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Tax Deductions & Credits for Special Needs Families

March 10th, 2017

By Amy C. O’Hara, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

Parents of children with special needs often have unique financial concerns, and one way to ease those concerns is to reduce their tax burden.

There are many tax deductions and credits available that parents may not be aware of. Parents of children with special needs should familiarize themselves with the deductions and credits and take care to document all expenses related to their children’s medical expenses, development and therapy.

Here are 5 useful tax deductions and credits for parents of children with special needs:

Littman Krooks Special Needs Planning

1. Medical & Therapy Expenses

The first type of deduction to consider is for medical and therapy expenses. For income tax purposes, learning disabilities are a type of medical condition. This may include autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, and other learning disabilities.

While these expenses are limited by 10 percent of adjusted gross income, the limitation may be exceeded by certain types of out-of-pocket expenses.

Such expenses can include the following:

  • Special schooling such as: tutoring that is specifically intended to address the special needs of the child.
  • Regular education when it is intended to treat the child’s special needs.
  • Aides that a child may require to benefit from education.
  • Exercise programs, if they are recommended by a medical professional.
  • Transportation to and from special schools or therapy sessions.
  • Equipment, devices and supplies necessary to treat or alleviate a medical condition, including technology items such as communication devices.

2. Specialized Foods

A gluten-free, casein-free diet can be used as a deduction provided it is medically recommended. Generally, only the additional cost of the specialized foods over and above what would be paid for similar items is deductible.

3. Legal Expenses

In some cases, legal expenses related to your child’s special needs may be deductible, for instance if you hire an attorney to help you prove that your child’s medical expenses are legitimate.

Tax Credits

Even more helpful than a tax deduction is a tax credit, which applies directly to the amount of tax you owe. The tax credits most helpful to parents of special needs children are the Child and Dependent Care Credit and the Earned Income Credit. In both cases, a credit that is normally only available for children may also be used for an older child with special needs.

4. Child and Dependent Care Credit

The Child and Dependent Care Credit may be applied when you pay someone to care for your dependent, and it provides a tax credit of up to $3,000 per dependent, to a maximum of $6,000 for two or more dependents.  Child-care, after-school programs and day camp qualify for the credit.

The credit is available for children under the age of 13, but the age limit does not apply to older children with special needs.

5. Earned Income Credit

The Earned Income Credit can also be useful for parents of children with special needs. The credit generally may be applied by families with a low to moderate income and children under the age of 19, or up to age 23 for full-time students. However, for adult children living with their parents, the age limit does not apply.

In Conclusion

Parents of children with special needs know that there are unique challenges involved, including financial hurdles. However, with careful planning and the assistance of an experienced attorney who is sensitive to special needs issues, you can make sure you do what is necessary to reduce your tax burden and protect your child’s interests.

 

Learn more about Littman Krooks services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Housing Assistance for People with Disabilities

November 22nd, 2016

Finding affordable housing can be difficult for people with disabilities, who may have special housing needs or limited funds. However, there are a number of resources available to help:

Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York

The Center for Independence of the Disabled (CID-NY) is a primary resource. In addition to providing individuals with referrals and resources related to affordable and accessible housing, CID-NY  can provide assistance with applying for disability related programs. The phone number for the main intake line is 646-442-4186.

Medicaid Waiver Program

The Medicaid Waiver Program provides help for individuals who need managed long-term care to find housing in the community and the home services they need. In addition to housing, the program provides services such as meals and home care. For more information, contact the Regional Resource Development Center at 718-816-3555.

Home of Your Own Program

Pretty asian girl using her smartphone on the couch at home in tThe Home of Your Own Program is a project of the New York Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) to help individuals with developmental disabilities, their families who are income-eligible, and direct support professionals to find a home of their choice. The program and its network of partners provide counseling and resources for home ownership and other independent residential opportunities. Contact OPWDD at 518-473-1973.

Rent Freeze Program

New York City tenants with disabilities may qualify for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program. Eligible people with disabilities living in rent-stabilized, rent-controlled, Mitchell-Lama and other eligible apartments can have their rent frozen and receive an exemption from future rent increases. Their landlords are provided with tax credits to make up the difference.

Affordable Housing Lotteries

In New York City, affordable housing lotteries are held for renovated or newly constructed buildings with subsidized apartments. Usually, 2 percent of the units in a development are set aside for people with visual and hearing disabilities, and 5 percent are set aside for people with mobility impairments. Call NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) at 212-863-7990.

 

Learn more about our services in special needs planning, special education advocacy, estate planning and elder law.

