Eligibility

To set up a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), you must:

  • Be getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or become eligible for SSI as the result of an approved PASS application
  • Have a source of income other than SSI (for example, SSDI benefits or wages from a job) or have resources over $2,000 that you can use to fund your PASS plan
  • Have a work goal that will eventually enable you to earn enough money to lower your Social Security disability benefits or to get off benefits altogether
  • Be able to write down a plan that shows how setting aside a certain amount of money will allow you to reach your work goal. Social Security has staff called PASS Specialists, located in PASS Cadres throughout the U.S., who can help you write your PASS plan
  • Be under age 65. Note: You may be able to set up a PASS if you are 65 or older, if you were getting SSI benefits based on disability or blindness in the month before you turned 65

A PASS is not just for people who are waiting for school or work to begin. You can be employed right now, have a PASS, and use it to help pay for expenses that are directly related to getting more income from work.

Representative Payee

You can still enroll in a PASS if you have a representative payee. A representative payee is someone else who is managing your benefits and money. All of the rules still have to be followed and you should inform your PASS Cadre of this situation to find out if you need to do anything special when you apply.

Important

PASS is not an entitlement. Just because you meet the basic eligibility criteria does not guarantee that Social Security will approve your PASS.

Application

To apply for a PASS, you need to fill out Social Security’s PASS application form. The form asks about a range of topics, including your work goal, how you plan to achieve it, your work history, and your future plans.

You can fill out the application yourself or you can ask a specialist at the Social Security PASS Cadre for help. These specialists have a great deal of experience with the program, and working with one will make it more likely that your PASS will be approved.

To contact the San Diego PASS Cadre (serving Arizona), call toll-free 1-855-820-0097, extension 24059 or 24060.

Others who can help you with your PASS application:

Tips for Successfully Completing Your PASS Application

The PASS application has lots of questions — but don’t let that scare you. There are ways to break up the PASS application and make it easier to complete. Here are some suggestions:

  • Fill out a section at a time. Take breaks. Don’t try to fill out the whole application all at once.
  • Ask a Social Security PASS Cadre to help you with the application.
  • Ask a friend to check your work as you continue to fill out the application section by section.
Examples of successful PASS applications

The University of Montana Rural Institute has a list of successful PASS plans. Take a look and see if you can follow someone else’s example!

You should also keep a list of any monthly expenses that you could include in a PASS. Include descriptions and costs of all items.

College expenses that you could include in your PASS
  • School tuition and fees
  • Books
  • School supplies
  • Transportation
  • Tutoring
  • Subscriptions to 2 professional journals

Virginia Commonwealth University's Rehabilitation Research and Training Center offers fact sheets about a variety of topics. To see a sample of a PASS Monthly Expense Sheet, click here.

Work Goals

The first question on the PASS application asks about your work goal. Your goal could be a variety of things:

  • Getting a new job
  • Getting a new, higher paying position at your current job
  • Working more hours
  • Working with less support, if you are in a supported employment position
  • Starting your own business

You can only have 1 work goal per PASS plan, and your work goal must be clear and specific. If it’s not clear and specific, your PASS won’t be approved.

Examples
  • “Getting a teaching credential” is probably not specific enough to be approved as a PASS goal. But "getting a teaching credential to teach high school science” probably is.
  • “Working from home” is likely not specific enough. But "starting my own paper-shredding business in my home” probably is.

Self-Support

Social Security will review your plan and decide whether or not your work goal will allow you to become self-supporting. Specifically, they look at the following:

  • If you currently get SSI benefits, you need to show how reaching your work goal will significantly lower, or end, your SSI benefits. (Remember, if you’re not already on SSI, you will need to apply for SSI benefits when you apply for your PASS.)
  • If you currently get SSDI benefits, you need to show how reaching your goal will cause your earnings to stay above the Substantial Gainful Activity level ($1,220 per month in 2019), which will eventually stop your dependence on SSDI benefits.
  • You must also show that your projected earnings after you complete your PASS will enable you to pay on your own for your living expenses, medical expenses, and work-related expenses.
  • For a self-employment PASS you must show a detailed business plan.

Your Plan Must Be Feasible and Viable

When Social Security reviews your PASS plan, they will decide whether or not the plan is both feasible and viable.

Your PASS plan is feasible if you can realistically complete the steps outlined in your plan and reach your work goal.

