Cash assistance may help low-income individuals meet their basic needs, including food, water, shelter and heating. Some programs (such as TANF) are strictly temporary in nature, while others (such as SSI and SSDI) were developed to address long-term needs. These programs generally have highly specific and stringent requirements for eligibility, and there are numerous rules regarding the application process and renewal that must be followed to the letter to ensure continued benefit receipt. These programs also sometimes have quotas, which can result in some people being denied. People who were denied can re-apply, although this process is often very time-consuming.
It is useful to note that individuals who qualify for one program often qualify for another program. For example, individuals who qualify for TANF or SSI often qualify for Medicaid or Medicare (depending on circumstances), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and similar programs such as housing aid.
For more information on Social Security assistance for children with disabilities, please see the Social Security Administration’s guide to SSI and SSDI.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is a short-term program that helps low-income families with financial need get help with paying bills for food, clothing, shelter, utilities, and non-medical expenses. Because it is administered individually by each separate state, the benefits provided to families under the program can vary. The program also provides certain transitional services to help families become more independent, including GED preparation, education, vocational rehabilitation, help with childcare and other services.
Some individuals eligible for TANF can often be eligible to qualify for other benefits, including certain medical assistance programs and SNAP or EBT benefits (a program formerly known as ‘food stamps.’)
It is worth noting that this program has a time limit on how long families can be on the program (a total of 60 months over the course of the individual’s lifetime, though in some states the deadline is significantly shorter), and there are certain tasks that individuals who are on TANF must do in order to comply with the program’s requirements. These tasks include actively seeking employment, job training or vocational counseling and having a certain maximum income.
Individual state agencies set income requirements, work stipulations and rules regarding families. Having children with disabilities does not necessarily qualify a family to be eligible for TANF benefits, though recent developments in the TANF program does allow certain individuals to obtain waivers if there is a dependent with disabilities being cared for in the home who cannot work. Because the details of TANF are highly variable by state, it is best to consult with a caseworker or an employee of your state’s Department of Human Services.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
For individuals with disabilities, one option available to supplement income if they cannot work is a program called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This program, which is administered by the Social Security Administration, helps provide for certain basic expenses that an individual who cannot work (whether it is due to disability, blindness or being age 65+) still needs. One of the specific advantages of this program is that it is not tied to prior work history, unlike programs such as SSDI, which is based on a certain number of work credits. However, the amount that SSI pays out is often significantly lower than the amounts paid out by SSDI.
If an individual cannot manage their own finances, the payments can be made to a caretaker or parent who pays bills and ensures that all needs are addressed, such as housing payments/rent, utilities, living expenses, general expenses, and clothing.
The process for applying for SSI is very long, and the majority of individuals are denied the first time around. People who have been denied can appeal the decision and may have the decision changed in a process called redetermination. Individuals denied during redetermination can ask to appear in front of an administrative law judge. If the judge denies the application, an applicant can ask that the decision is reviewed by an appeals council. Very, very rarely, if a council upholds the denial, a federal court can review the decision, but most cases are resolved before this point.
The qualification process involves several provisions: the individual must be determined to have a disability under the law, be blind or over 65, and have their assets and income assessed to make sure they meet certain monetary requirements. These determination decisions are carried out by state Disability Determination Services, which are state agencies that follow federal rules.
In some circumstances, the Social Security Administration can fast-track an application under a compassionate allowances provision if a person’s medical status is severe enough that it is clear they meet disability standards.
To apply for SSI, individuals must visit their local Social Security Administration office or request that forms be sent to their home by phone; the process can also be started at the SSI Administration website. To increase the chances that they will be approved, applications must provide specific and verifiable information regarding assets, income and disability status. Applicants should also make sure that all relevant medical records are provided to the Social Security Administration.
One way that applicants seeking to apply for SSI can maximize their chances of successfully applying for and receiving SSI is speaking to an SSI attorney. SSI attorneys can help present a person’s application in the most favorable light with the right kind of evidence, and advocate for an application if it is denied. Hiring an SSI attorney is also a low-risk activity because the fees that attorneys can charge to help applicants are capped by federal law.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) (also known as ‘disability payments’) is another program overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that individuals with disabilities may potentially be able to apply for. The program, which is funded through payroll taxes, can help defray costs of living to individuals with disabilities who have previously worked but are not longer able to. Minors who never had the ability to work due to disability can still apply, however, but their application will be based on their parents’ record of paying payroll taxes. The program can be temporary or permanent depending on individual circumstances.
Individuals applying for SSDI can apply in-person at their local Social Security Administration office, request that forms are mailed to them (by calling 800.772.1213), or begin the process online at https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/. Individuals who begin the process online must still do an in-person interview.
It is fairly common to be denied the first time you apply for SSDI. Providing the proper documentation and evidence in the proper way can significantly increase the chances that an application is approved. However, if an application is denied, there are numerous opportunities to have the decision revisited. Individuals applying for SSDI can file an appeal by filing a ‘request for redetermination form’, though this process may take up to a year. Usually, this appeal process involves gathering more information, as the reason that many applications are denied is insufficient evidence. Just like the process for SSI redetermination, individuals filing for SSDI redetermination have the opportunity to appear in front of an administrative law judge (with witnesses speaking on their behalf, if desired). The judge will hear from the applicant, and from Social Security Administration representatives. If the judge denies the application, an applicant can request a review by an appeals court; if the appeals court upholds a judge’s denial, in very, very rare circumstances an applicant can have the case reviewed by a federal court. This rarely happens, if ever, as most determination cases are handled prior to this stage at the hearing stage.
One way to maximize your chances of successfully applying for SSDI is hiring an attorney that focuses on SSDI to help with your application. This is generally a low-risk step, because attorney fees are capped. Generally, the sooner an attorney is hired in the application process, the less an applicant has to pay.