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Saving for post-secondary education: Strategies for individuals with disabilities

by Lucy Axton Miller, Susan O'Mara, and Elizabeth E. Getzel

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O'Mara, S., Getzel, L. & Miller, L. (2009). Saving for post-secondary education: Strategies for individuals with disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 31(3), 167-174.

Abstract

Many students with disabilities receive some form of disability benefit from the Social Security Administration. There is a common misconception among individuals with disabilities, their families and the disability services provider community
that saving for post secondary education is not permitted under the Social Security disability benefit program rules. In fact, for individuals receiving disability benefits authorized under title II of the Social Security Act, there are no restrictions placed upon asset accumulation or the amount of resources a beneficiary may have. The title II disability programs include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Childhood Disability benefits (CDB) and Disabled Widow(er)s Benefits (DWB). Many other students receive benefits from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Currently, SSI program rules require that eligible individuals have no more than $2,000 of countable resources with a $3,000 limit for two SSI recipients who form an eligible couple. While this limit is stringent, there are numerous resource exclusions which do not count in any way against the student when SSI eligibility determinations are made. Several of these resource exclusions are specifically designed to permit SSI recipients to save for post secondary education or training which prepares them for paid employment. This paper summarizes these provisions and provides information on additional resources individuals with disabilities may access to help cover the costs of education or vocational training after high school. The provisions covered include: Plans for Achieving Self-Support or PASS, Educational Savings Accounts or 529 Plans, Coverdell Accounts, Educational Assistance received under Title IV of the Higher Education Act such as PELL and Supplemental Educational Opportunities grants and federal work-study Individual Development Accounts (IDA), and assistance from State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies and One-Stop Career Centers.

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