The physical plight of the disabled is obvious, but the financial obstacles they face, while less evident, are equally disheartening.
Disabled Americans face escalating challenges in finding employment, earning a living, avoiding poverty, and staying healthy compared to the average healthy adult.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that 26% of Americans have a disability, meaning about 61 million adults in the United States have a form of a disability.
There are a variety of options if you are disabled, a disabled veteran, or a parent of a disabled child looking for a direction on financial assistance. The government and nonprofit agencies can assist disabled persons in the form of goods, social security disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), grants, low-interest loans, or other services.
Unemployment Rate and the Disabled
Unemployment is one of the many problems disabled persons must deal with. The U.S. Labor Statistics reported in 2019 that only 30.9% of Americans age 16-64 with disabilities were employed, compared to 74.6% of people without disabilities, a staggering difference of 43.7 percentage points.
There is an eye-opening difference in the median income for Americans who are disabled versus not. The median income for Americans ages 16 and over without disabilities was $31,874 or 47.7% more than the same age group with disabilities ($21,572).
These everyday living factors extend to adults who that are more likely to smoke or be obese. Smokers comprised 28.2% of the disabled population compared to 13.4% of non-disabled. The disabled population had an obesity rate of 38.2% compared to 26.2% of non-disabled.
For those with documented disabilities — whether it’s hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care or independent living — there is help available. It’s a matter of knowing where to find it.
Here are the three major federal disability assistance programs:
Social Security Disability Insurance
SSDI provides income for people who are no longer able to work because of a disability.
Supplemental Security Income Disability Program
SSI provides stipends to low-income disabled people, 65 and older, or the families of disabled children. Although it is administered by the Social Security Administration, SSI’s funding comes from U.S. Treasury general funds, not the Social Security trust fund.
Veterans Administration Disability Benefits
VA benefits are tax-free monthly funds for veterans who have disabilities, medical conditions or injuries incurred or aggravated during active military service.
Financial Help for Disabled Veterans
There are approximately 4.7-million veterans with a service-connected disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The American Community Survey found that one in 10 non-elderly veterans did not have health insurance. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs said that veterans comprise 11% of the entire adult homeless population.
These are sobering figures and evidence that a sizable percentage of veterans need assistance. The Department of Veterans Affairs (www.va.gov) offers several benefits, such as:
- Caregiver Support — Support and services for family caregivers of veterans.
- GI Bill — One-on-one vocational and personal counseling that could determine educational and work opportunities, perhaps launching a career.
- Health Benefits — If you served in any branch of the active military, you might qualify for VA health care benefits.
- Patient Care — You might qualify for hospitalization, patient care and prescriptions through one of the 1,233 VA hospitals or health-care centers in America.
- Pension Benefits — A tax-free monetary benefit payable to low-income wartime veterans with at least 90 days of active duty service.
- Vet Centers — Provides a broad range of counseling, outreach and referral services to eligible veterans who are making a post-war adjustment to civilian life.
- Veterans Crisis Line— VA responders are available through a confidential toll-free hotline (1-800-273-8255).
- Free Financial Counseling — available through nonprofit debt consolidation
There are many other agencies and programs making financial assistance available to qualified veterans. Here’s a sampling.
- Lifeline is a government program that helps pay for veterans’ phone services.
- HealthFinder.gov provides veterans a list of prescription resources that help you pay and manage prescription refills for your medical needs.
- The National Association of American Veterans Emergency Assistance helps refer veterans and their families to financial assistance services.
- USACares Emergency America’s Heroes helps post 9/11 veterans pay essential bills, including food and utilities, by offering them an average grant of $650.
- Operation Family Fund provides grants to veterans who were severely disabled while serving in Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. The grants help these families pay anything from rent and medical bills to emergency transportation and vehicle repair. However due to 5,600 veterans on the waiting list they are no longer accepting applications currently.
- The American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance awards families of eligible veterans with minor children cash grants to help pay for shelter, food, utilities and health expenses in order to keep children in a more stable environment.
- Vantage Mobility International’s program Operation Independence offers eligible disabled veterans up to $49,000 to help pay for a wheelchair accessible vehicle.
