The Facts Ma'am, Just the Facts: Social Security Disability Benefit Programs and Work Incentives

Article excerpt

"Teachers and parents of children with disabilities are concerned and therefore focus on the eventual transition from the planned and orderly surroundings of school to the postschool world of adult living and all that it entails. The multiple services and supports that a child needs while in school prove to be a necessary support when the school program comes to an end and there is a transition to pursue postsecondary education, employment, and adult social involvement in the community. Serving as a blueprint for this ultimate transition from the beginning of special education services is the student's individualized education program (IEP). IEPs serve as one of the major guides for educational programs, and during the transition years it begins to contain transition specific information defined by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA) regulations. Good transition plans reflect the student's persona! choices, preferences, and needs across a variety of domains including education, employment, community living, and recreational experiences.

IDEA requires that parents and students be involved in all aspects of the transition planning and decision-making process, and most teachers recognize that this involvement is vital to success. To fully participate effectively, students and their family members need to become familiar not only with the transition requirements of IDEA but also the host of new community service providers who may directly or indirectly provide support as students move from school to the realization of adult goals, Many school programs across the country do an outstanding job planning for this ultimate transition from school, yet there is one area that continues to be overlooked: planning for Social security benefits.

Vital to the transition process for most students with disabilities is the important consideration of Social security benefits. In recent years, the transition from school to work has become a growing emphasis for the Social security Administration (SSA). Many youth with disabilities either receive or will be eligible to receive Social security disability benefits such as Supplemental security Income (SSI) or Title II Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB). Knowing how employment might impact these benefits is critically important to students with disabilities and their families. Therefore, it makes sense for school programs to reach out to the SSA or professionals with expertise in SSA benefits and employment supports and recruit them to be an active partner in the transition process.

Although there may be many reasons to explain why SSA or their representatives are not part of the transition process, it represents a lost opportunity to educate students with disabilities and their families at a pivotal time when they can actually apply this new information. Yet, this is more than just an educational opportunity for students and their families. Social security benefits are a valuable resource to eligible students as they transition from school to adult life. In addition to providing cash payments and/or health benefits, Social security benefits also include numerous work incentives and exclusions specifically designed to increase an individual's employment and earning capacity. However, failure to focus on Social Security benefits during transition can cause real harm when students and their family members are not aware of the effects of earnings on cash benefits and medical insurance.

Despite the many advantages for reviewing Social security benefits as a major component of successful transition from school to work, it is not consistently included as a major part of the transition planning process. One reason for this failure is that most school personnel are typically not aware of the many SSA benefits and often do not consider the family's finances to be within the scope of their responsibility. Additionally, when transition planning moves away from academic programs into the area of financial security, teachers may become very uncomfortable. …