance of entering the economic mainstream.

Both Todd and Lucy have moved through their PASS to overcome mountainous challenges which confront many of their peers in seeking employment. The trail they set out for themselves tested their determination to live independently. But they are well on their way with a little help from their friends and families. And Commissioner Gwendolyn King has pledged the support of the Social Security Administration in giving them "a leg up." So what are you waiting for? Maybe it's time you and your family hit the PASS trail. The National Parent Network on Disabilities is ready to guide you over the rough spots.

Mary Jane Owen has been an advocate at the national level since her arrival in Washington, D.C. in 1979 to oversee disability programs within ACTION/Peace Corps. Working within both federal and private agencies, her ability to turn complex issues into common sense have made her a popular lecturer and writer. Currently she consults out of Disability Focus, Inc., a policy organization she founded, and serves as executive director of the National Catholic Off ice for Persons with Disabilities, both located in Washington, D.C. She is currently researching a book on the 1977 HEW sit-in in San Francisco which involved advocates from the physical, mental and sensory disability communities working as peers for their common goal of civil rights.

For further information regarding PASS or a referral to your local SSA office, please complete the attached form and mail to National Parent Network on Disabilities, 1600 Prince St., Suite 115, Alexandria, VA 22314.
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Title Annotation:Supplemental Security Income
Author:Owen, Mary Jane
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:Everyone is special.
Next Article:An open letter from the parent of a teenager to parents of younger children.

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