 

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Workshop on Childhood Trauma Provides Insightful Information for Parents and School Personnel

October 31st, 2016

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

littman-krooks-trauma-workshopOn October 27, 2016, a committed group of parents and educators, on a very stormy evening, attended a workshop on: Development  Mediated by Trauma: How to Recognize and Remediate Adverse Childhood Experiences,  with experts Dr. Boris Gindis, psychologist specializing in trauma and Jennifer Griesbach, a psychotherapist specializing in adoptive children. According to Dr. Gindis, “Trauma is an objectively stressful event that subjectively is experienced by a person as emotional distress, disturbance and suffering.” Traumatic stress, even only unresponsive care, can cause damage to the biochemistry of the brain, he noted. The workshop centered on the understanding of Developmental Trauma Disorder and the need for patience and awareness of the issues.   Ms. Griesbach and Dr. Gindis both recommended therapeutic parenting and specific types of psychotherapy and family counseling to assist children.

Marion Walsh, Esq. from Littman Krooks LLP noted that many schools and parents do not understand the effects of trauma on children and that school districts have an affirmative duty to locate students suspected of having disabilities, including emotional disabilities.  Trauma can lead to emotional and learning disabilities. She spoke about the need for education, training and school services and placements available.

More information will be forthcoming in the future as we learn more about this important topic. Visit our calendar to learn about our upcoming workshops.

Learn about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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How Students With Disabilities in New York Are Succeeding

September 17th, 2016

Some special education experts say that New York’s assessment tests, aligned with Common Core standards and intended to improve student achievement, are not producing good outcomes for students with disabilities.

Last year, throughout the state, there were 190 school districts in which no third-grade special education students were proficient on the language arts test. In New York City, only 12 percent of students with disabilities scored “proficient” or higher in math; in English it was 7 percent. Critics say that special education students should not have to take the same exams that are taken by students without disabilities. Last year, 20 percent of all New York students opted out of taking the exams.

school-suppliesOn the other side of this debate are special education advocates who say that setting high standards for students with disabilities encourages them to achieve. These advocates say that with the right supports and services, special education students can score just as well on these exams as their peers without disabilities.

PS 172 in Brooklyn is one school that has improved the performance of its special education students on Common Core exams. At PS 172, 27.6 percent of the students have individualized education programs (IEPs), well above the 18 percent citywide average. The school prides itself on personalized instruction and integration of special education students with the general education classroom. The school uses “push-in” therapists and teachers who come to the general classroom to work with students who need their services, rather than removing the students from class. This helps reduce the stigma of special education and ensures that students do not miss out on the culture of the classroom.

The results at PS 172 speak for themselves. Of the 70 students from grades 3 to 5 tested last year, nearly all were proficient in math, and about 60 percent were proficient in language arts.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Moving to a New State When You Have a Family Member with a Disability

July 26th, 2016

Moving to another state is a big undertaking for any family, but it can be particularly complicated when a family member has a disability. The secrets to a successful transition are advance planning and a backup plan in case of problems. Here are a few specifics to keep in mind.

Know what to expect with public benefits

If your family member with a disability is receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, there should be no disruption in payments, as long as you inform the Social Security Administration as early as possible of your change of address. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits should not be disrupted either, but the amount could change. In 2016, the federal maximum SSI benefit for an individual is $733 per month. However, some states add an optional state supplement or make food stamps or other benefits available to SSI beneficiaries, so those benefits may vary by state.

Plan in advance for health care needs

Health care is a primary concern, and in this area much can change when moving to another state. In addition to finding new doctors, therapists and other service providers, you should be prepared for changes in coverage. Private health insurance policies may have different coverage or premiums in another state. If you signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act state exchanges, you can take advantage of a 60-day special enrollment period, but be sure to check the eligibility requirements ahead of time. Medicare benefits should not be affected by an interstate move, but Medicaid will need to be reapproved in the new state, and the services and support available through Medicaid varies from state to state.

Special education and other services

While students with disabilities are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a special needs student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) will need to be renegotiated. Other services, such as day care, social programs and in-home services vary greatly from state to state. ABLE Act legislation has not yet been enacted in all 50 states, and special needs trusts should be reviewed by an attorney to ensure that they are up to date and there are no problems created by the move.