- Annuity.org has information on annuities, the tax implications in owning one and how to handle a structured settlement.
- Luke’s Wings provides families of wounded warriors the means to visit their service members during hospitalization and rehabilitation by purchasing plane tickets and planning the trips.
- Recycled Rides alleviates the transportation burden for veterans and military families. Refurbished vehicles are given to deserving recipients at no cost, and these vehicles have all been restored to proper driving condition.
Financial Help for Disabled Children
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the only source of federal income reserved for disabled children and it is limited. Only 1.2 million children receive SSI, or less than 2% of the 74.1 million children in America.
During a 15-year span (1997-2012), there was steady growth in the number of children who qualified for SSI, but it has since leveled off, partially because the poverty rate stabilized during recovery from the Great Recession.
Children with “marked and severe functional limitations’’ that lasted 12 months or could result in death, qualify if the application is backed by medical evidence. Examples of these type of problems include Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disability, and blindness. Families of the children must meet strict resource and income limits. The federal base payment rate is $735 per month.
The SSI program for children pales in comparison to other Social Security Administration programs. There are about 63 million beneficiaries and recipients of Social Security and SSI payments, which translates to more than $840 billion in benefits. Annual payments for SSI children total about $10.5 billion.
Children receiving SSI payments typically are in families with income below or near the federal poverty standard. Without SSI payments, an additional 340,000 children would live in poverty.
Critics say the program creates incentives for poor families to obtain – and maintain – disability diagnoses for their children even when symptoms may improve. In recent years, when SSI payments have surpassed the government’s traditional welfare programs, critics have said parents of SSI children work to maintain the disability diagnosis so the extra income will not be threatened.
But SSI supporters maintain it is a well-managed program for poor families raising disabled children. It rejects more applicants than it accepts.
Social Security requires that SSI go to a “payee,’’ most often a parent, who must spend it for the child’s “current maintenance,’’ meaning food, shelter, clothing, medical care and personal care items.
Once a child’s immediate needs are met, SSI can pay for medical or dental expenses, including some services, treatment or equipment that will not be paid by Medicaid. SSI funds could also be used for adaptive devices, such as wheelchairs, specially equipped vans or computers.
A child will become ineligible for SSI if they have a savings account over $2,000. If the child is 15 or older, a Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) account can be created, which would allow a larger savings account and not jeopardize SSI eligibility.
The US Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation helps provide information and training to parents of the disabled along with financial help with programs at American Printing House for the Blind, Gallaudet University, Helen Keller National Center, and National Technical Institute for the Deaf. There is also the Special Olympics program, which provides an outlet for intellectual disabilities through sports, health, and education.
How to Apply for SSI for a Disabled Child
To apply for SSI, two forms must be submitted to the Social Security Administration: an SSI application and a Child Disability Report. Appointments for filing the SSI application form can be scheduled at 1-800-772-1213. Preliminary reporting of income and resources will indicate initial eligibility.
The Child Disability Report is available online only at www.ssa.gov. It includes a worksheet that helps gather the needed information. Permission will be needed from the child’s doctor to give information about their disability, a critical element that determines the claim’s validity.
Typically, a working family can qualify for a full benefit for their disabled child if they earn up to about 100% of the poverty level (about $20,000 annual income in a three-person household). Eligibility usually phases out at 200% of the poverty level.
The SSA conducts thorough reviews and benefits can sometimes be discontinued. A child’s disability status can be fluid, particularly with the advancement of treatment.
SSI has been complemented by other programs, such as Medicaid and Special Education, to advance the care of disabled children in America.
Such children once were institutionalized and isolated. They lacked access to schools and faced diminished prospects of independence. But state and federal legislation in the 1960s and 1970s began a shift toward inclusion.
Three years after Congress established SSI in 1972, the legislation known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guaranteed that students with disabilities get a free and appropriate public education. Teachers and staff were required to work with parents to create an education plan that included necessary accommodations and services. At age 16, these students are supposed to have a transition plan that includes post-school goals, such as higher education, vocational training or employment. The students are referred to community agencies that assist with job placement and other services.
To identify programs available in your state, log onto www.parentcenterhub.org.
