Does having a disability mean you cannot work?

Under current Supplemental Security Income (SSI) rules, an individual with a disability must prove they cannot work to be eligible for benefits, including health care and other independent living supports. After an SSI award, available work incentives are difficult to navigate and little used. Many young adults and families think work will risk access to health care, personal care services, and the reliability of their monthly SSI check.

CareerACCESS offers an alternative for SSI eligible young adults to escape poverty and dependence. The CareerACCESS goal is to make it easy to work. A young adult working with a Career Coach would develop an Individualized Career Plan to achieve personal and professional goals.

CareerACCESS is a project of the World Institute on Disability (WID).

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The CareerACCESS Program – A Brief Description

The CareerACCESS Program will be created by changes in federal policy aimed at significantly increasing the employment rate of people with disabilities by expecting young adults with disabilities ages 18 through 30 to work. CareerACCESS will provide required support and services recognizing that disability benefits are offsets to the high cost of disability rather than subsidies for the inability to work.

CareerACCESS supports young adults with disabilities, up to age 30, who are recipients of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program. As they begin to explore careers, young adults must balance the need for SSI benefits, health care, personal attendant care and accommodation requirements while overcoming low expectations, a lack of self-confidence and a challenging job market. These challenges exist along with the challenges of living with and managing the high costs of disability.

Currently, people with disabilities must choose between remaining on SSI and facing a lifetime of poverty or attempting to create a future based on work as a pathway to independence. Because of the relationship between SSI cash benefits and Medicaid services and supports, this decision is not easy. In 2015, the SSI federal benefit limit is $733; these youth can only have $2000 of assets while receiving SSI benefits.

CareerACCESS addresses the challenges of transitioning to independence during these pivotal times in a young adult’s life. Addressing the policy flaws for young adults in the SSI program is a major policy goal in the recently published “High Expectations: Transforming the American Workforce as the ADA Generation Comes of Age” (U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions,2013).

CareerACCESS takes a two-prong approach. First, it updates and simplifies the Social Security rules. It removes the requirement of declaring and proving work incapacity. It allows participants to keep their full federal SSI stipend until their total income exceeds 250% of the federal poverty level. After reaching that income level, stipends will be reduced by $1 for every $3 earned. Earnings will be reevaluated annually. Participants experiencing intermittent unemployment can request earnings reevaluations more frequently. Stipends are to offset the high costs of disability. CareerACCESS also eliminates asset building limitations, thereby enabling participants to benefit from their work.

Second, CareerACCESS supports the successful transition of young adults with disabilities through the development of a suite of services and supports, blending and braiding existing federal funding with new resources to create a program of consumer-driven services. CareerACCESS services include: individualized career planning, coaching, work incentives planning and asset development, along with other services identified as the youth develops his or her individual career plan. The goal of all activities is to position the young adult to build a career, acquire needed assets, including required assistive technology and other accommodations, and to be ready by age 30 to lead an independent life, free of the constraints of public assistance to the extent possible.

The CareerACCESS initiative seeks to educate and engage young adults affected by these challenges and to build support and advocacy for the proposed pilot. The goal is to move this proposed program forward though federal legislative or administration channels. This requires fully developing the program design and proposed policy changes needed to initiate pilot projects.

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