Moving to a new state is a big project, but creating a checklist and engaging in advance planning will help you have an organized approach. Even with a detailed plan, it is a good idea to have a backup plan, and an emergency fund, in case of pitfalls along the way.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Special Education Case Seeks Supreme Court Review

July 8th, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether to grant review in a case about the degree of educational benefit that a special education student should receive under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to satisfy the requirements of the Littman Kroooks Special Needs Planning (IDEA). “Clearly, the Supreme Court should hear this important case, as the requirement that a student receive an educational benefit goes to the heart of the IDEA,” says Marion Walsh.  Millions of children around the country certain are entitled to more than “some” educational benefit in public schools and the law should, at a minimum, require meaningful educational benefit.

On May 31, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States on this question.

The plaintiffs in the case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 note  that currently the “courts of appeal are in disarray” on the matter of what constitutes a “free, appropriate public education,” as required for students with disabilities by IDEA.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that Endrew F., a Colorado student with autism, received a free, appropriate public education from the Douglas County school district because he received “some educational benefit,” and the court thus rejected reimbursement to the parents for the cost of private school. Reasoning that the IDEA is only “designed to provide a floor” of educational quality,  the hearing officer determined that the school district had provided Drew with a FAPE.  The parents had removed their son from public school after a dispute over the education he received under his IEP in the fifth grade.

In its decision, the appeals court acknowledged that other U.S. courts of appeal have adopted the higher standard of requiring an IEP to deliver a “meaningful educational benefit.” “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit requires this standards and it should be applied uniformly across the country. The standard is still too low,” says Walsh. In requesting review by the Supreme Court, attorneys for Endrew F. argue that the Court should make use of the case to resolve the dispute over this salient issue.

As it has done with many IDEA cases that seem to present an important question, the Supreme Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General to weigh in. The Solicitor General is under no deadline to file the requested brief, and observers say it is unlikely that a response will be filed before the court adjourns for the summer.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Potential Disclosure of Records Impacts Students with Special Needs

June 22nd, 2016

New York City special education students and their parents should be aware of a potential disclosure of student records for the purpose of a class action lawsuit.

Littman Kroooks Special Needs PlanningThe potential disclosure may affect students who had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) prepared between 2003 and 2016 by the New York City Department of Education (DOE), and either attended a state-approved non-public school or were diagnosed or classified as autistic.

The student records are covered by a confidentiality agreement and would only be disclosed to the parties to the lawsuit, their attorneys, experts and the court.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, M.G. v. NYC DOE, are children with disabilities (and their parents) who attended State-approved non-public schools or were diagnosed or classified as autistic and claim that certain DOE policies violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by preventing them from receiving special education services.

Parents who object to the disclosure of their children’s records may file an objection form by August 7, 2016 requesting that protected personal information be removed from those students’ records before they are released. Objecting to disclosure will not affect any rights that students and parents may have under the lawsuit or in relation to the DOE.

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Autism Speaks Teams Up with Major League Baseball

June 2nd, 2016

 Stacy M. SadoveBy Stacy M. Sadove, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

As school is closing and summer is starting, many parents are looking to find ways to integrate their children in community events and activities for summer. Americans consider baseball a national pastime.  Children of all ages look forward to attending a ball game with friends and family to root on their favorite team.  Yet for children with disabilities, and particularly for children on the spectrum, attendinga baseball game may be too overwhelming.

nyylogo

Autism Speaks and Major League Baseball have teamed up for their Annual event in recognition of Autism Awareness Month to bring a unique experience to fans on the spectrum. Both the Mets and Yankees are participating in this event. The Mets held their game on May 1, 2016, and the Yankees game is set for August 6, 2016.

The games specifically targets fans with Autism, and seek to provide a friendly environment for individuals and their families affected by Autism. Individuals with Autism often have difficulty integrating in community events. Loud noises and over-stimulating environments often prevent individuals on the spectrum from being able to attend events such as a baseball game.

new_york_mets copyBy providing certain accommodations such as dimmed lighting, muted announcements and certain deemed quiet zones with sensory friendly environments, individuals on the spectrum can enjoy the ball park in a whole new way.  A part of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to Autism Speaks. This exciting event is just one of many events scheduled in our area to promote further awareness for Autism. It is encouraging to see so many people educating and reaching out to provide support for Autism awareness.

Littman Krooks applauds and encourages Autism outreach activities. I look forward to this and many more events in our community that our clients can share with children on the spectrum. Let’s play ball.

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Walter Panas Warr;ors: Fighting Stigma Against Mental Illness

May 9th, 2016

Our guest blogger this week is Melissa Smith, MS Ed, Youth Mental Health First Aid Trainer, High School Counselor, Advisor of the Warr;ors, Founder of ADHD A New Vision Camp and most importantly proud mother of an 11 year old amazing son who happens to have an ADHD diagnosis.

walter panas warr;or

Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can scar you for life.  A newly formed high school club at Walter Panas High School called The Warr;ors, is fighting the stigma against mental illness.

