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PASS Plans Turn Student Dreams Into Reality

By Marsha Katz, Organizational Consultant
The Rural Institute
The University of Montana

Last year George's teachers expected that when he left the school system at age 19, he would go to the local workshop where he would likely spend the remainder of his adult life in a day program or doing sheltered work. This year, George's teachers are among the customers of his western Montana food delivery service. Not only have they completely changed their minds about the prospects for George's future, but his success has raised their expectations for many of their students who have significant disabilities.

What made all this possible? Money and expertise. Combined from several sources, money and expertise helped George and his family dream about his future and then take the steps to make those dreams come true. Rural Institute consultant with the Montana Transition Systems Change grant, Ellen Condon, the Bitterroot Education Cooperative, and school staff helped George identify his skills and interests and try out different work environments. Staff from Montana Vocational Rehabilitation and another Rural Institute Training Department project helped piece together money to provide George with job development, job coaching, and personal assistance. Finally, Rural Institute staff wrote a business plan for the food delivery business and a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS plan) to generate the money necessary for George to buy the van he needed to deliver the food.

PASS plans allow persons who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to set aside income and/or resources that SSI would usually count as income, and use that money to achieve a work-related goal. In other words, the SSI recipient ends up with an extra pot of money to help him/her learn, find, perform and/or maintain a job. The extra money a PASS plan generates can be used for further training or education, for equipment or tools, for transportation to work, for job development and coaching, for work evaluations, or to start a business, as George did.

Once used primarily for adults, PASS plans are being used increasingly for students in transition. This win-win situation assists students with disabilities to move into adulthood with real community jobs, and real earnings, while it helps schools and Vocational Rehabilitation stretch already strained funding as they try to serve all students in their purview.

If you have a teenage student with a disability, who might benefit from having a PASS plan, call the Rural Institute to discuss your situation and see if a PASS is possible. Staff from the Rural Institute's Research in Social Security Employment Supports (RISES) project can help you. You can reach Roger Shelley in the Billings area at (406) 446-2065, or Marsha Katz in Missoula at (406) 243-2821 or (877) 243-2476 Toll Free.