Grants for the Disabled
Grants are financial awards that don’t need to be repaid. They are provided to people with disabilities by the federal government and private foundations. The criteria often includes articulating your need and writing a grant proposal, which must be specific and compelling in order to attract attention.
Applicants should contact the institution for eligibility requirements and the application process. Here are areas where grants are available.
- Housing — The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers grant funded programs that assist people with disabilities in obtaining housing vouchers, rental assistance, purchasing a home and making homes accessible. For information, visit the HUD website: US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Education — Various private foundations offer grants ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 per year for individuals with mental, physical or sensorial disabilities. To locate these foundations through their 990 tax forms, visit The Foundation Center website: Foundation Center
- Starting A Business — The federal government offers grants for disabled individuals starting new businesses. To locate these opportunities, review the list of grants located at http://www.grants.gov
- Personal Needs — Various local community agencies offer grants for individuals with disabilities who need help in paying for household expenses. Local social service programs can provide funds to purchase groceries, assist in paying utilities and access grants for vocational rehabilitation.
- Government Cash Grants — The state and federal agencies have government cash grants that help veterans, children, impoverished people, newborns and others. In order to apply, you will need proof of disability, type of need, and household income. Once approved, you can use the money to help pay bills for utilities, travel, educational needs, and more.
Low Interest Loans for the Disabled
There are many low-interest loans available for people with disabilities. These are far better alternatives than payday loans or car title loans, which are readily available but often have crippling interest rates that can jeopardize your financial situation.
Also, be aware of same-day disability loans offered by private companies. They are flexible and easy to qualify for, but often have steep interest rates and fees.
Disability loans, which can be used for everyday needs and monthly expenses, are available for individuals who are physically disabled, mentally disabled or are responsible for the care of someone who is disabled.
Government disability loans are separate from other government disability assistance as they are still associated with a repayment of debt. Unlike same-day disability loans, the government disability loans have strict approval criteria. Eligibility could be affected by whether you are already receiving government assistance. The government disability loans will have better interest rates, better repayment terms and better customer service.
You can locate reputable lenders in your area through a local Community Action Agency, which has a staff of unbiased professionals who might have information about nonprofits that also provide services.
Additionally, don’t overlook your bank or credit union as an option. They might not advertise specialty loans that could be available. Sometimes, the government, or large nonprofits, partner with local and national banks to provide specialty services for veterans, low-income families and the disabled.
Agencies That Help the Disabled
There are numerous federal agencies that help people with disabilities. Here’s a sampling:
- Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (800-872-2253) — Provides technical assistance on architectural, transportation and communications accessibility issues.
- Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (1-866-633-7365) —Develops and influences disability related employment policy.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (800-669-4000)— Announces or declares regulations and enforces American Disabilities Act Title I provisions prohibiting discrimination in employment.
- Internal Revenue Service (800-829-1040) — Provides specific tax information for people with disabilities.
- The National Council on Disability (202-272-2004) — Advises the President, Congress and other federal agencies regarding policies, programs, practices and procedures that affect people with disabilities.
- National Institute on Disability Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) — Administers disability research programs and ADA technical assistant centers “to maximize the full inclusion and integration into society, employment, independent living, family support, and economic and social self-sufficiency of individuals with disabilities of all ages.”
- S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division (800-514-0301) — Announces regulations and enforces anti-discrimination provisions involving public services and public accommodations. Official complaints can be filed if you feel your school has denied your child access to their education or violated their civil rights as a protected class.
- Disability.gov (1-877-889-5627) — A comprehensive online resource that provides disabled people with information and resources they need to live full and independent lives in the workplace and in their communities.
- State Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program-Rehabilitation Services Administration (202-245-7488) — Assists employers in recruiting, training, placing and accommodating people with disabilities while offering information on state and local agencies that provide services, training and job-related assistance.
Speak with a Professional
There are plenty of programs for disabled Americans to help them stay afloat or land back on their feet. However sometimes these programs cannot provide enough financial assistance. If you or a loved one need extra financial assistance, try seeking a nonprofit credit counselor to find out the best debt-relief options. A certified nonprofit credit counselor can assist with finding the best financial options for you to become debt free.
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