Benefits Planning for Employment

Information and tools for disability planning are valuable for youth with disabilities as they aspire to increase self-sufficiency and achieve independence. The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability (NCWD) reports, "There are a wide range of state and federal government programs and benefits for people with disabilities in the United States, some with complex, and sometimes conflicting, eligibility rules. Youth with disabilities may qualify for some forms of government assistance programs based on disability, income status, or both. They may already be in some of these programs and unaware that their eligibility will be determined under different criteria as they enter into adulthood. At the other end of the spectrum, they may want to enter employment and be unaware that some of these programs contain work incentives that can actually help with their educational and employment goals (n.d.)." Benefits and work incentive examples include the following:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides cash benefits to people with disabilities or blind individuals who are “insured” by workers, employers and self-employed people. To be eligible for a Social Security benefit, the worker must earn sufficient credits based on taxable work to be “insured” for Social Security purposes. In certain cases, SSDI benefits can be available to the worker’s family members. The amount of the monthly disability benefit is based on the Social Security earnings record of the insured worker.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a means-tested program intended for people with disabilities who have little or no income and few resources. Because of this, other income and resources determine whether an individual is eligible as well as the amount of monthly SSI benefit payments. Income is what people receive in a month and resources are cash and items a person owns that can be converted to cash.
  • Earned Income and Other Exclusions reduce the amount of money that the Social Security Administration counts toward an individual’s income when determining the amount of SSI benefits someone can receive. For example, scholarships or grants that students use to pay tuition, book costs, or related education expenses can be excluded from an individual’s total income. The amount left over after allowable deductions is known as the countable income. SSI beneficiaries who work can continue to receive SSI payments until their countable income exceeds the SSI limit.
  • The Student-Earned Income Exclusion, as well as Section 301 protections, support the ability of transition-aged youth to work and have earnings through work-based learning programs that are integrated into educational programs.
  • Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) allows a person with a disability to set aside income and resources for a specified period of time to achieve a work goal.Section 1619(b) of the Social Security Act offers continued Medicaid to those eligible working individuals whose earned income is too high to qualify for SSI cash payments, but not high enough to offset the loss of Medicaid. Similarly, a number of states have adopted.
  • Medicaid 'buy-in' programs allow people with disabilities to maintain their Medicaid coverage by paying a small premium until they reach a specific income above the poverty level" (NCWD, n.d.).

Note: Supplemental Security Income benefits change significantly on a student’s 18th birthday. To ensure that benefits are not lost, students who plan to seek employment should meet with a Community Work Incentive Coordinator (CWIC) before they reach the age of majority. Students must be receiving SSI and have employment as a goal in order to work with CWICs who are located at Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) offices.

Note: Disability benefits have complex regulations governing their award and administration. It is essential that students and families work with qualified counselors in investigating, applying for and managing benefits.


This section contains resources for students, educators and families seeking information on benefits planning, the impact of wages on disability benefits and achieving self-sufficiency.

Internal Resources

Project 10 - Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
This page includes more specific information about SSI as well as additional resources.

External Resources

ABLE Accounts
This website provides information about tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families. The ABLE savings account allows individuals with disabilities to save funds for their future without impacting eligibility for public benefits such as SSI and Medicaid.

Florida Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) Organizations (pdf)
Map and contact information for the five WIPA organizations serving Florida in which Community Work Incentive Coordinators (CWICs) are located.

Guide to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Groups and Organizations
This booklet explains the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for people who have disabilities or are 65 or older and is designed to help institutions, groups and organizations that have contact with potential or current SSI recipients.

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability
This flyer provides youth and their families with much-needed information and resources related to benefits planning.

The Red Book - A Guide to Work Incentives

Social Security Administration (SSA)

Social Security Area Work Incentive Coordinators for North and South Florida

Social Security Benefits Planner

Social Security Benefits for People with Disabilities
The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are the largest of several Federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities. This webpage provides information on Social Security programs, eligibility, applying for benefits and appealing benefits denials.

Ticket to Work - Youth in Transition
Ticket to Work is a voluntary incentive program for SSI recipients 18 and older who want to transition to work. Incentives include keeping cash benefits and medical coverage during the transition and restarting SSI payments if recipients find they cannot work. Youth receiving SSI will receive a "ticket" when they reach their 18th birthday. The site includes a directory (searchable by zip code, city, county, or state) of Employment Networks that administer Ticket programs.

Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA)