Helping Youth with Disabilities Make Successful Transitions into Adulthood

Helping Young People with Disabilities Successfully Transition to Adulthood

foster careThe transition to adulthood can be challenging, especially for young people with disabilities who come from low-income families and receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social Security is with you through life’s journey, helping you secure today and tomorrow. Part of that commitment is creating a path for children with disabilities that leads to rewarding lives as adults.

More than a million children with significant disabilities receive SSI benefits. During the transition years — generally from ages 14 to 18 and beyond — young people with disabilities ideally gain the knowledge and skills they’ll need to achieve independence and self-sufficiency. They face significant challenges, as many of the resources and services available to young people with disabilities end when they leave the educational system or reach age 18 and are classified as adults. Turning 18 also triggers an important change in SSI benefits: Social Security must make a new determination on their SSI eligibility using the adult disability standards. About one-in-three such beneficiaries lose their SSI benefits.

It’s critical that young SSI beneficiaries nearing age 18 begin to prepare early. Social Security has policies, resources, and support in place to help, but many people don’t know about them. We recently implemented several new initiatives to help young people and their families prepare for this transition.

We developed a new brochure, What You Need to Know About Your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) When You Turn 18, describing key resources and information for young people receiving SSI. It explains the benefit re-determination at age 18 and special SSI work incentives for people participating in special education, Vocational Rehabilitation, or working while attending school.  It also includes information on Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts; health programs; and support from other places, such as American Job Centers. We’re mailing the brochure this month (and each year in the future) to all SSI recipients ages 14 to 17.

We also added a new section to the Red Book, Social Security’s guide to work incentives, consolidating information on programs and resources for young people to help with the transition from school to adulthood. We encourage young people who receive SSI  — and their parents, teachers, service providers, caregivers, or representatives — to use these materials to learn about the many programs and resources available for them.

Social Security also helps young people with disabilities who are about to leave foster care, often at age 18. When foster care ends, they may become eligible for SSI — but in the time period before SSI payments begin, they may be left without any means of support. On August 1, 2016, we expanded the early application period for people leaving foster care from 90 days ahead of the date they leave foster care to 180 days ahead, as a pilot test nationwide.  Starting an SSI application earlier allows for a smoother transition out of foster care for those eligible for SSI as adults.

We’re also active members of the Federal Partners in Transition workgroup, which develops strategies to promote successful youth transitions. You can visit our website to learn more about what we are doing for transition-age youth.

About Susan Wilschke, Deputy Associate Commissioner for
Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support


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