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What Public Benefits Are Available for Me and How do I Plan to Qualify for Them?

What Public Benefits Are Available for Me and How do I Plan to Qualify for Them?

The government offers many programs that provide assistance to various types of individuals, including those struggling with issues of hunger, income, and housing.  There are two types of public benefits: means-tested and non-means tested programs.  In addition to other requirements, means-tested programs take into account the applicant’s income, resources, or both; non-means tested programs do not take these into account.  Examples of non-means tested programs include Social Security and Medicare.  Some examples of means-tested programs are:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

Navigating public benefits and their requirements are challenging but can prove even more difficult for families, whose primary concern is caring for a loved one with disabilities.  An example of this is that an individual may be eligible for several public benefit programs, which each has different limits for income and resources.  In addition to this difference, the various programs may treat types of income or resources differently with respect to whether it counts toward the allowable limits set by each program.  An experienced attorney can assist you with applying for benefits, and protect any resources that would otherwise make you ineligible for means-tested public benefits.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a U.S. government program that is administered by the Social Security Administration and provides money to low-income individuals who are either aged 65 or older, blind, or disabled.  Additionally, as a means-tested program, SSI has an income test and a resource limit.  Although this program is administered by SSA, SSI is funded from the U.S. Treasury’s general funds, not the Social Security trust fund.  SSI provides a cash benefit to eligible individuals to ensure they have the minimum level of income so that they can pay for basic needs such as food and shelter.  For individuals who are eligible for SSI, even if it is just $1, they are automatically eligible for their state’s Medicaid program.  

Medicaid in North Carolina

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides health insurance to low-income individuals, including children, pregnant women, seniors, and individuals with disabilities.  Medicaid is the largest source of health coverage in the United States.  To participate in the Medicaid program, states are required to provide coverage to certain mandatory eligibility groups, which includes individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income.  In addition to the mandatory eligibility groups, states have additional coverage options, which may include individuals receiving home and community-based services and children in foster care, who are not otherwise eligible.  Medicaid programs also assist with the costs of care required in a skilled nursing facility.  In North Carolina, Medicaid is administered by the Division of Medical Assistance of the Department of Health and Human Services.  

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is also referred to as Food and Nutrition Services, offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families with a nutritionally adequate diet.  SNAP is a means-tested program, with an income limit and a limit of countable resources of $2,250 or $3,250 for households with at least one person who is age 60 or older or is disabled.  As of 2017, the maximum monthly allotment for this program starts at $194.00 for one person households, and this benefit is automatically loaded onto the household’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which works like a bank debit card.  When the card is used to purchase eligible food items, the corresponding amount is automatically deducted from the card.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps keep families healthy and safe by assisting with energy costs and could provide federally funded assistance in managing costs associated with home energy bills, energy crises, and weatherization and energy-related minor home repairs.

In North Carolina, this program is referred to as Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) and provides a one-time vendor payment to help eligible households pay their heating bills.  Only households that have an elderly person age 60 and above or an individual with disabilities receiving services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services are eligible to receive benefits from December 1st through December 31st; any household, who meets the eligibility requirements, can potentially receive benefits from January 1 through March 31 (or until funds are depleted).  To be eligible for this means-tested program, a household must meet an income test, have reserves at or below the specified limit, and be responsible for its heating bills.

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