Jan’s Story

Jan has gotten Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) benefits for many years due to depression and an anxiety disorder. She has been working as a part-time cashier at a restaurant, but her goal is to become a professional chef.

Her vocational rehabilitation counselor told her about SSI’s Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program. They both agreed it would be a great way for Jan to save money to pay for vocational school and the other steps she needed to take to start a career as a chef.

Keeping Her SSI Benefits

Jan was relieved to hear that saving money in a PASS would not lower her monthly SSI benefits. In fact, setting up a PASS would help her to get the most out of her benefits. She also learned that by setting up a PASS, she’d be able to set aside the countable income from her wages to pay for expenses related to becoming a chef. Social Security would not count that money when they calculated her SSI benefits, nor would they count it against SSI’s $2,000 resource limit for a single person.

“Think of it this way,” said her counselor. “By setting up a PASS, your SSI benefits will go up to help pay for your living expenses, and you’ll be able to invest your wages in achieving your work goal.”

Developing Her Plan

As Jan and her counselor looked over the PASS application form, Jan realized that it was going to take a while to complete the application.

Rather than try to complete the application all at once, Jan worked on it over a 3-day period. She checked in with a friend and her vocational counselor regularly as she filled out the application, asking them for feedback on what she’d written. She also contacted a PASS specialist and asked for guidance.

The application asked Jan about her professional goal and information on her medical history, work history, and educational background. It also asked about expenses related to achieving her goal. Jan made a list of all the expenses she would need to pay for using her PASS, including tuition for culinary classes, books, knives, transportation to and from school and interviews, uniforms, and other clothes for work.

PASS Approved

Jan completed the application and submitted it to her PASS Cadre, along with a copy of her Individual Plan for Employment (IPE). Three weeks later, she got a letter in the mail saying that her PASS had been approved.

Jan was ecstatic! She reviewed the letter, which included information about the monthly amount she had to set aside for her PASS, her approved expenses, and the date of her first PASS review. She went out and bought a binder to store all her receipts, letters, and bank statements related to her PASS. She also opened a separate checking account for the money she would be setting aside to pay for expenses approved by her PASS.

PASS turned out to be a great tool for Jan. It allowed her to use her SSI benefits to pay for her basic living expenses while she pursued her career goal. And in the long run, it would enable her to work at a job she loves, earn a good living, and get off SSI.