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Public Benefits

Much special needs planning centers on ensuring that  access to government benefits is not compromised, since eligibility  for many government programs is based on the individual’s  financial assets. Families seeking to build economic security for their loved one should work with a New York special needs planning attorney to protect such funds in a special needs trust—also referred to as a supplemental needs trust.

With that in mind, here’s an overview of the entitlements your New York special needs attorney will focus on optimizing for your loved one with special needs.This is not a comprehensive list and families should explore all available benefits.

1. Medicaid provides basic medical services for individuals with limited income, including coverage for certain psychological, psychiatric, and behavioral services of particular interest to individuals with special needs.  Although it’s funded in large part at the federal level, eligibility is dependent on staying below an income and resource threshold set by the state. In 2014, individuals in New York with special needs must have under $14,550 in available resources to be eligible for the Medicaid program.

2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides funding for food and shelter to individuals unable to work.  SSI is only available to individuals who are elderly, blind, or have a disability. Maintaining eligibility for SSI requires that the individual have less than $2000 in countable assets. Typically, this number doesn’t include the individual’s home or car, along with certain other exceptions.

3. Food stamps operate under the same basic guidelines as SSI benefits. Generally, an individual must have less than $2000 in countable assets, although the guidelines vary somewhat for individuals with special needs and their families.

4. Individuals who develop special needs later in life due, for instance, to an accident or illness, may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Eligibility for SSDI is based on the wage earner’s income history and the number of quarters the individual has worked and paid into the program. Like SSI, SSDI requires that the individual be unable to function in gainful employment for at least a year.

5. Section 8 Housing is designed to ensure that those with special needs have access to safe, affordable residential options. Qualification for Section 8 Housing operates on a sliding scale, based on family size and gross income. Rent for Section 8 Housing is typically capped at 30 percent of the individual’s or family’s adjusted gross income.

6. There are two major types of Temporary Assistance (TA), which are available to eligible individuals and families for limited periods of time.

Family Assistance:

  • The household must include at least one child under 18, who is being cared for by a relative.
  • Benefits are available to single pregnant women, even if they have no other children.
  • Benefits may be received for up to 60 months during an eligible adult’s lifetime.
  • Household  income must be less than two times the federal poverty level, adjusted for family size.
  • Federal work requirements apply.

Safety Net Assistance

  • Covers individuals and families who are ineligible for other assistance.
  • Benefits may be received for  up to two years during an eligible individual’s lifetime.
  • Vouchers are available once cash benefits have been depleted.
  • Federal work requirements apply.
  • Emergency funds available for:
    • the homeless
    • food, prescriptions and other necessities
    • to avoid eviction
    • to avoid loss of electricity or gas service

7. Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) is a New York City program to safeguard individuals of limited means, 62 or older,  from various  rent increases. Eligible tenants must be the  household head, and rent or carrying charges must comprise a major portion of their income. The program applies only to rent-regulated or certain government-supervised or -insured apartments or co-ops.

8. Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is a federal program intended to offset a portion of the annual heating costs for eligible households. Emergency benefits are also available.  Furnace repair/replacement is available when heating equipment is inoperable.  Benefits are income-based and require that the household contain someone who is under six, 60 or older, or has a permanent disability.

9. Family Health Plus (FHP) provides comprehensive medical  insurance for services delivered through managed care plans to individuals aged 19 to 64 whose income disqualifies them for Medicaid.  Family size determines income eligibility guidelines.

Each benefit program has its own bureaucracy and guidelines. If you have a family member with special needs, it can be very helpful to review your situation with an experienced New York special needs planning attorney who understands how to protect your assets while ensuring your loved one’s eligibility for these important programs.  Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

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This article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon. If you need legal advice concerning this or any other topic please contact our offices to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys at 914-684-2100 or 212-490-2020.