To decide if a PASS is feasible, Social Security will analyze:

  • Your disability and any related limitations. For example, if you have trouble sitting for long periods of time, becoming a taxi driver would probably not be a feasible work goal for you
  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • Your education and job history
  • In some cases, your age

Your PASS plan is viable if you have enough funds in your PASS and from other sources of income to pay for your plan.

To decide if a plan is viable, Social Security will analyze:

  • All of the expenses in your plan, including the cost of education, training, and any assistive technology needed to achieve your goal
  • If your monthly SSI benefits are enough to pay for your basic living expenses

If Social Security decides that your plan is not feasible and viable, they won't approve it. However, Social Security may allow you to make changes and submit it again.

Timeline

The PASS application asks for a timeline listing the steps you will need to take to achieve your work goal:

  • You need to figure out how much each step in your PASS will cost and set aside enough money in your PASS to pay for it. The cost of each of your expenses must be reasonable.
  • You have to pay for the expenses in your PASS plan out of your own pocket. If someone else pays for an expense, it cannot be included as a PASS expense.
  • For expenses like a car or computer, you will have to explain why you need a particular model and why your current car or computer (if you own one) is not good enough.
  • You need to identify all your expenses and do your best to calculate how much you will spend on each item over the duration of your PASS. Remember that Social Security may allow you to make changes to your PASS plan in the future, if you need to.
Examples of expenses that may be acceptable under a PASS

Remember that a PASS is unique to you and your personal work goal, so your expenses may be different. As always, follow up with your PASS Cadre if you have any questions.

  • Transportation to and from work
  • Tuition, books, fees and supplies needed for school or training
  • Child care
  • Attendant care
  • Employment services, such as job coaching and resume writing
  • Supplies to start a business
  • Equipment and tools to do the job, or
  • Uniforms, special clothing, and safety equipment.

Once You Complete Your Application

Once you have filled out all of your application, there are several things to do:

  • Before you submit your completed application to Social Security, make a copy of it for your records.
  • Submit your application by hand or mail it to your local Social Security office or PASS Cadre office (remember, the Arizona PASS Cadre is in San Diego, California). Be sure to include all supporting documentation (for example, your business plan; information about expenses; and letters of support from your vocational rehabilitation counselor, advocate, therapist, or physician).
  • If you are not currently on SSI benefits, you must apply for SSI when you apply for the PASS program.

The PASS Cadre will review your application. If your application is complete and you’ve supplied all necessary documentation, you should find out if your plan has been approved within 1 to 3 weeks (self-employment plans may take longer).

If your application is incomplete, or if there are other problems with it, the PASS Cadre will contact you to try and resolve those problems.

If your application is denied and you disagree with the decision, you should request a meeting with your PASS Cadre. Find out why your PASS application was denied and the rules behind the decision.

If you still disagree with the decision after your meeting, you can submit a written request for reconsideration, asking that another PASS Cadre look at your case again.

If you need help writing your request for reconsideration, contact an advocate at the Center for Disability Law (ACDL).

Social Security Approved My PASS. What Should I Do Now?

First, you should review all the materials you get from Social Security about your PASS. This will include a letter of approval that gives details on the monthly amount you have to set aside for your PASS, your approved expenses, and the date of your first PASS review with your PASS Cadre. If you have any questions at all, contact your PASS Cadre to discuss them.

You should also do the following:

  • Create a separate checking account for the money you will be setting aside for your PASS expenses.
    • Don’t mix your PASS funds with your other money.
    • Don’t use PASS funds to pay for non-PASS expenses.
    • Pay for PASS expenses using your debit card or checks. If you have to use cash, always get a receipt for the expense!
  • Know exactly how much you are supposed to deposit into your PASS account each month and when to make the deposit.
  • Follow your plan and know your milestones.
  • If anything changes, call your PASS Cadre right away. This could include changes in your work goal, PASS expenses, income, or living situation.
  • If you need to change your PASS plan, you will need to submit a written revision to your PASS Cadre and Social Security.
    • If Social Security and your PASS Cadre approve your changes, your PASS will be amended (changed). You will get approval of any changes in writing.
  • Your PASS Cadre will review your case at least once every 6 months to see how your plan is progressing and to collect receipts for your expenses. This is known as a PASS review.
  • Good record keeping is very important. Keep a separate file for all letters to and from Social Security, receipts, bank statements, and any other records related to your PASS plan.