Evan and Eric share their stories about the important role public benefits play in their lives.
Public benefits are often a key part of a financial plan for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
Public benefits are services, benefits, or financial payments from the government for people who are eligible to help pay for food, health care, housing, and other basic living needs. It is important to learn about and apply for all public benefits that a person with IDD may be eligible for.
What public benefit programs are available and how do I know I’m eligible?
Public benefit programs are offered in various communities by local, state and federal governments. Most public benefits are means-tested programs. This means the programs only serve people who have low incomes and few resources.
Commonly available programs include:
- Medicaid: Provides health coverage to people with disabilities, children, pregnant women, parents, and seniors. States can add additional people to its Medicaid program.
- Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS): Provides long-term services and supports to people with disabilities in home and community-based settings rather than in institutional settings. Services available through HCBS waivers vary by state but can include supported employment, day services, residential supports, and more. Contact your state IDD agency to learn more.
- Medicare: Health insurance for people with disabilities who receive disability benefits from Social Security (SSDI or Disabled Adult Child benefits).
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI provides monthly benefits to help children and adults with disabilities meet their basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Benefits are very modest. For a person age 18 or older to qualify, he or she must have a disability that makes them currently unable to work at a substantial level. People must also have little income or resources to qualify. Once a person receives SSI, they may be able take advantage of Social Security’s work incentive program.
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): A benefit for people with disabilities who have worked enough in the past to qualify but who are not now able to work at a substantial level. Benefits are based on how much you’ve paid into Social Security while you were working and are usually higher than SSI payments. Some people who receive SSI can become eligible for SSDI if they take advantage of Social Security’s work incentive program.
- Social Security Disabled Adult Child (DAC): An adult with IDD who became disabled before age 22 may be eligible for “disabled adult child” benefits if their parent is deceased or starts receiving retirement or disability benefits and if the adult child has never worked a substantial amount.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Food assistance for eligible, low-income individuals and families.
- Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8): Assists people with I/DD, very low-income families, and the elderly to afford safe housing. Contact your local Public Housing Authority.
- Other state benefits: Check with a chapter of The Arc or a state I/DD agency on state and community programs that may be available.
Once I apply, will I always keep my benefits?
Public benefits programs only give benefits to people that are eligible to receive them. There are rules that need to be followed to keep benefits. Each program has different rules about who can receive money and things they can or cannot do. For example, some programs can only be given to people with very low incomes or who live in certain states or areas. Many programs review eligibility from time to time and may require people to report changes that could affect their eligibility.
If you get public benefits, it is important to learn about the rules of the program to make sure you do not lose your benefits. If you need help understanding the rules of your benefit program or you were denied benefits, contact your local legal aid group.
How long does it take to receive public benefits?
There are different waiting periods between the time when you apply for benefits and receive benefits. Some may have a few weeks to wait and others may take years.
Waiting lists for Medicaid HCBS are common and depend on your state of residence.
Check with your state IDD agency or a chapter of The Arc to get information on waiting lists and wait times for benefits in your state.