PolicyWorks has partnered with the World Institute on Disability and the National Council on Disability to create the framework for a series of policy reforms and programmatic changes to the Security Administration’s (SSA’s) Supplemental Income Program (SSI) for youth aged 18-30: the CareerACCESS initiative. The CareerACCESS program 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 people with disabilities, up to age 30, who are SSI recipients. As they begin to explore careers, youth 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 $2,000 of assets while receiving SSI benefits.

CareerACCESS takes a two-pronged approach. First, it updates and simplifies the Social Security rules. It removes the requirement of declaring and proving a work incapacity. It allows participants to keep their full federal SSI stipend until their earnings plus stipend exceed 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 youth with disabilities through the development of a suite of services and supports, blending an d braiding existing federal funding with new resources to create a program of consumer-driven services. CareerACCESS services include individual career planning, coaching, work incentives planning and asset development as well as other services identified as the youth develops his or her individual career plan. The goal of all activities is to position the young person 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 youth affected by these challenges and to build support and advocacy for the proposed pilots. The goal is to move this proposed program forward though federal legislative or administration channels.