Understanding Eligibility Rules for Means-Tested Programs, Part One

Understanding Eligibility Rules for Means-Tested Programs, Part One

Eligibility rules for many critical essential entitlements are means-based. Thus, any income and assets received by an individual with disabilities will affect the benefit awards that they potentially receive from these types of entitlement programs. Therefore, the effect of these transfers on a benefit award primarily depends on the type of income received by an individual with disabilities.

Adults with disabilities that prevent them from working, even part-time, depend on federal and state programs for support. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is an essential federal program that imposes financial eligibility restrictions on applicants. The Supplemental Security Income disability program is the largest of several Federal programs that offer assistance to people with disabilities. In addition, a considerable number of federal and state programs expressly use SSI standards to determine eligibility.

According to the House Committee on the Budget,

“Means-tested entitlement programs are the core of our nation’s social safety net. They deliver vital assistance that protects millions of Americans from entering poverty, while providing ongoing safety and stability for individuals and families facing poverty every single day.”

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 poverty thresholds for the 48 contiguous states, including Illinois, and the District of Columbia are as follows:

  • Household Size of 1: $12,880 annual income
  • Household Size of 2: $17,420
  • Household Size of 3: $21,960
  • Household Size of 4: $26,500
  • Household Size of 5: $31,040

An adult with a disability that began before age 22 may be eligible for SSI benefits if a parent is deceased or starts receiving retirement or disability benefits. A disabled “adult child” must be unmarried, age 18 or older, have a disability that started before age 22, and meet the definition of disability for adults. In addition, in 2021, a disabled “adult child” must not have substantial earnings of more than $1,310 a month.

To qualify for SSI, an individual may not exceed limited income and asset thresholds. For example, a single person must have no more than $2,000 in available resources to qualify for SSI. For a couple, this threshold is $3,000. Some types of assets are not “countable” in this calculation. These include the applicant’s home, one automobile, household furnishings, tools of the trade, and other items. Each of these categories of assets is subject to special rules and exceptions.

The first concept to understand is the distinction between income and assets. The rules for SSI eligibility distinguish income and assets with a simple, straightforward approach. Money received in any month is considered income for that month. Any of this income that remains on the first day of the following month transforms into an asset.

Applicants must have limited resources to qualify for SSI. Resources that are part of the calculation mentioned above of available resources include the following:

  • Cash
  • Land
  • Automobiles
  • Personal property
  • Life insurance
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks
  • Savings Bonds
  • Other items that an applicant may convert to cash and use for food or shelter

The Supplemental Security Income program provides monthly payments to adults and children with a disability or blindness who have income and resources below specific financial limits. The amount of benefits varies by individual. You may receive more if you reside in a state that adds money to the federal SSI payment.

An applicant may receive less if they receive other income such as wages, pensions, or Social Security benefits. An applicant may also receive less if a third party pays the applicant’s household expenses or if the applicant lives with a spouse with income and assets. Applicants for SSI do not automatically qualify for Medicaid if approved for SSI in Illinois, they must apply separately.

The second part of this blog will discuss the effects of income on an applicant’s benefit award.

Rubin Law is a unique organization with a solitary purpose. We are a law firm solely dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults who suffer from intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, and mental illnesses. Rubin Law is the only law firm in Illinois that limits its practice to providing legal services and future planning for adults and children with special needs. We offer patience, compassion, and a unique understanding to those with disabilities and those who care for them. For more information, please email us at email@rubinlaw.com or call 866-TO-RUBIN.