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An Asset Building Strategy for Individuals with Disabilities

In 2008, the Small Business Administration reports, there were 27 million small businesses in the United States.  Yet, until recently, self-employment was not widely considered a viable employment goal for people with disabilities. The perception was that anyone owning a business must be able to manage all aspects of the company independently. However, most business owners are “interdependent” on others whether they have a disability or not. Most business owners hire individuals to assist them in the day-to-day operations.

Business owners with disabilities can hire staff to assist with business operations just like any other business owner. Business owners with disabilities can utilize the skills of their hired staff as well as other supports necessary for them to be gainfully self-employed.

Self-employment is a unique way to build assets. For SSI Recipients, SSA has created work incentives that may allow you to build assets in a business and maintain SSI-Medicaid eligibility. Individuals who receive Social Security Disability Insurance are not held to asset limitations by the Social Security Administration. Also, as the business owner, you have more control over the earnings of your business and your own salary.

There are several unique benefits of self-employment specific to individuals with disabilities:

Self-employment is naturally guided by self-determination. The only outside influences are the market (your customers) and the investors (your funders).

Self-employment is customized employment. You do not have to “get ready” to work. Because your business is customized according to your unique talents and abilities, you are ready now. Support needs are also customized based upon your individual needs, and may include hiring people to manage aspects of the business that do not fit your unique talents and abilities.

Self-employment is community-based employment. As the boss, you have control over your work environment and may choose to spend more time in the community participating in business related activities.

Self-employment allows you to build assets and maintain SSI-Medicaid eligibility. If you are an SSI-Medicaid recipient, the Social Security Administration has created work incentives and policies specific to SSI (Supplemental Security Income) recipients who would like to own their own business.

    • Property Essential to Self Support (PESS) – PESS excludes some resources that are essential to your means of self support when your SSI is determined.
    • Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) – A PASS allows you to set aside income and/or resources (above the $2000 asset limit) for a specified time for a work goal. A PASS can help you establish or maintain SSI eligibility and can increase your SSI payment amount.
    • Net Earnings from Self-Employment (NESE) – Social Security will count a portion of your net earnings when determining your SSI payment amount. Net earnings are equal to your gross receipts minus business expenses multiplied by .9235.

In each State, there are typically several programs and services designed to assist you, as an individual with a disability, with your self-employment goal.  A quality-starting place is your State’s Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (VR).  VR, as defined under the Rehabilitation Act, offers access to a full range of services that may be needed by persons with disabilities throughout their life; including return to work services.

The language in the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 regarding self-employment, telecommuting, and establishing a small business makes it clear that Congress intends these employment outcomes to be available in assisting individuals with disabilities to obtain employment opportunities consistent with their strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice.  These inclusions also make it explicit that Congress intends self-employment, telecommuting, and establishing a small business to be viable employment outcomes, and that the State VR Services Program is to have the authority and ability to provide the services necessary to support those outcomes.

As always, you should connect with an expert on your Social Security disability benefits to better understand the impact and benefits of self-employment:

Work Incentive Planning and Assistance – Funded through the Social Security Administration, the goal of the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) Program is to better enable Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities to make informed choices about work.  Services are free and available throughout the Country;


Self-Employment Resources

In addition to the programs and services available locally, there are many National Resources available to help you achieve your self-employment goal.

START-UP / USA - provides technical assistance and disseminates resources nationally to individuals interested in pursuing self-employment. This includes a live web cast series with successful entrepreneurs who share their secrets for success;

Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Employment
Cary Griffin & Dave Hammis;

Griffin-Hammis Associates;

Small Business and Self-Employment for People with Disabilities
Office of Disability Employment Policy;

The Small Business and Self-Employment Service (SBSES) is a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor, which provides information, counseling, and referrals about self-employment and small business ownership opportunities for people with disabilities. SBSES, located at the Job Accommodation Network;

United States Small Business Association maintains and strengthens the nation's economy by aiding, counseling, assisting, and protecting the interests of small businesses, and by helping families and businesses recover from national disasters;

Business Owners Toolkit Information on Starting Your Business, Planning Your Business, Getting Financing, Marketing Your Product, Winning Government Contracts, Your Office and Equipment, People Who Work for You, Managing Your Business Finances, Controlling Your Taxes, Building Your Personal Wealth, Protecting Your Assets, and Getting Out of Your Business;

Rural Institute: Self-Employment for People with Disabilities;

PASS Plan Resources and Examples;

Self-Employment On-Line Seminar - The presenter is Nancy Brooks-Lane of Cobb/Douglas Community Services Boards (CSBs) in Georgia. These seminars are great resources on Customized Employment. T-TAP is funded by the Department of Labor (DOL), Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). Visit T-TAP's Online Seminar Library;