How to Understand & Access Government Entitlements
By Donald M. Fitch, MS
Center for Career Freedom
The purpose of this column is to assist providers and consumers to be more effective when negotiating with local government agencies for income, health care, housing, food, transportation, job training, employment and other social services.
The focus is on single adults (18-64) with a mental and/or physical disability, substance abuse issues and the homeless. The information is gleaned from government websites and local, state and federal government offices.
Tips for accessing benefits are based on assisting over nine hundred persons at the Center. Our experience is supplemented by regular mystery shopper, provider and consumer surveys.
Q. I have about fifteen minutes to spend with a patient, what can I do to help stabilize them in the community?
A. If the patient has a disability that adversely affects their ability to work for the next twelve months, refer them to the Social Security Administration (SSA) at 1-800-772-1213. To prepare for the interview, they should download form #SSA-3368-BK (www.ssa.gov).
If the patient is not disabled but needy, refer them to the local Department of Social Services (DSS) office (www.otda.stste.ny.us). To prepare for the interview, they should acquire form #LDSS-2921. Pay particular attention to the required documentation to avoid repeated visits.
Q. What is the difference between persons who are eligible for SSI and SSDI?
A. SSI and SSDI are abbreviations used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to designate two income benefit programs for persons with disabilities. Generally, to be eligible for SSDI ($900/mo avg.), a person must have worked ten or more years (40 qtrs). SSI recipients don’t require the same work history. While SSI recipients receive on average about $200 less than SSDI recipients (up to $689/mo). They are also entitled to food stamps (up to $152) and Medicaid which includes prescription drugs and dental.
Q. As a Social Worker with a caseload of thirty consumers, I regularly interact with local government units (LGU’s). I often find the quality of regulatory information varies by their caseworker. Where can I go to find the “truth”?
A. Unfortunately, our “mystery shopper” (consumers interviewing their caseworkers) research at the Center confirms your experience. Our questions about Medicare Part D, Ticket to Work and Food Stamp awards average fifty percent accurate (recent surveys of IRS and VA hotlines found similar percentages). We rely on the appropriate federal/state/ county/government agency websites or state/local Commissioner inquires.
Q. I spend too much time trying to decipher “government speak”. Their sites and publications are vague, full of caveats and refer you to equally obtuse resources. How can I cut through this verbiage and get to the facts?
A. There are a few simple tricks I use that may be helpful:
- Define the population carefully e.g. single adults (18-64) living alone (a major cause of confusion over the recent Medicare Part D program rules was that government, community agencies & the media kept using the terms “Seniors” and “disabled” as if these two populations were interchangeable).
- Use the 80/20 rule i.e. you probably only need to know 20% of the sites’ content because it usually applies to 80% of your population. Don’t waste 80% of your time chasing down issues that apply to 20% of your population.
Q. Many of my clients don’t get enough to eat, especially towards the end of the month. Aside from food stamps, where can they go for food?
A. Food pantries (see yellow pages) for 1-2 bags of groceries once-twice/month, hot/cold meals at shelters, community agencies, Drop-ins, Club Houses and a few houses of Worship, Restaurants and day old bakeries. (One enterprising young man buys rotisserie chickens for $1 around closing time)
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