The idea to start the club came from an amazing student of mine last year.  She had experienced mental health struggles of her own and wanted to reach out to those she knew struggled with that stigma daily.  We had a lot of leg work to do and we took our time researching if there were any clubs like ours in the region or even the country.  There are movements at colleges around the country but very little mental health advocacy is done at a high school level and nearly none were available in middle schools.

The students decided on the name the Warr;ors; a person that stands up for what they believe in and rights’ ignorance.  We thought using the semi colon to support the “Semi Colon” project was so symbolic: www.projectsemicolon.org.

The Warr;ors Mission Statement:

  • To inspire, lead and educate others about mental health and wellness
  • Combat stereotypes through school-based trainings and education
  • Act as a link to resources for the Lakeland Community

Learn more about The Warr;ors by watching this video.

All Warr;ors 16 and older have participated in the Youth Mental Health First Aid training and inspired me to get certified as a trainer in Youth Mental Health First Aid. My students have already touched so many lives and saved two that I am aware of.

We have had two all school assemblies, presented at PTA and SEPTA meetings, pushed into health classes and AP Psychology.

If you would like to see us present, “We All Have Mental Health,” we will be at Lakeland High School on May 17th at 7:30. Email Msmith@lakelandschools.org for more information.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Signs of Mental Health Problems In Children

May 1st, 2016

To learn more about both the effects of bullying and mental health and what you can do, you are invited to a seminar on May 10, 2016:  Understanding the Legal Obligations of a School District Regarding Bullying and Student Mental Health

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq.

Every parent and school professional must be aware of the mental health crisis confronting our youth and take steps to understand and advocate. Parents and schools must act together to protect children become educated on risk factors and symptoms.

If your child has a mental health issue, it is important to understand how to seek community supports and to understand the legal obligations of your school district.  Too many parents view mental health issues as a “private issue” or believe that things will improve. It is almost impossible for parents to handle mental health issues alone.

Signs of Mental Health Problems in Children:

Parents must be aware of signs of mental illness. Early identification is key to help children.  The Mayo Clinic and other professionals list the following signs of mental illness in children, but the list is not exhaustive:

  • Mood changes: Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school. Some students simply withdraw. School avoidance or physical symptoms without physical causes can also be a sign of mental distress.
  • Intense feelings: Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
  • Behavior changes: Look for drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently or expressing a desire to hurt others also are warning signs.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
  • Unexplained weight loss: A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
  • Physical harm: Sometimes a mental health condition leads to suicidal thoughts or actual attempts at self-harm or suicide.
  • Substance abuse: Some children use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.

School District Legal Obligations to Help:

Littman Krooks special needsIf a child is showing signs of mental illness, it is important for parents to understand school district legal obligations and also how to get community support.   Not every child with mental health issues has a disability but if a condition affects educational performance, the school district has an obligation to refer a student for special education and related services.

  • Pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), 20 USC §1400, seq. and parallel state law, school districts have a responsibility to identify and provide appropriate services to students with disabilities, including those who have an emotional disturbance or disability, including another health impairment, such as ADHD.
  • As the Supreme Court noted in Honig v. Doe in 1988, “Among the most poorly served of disabled students were emotionally disturbed children: Congressional statistics revealed that for the school year immediately preceding passage of the Act, the educational needs of 82 percent of all children with emotional disabilities went unmet. See S. Rep. No. 94-168, p. 8 (1975).”  

If your child has mental health needs impacting education, you should refer your child for special education services and, if the child has a disability, he or she should qualify for an IEP and receive special education supports, such as counseling, flexibility with assignments, or a therapeutic environment. Some children with mental health needs may need building level help or need accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  

Steps to Take:

On a broader scale,  work with your school district and community to develop a task force to create systems and policies to proactively address student mental health needs and make sure interventions are in place.  Talk to your child’s school district administrators about making mental health and social emotional health a priority in your school district and ask about what programs are in place to ensure children are served.   Much training is available and many organizations have resources to help.

As just three examples of what you can do:

  1. Become Certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid
  2. Consider taking the Sandy Hook Promise, which encourages safer schools and more mental health treatment.
  3.  Attend a screening of No Letting Go, on mental health and youth and one family’s story, aimed at helping to end the stigma:

Read more on how to educate, advocate and support mental health awareness month by clicking here.

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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