Three primary sources of financial assistance are available to those with mental illness: Temporary Assistance, Social Security Insurance (SSI), and Social Security Disability (SSD). Each has different eligibility requirements. Eligibility for Temporary Assistance also may qualify a person for HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program) grants, for SNAP (food assistance) benefits, and for Medicaid. Determining eligibility and applying for assistance may be quite challenging. Multiple nonprofits provide assistance and are listed in the resources at the bottom of this section
Temporary Financial Assistance
Erie County Works Center (ECWC)/Erie County Department of Social Services (ECDSS)
158 Pearl St, 1st Flr Rath Bldg
Buffalo, NY 14202
To view income eligibility index:
The Erie County Works Center (ECWC) is the central intake point for persons who wish to apply for Temporary Assistance (Cash Assistance). It is always best to come in as early in the day as possible since there may likely be long waits and crowded conditions. Be prepared to spend 1-2 hours or more at the ECWC on the first day you go. Take something to read, and even a lunch if you go late in the morning. You can also print out the application and mail it to their office.
Enter the Erie County Rath Building at 158 Pearl St. You will need to go through a security check to enter the building. Tell the person at the Information Desk that you want to apply for Temporary Assistance. You will be handed an application to complete along with a job application and a self-sufficiency form. You are required to enter the address where you are currently living and list ALL persons who live in the same unit as you.
Return the completed form to the receptionist. You will then be called up by an examiner who will screen your application to determine basic eligibility for Temporary Assistance and Food Stamps. The Examiner will schedule you for an orientation/employment interview on the following day. Be sure to tell the Examiner if you need prescriptions to be filled, have no food, or any other emergency situation as you may be eligible for some immediate assistance to meet those needs.
You will be screened for expedited SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits (food stamps) which will be available in 5 days, if eligible. To be eligible for expedited SNAP benefits your total shelter costs (rent plus the standard utility allowance) must be greater than your monthly income plus resources. People who have received expedited SNAP benefits in the past and did not complete the eligibility process will not be eligible for them again.
At the end of the interview, you will receive an appointment letter to return within a week to 10 days (sooner if you are eligible for expedited SNAP benefits processing) for your certification interview with a Temporary Assistance examiner.
What to bring when you apply
You must bring identification. Photo ID is best, such as a driver’s license, social services benefit card or passport. If you do not have photo ID, then you must have at least 2 forms of other identification, such as a Social Security card or major credit card with your signature. It is important to have these with you or you will have to come back.
You may be required to provide:
- verification of identity
- verification of citizenship status
- proof of age
- proof of address
- household composition information
- expense information
- proof of income, resources and employability
You may be required to have your photograph and/or fingerprints taken.
You will generally receive a decision on your Temporary Assistance application 30 – 45 days after submission. Certification interviews can vary in length depending on individual case circumstances but generally take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. If an employment screening is required, it will require an additional hour to complete. If your case is approved you will be required to re-certify on a periodic basis, and you must inform your worker if your income, address or household composition changes.
Once the interview and orientation have taken place, and you are certified eligible for Temporary Assistance, Medicaid, and food stamps, you will receive a benefit card and be assigned a caseworker. A letter will be sent stating that the benefit card has been activated and can be used at one of many vendor sites in the county (usually grocery stores and the like).
For non-family cases, it commonly takes 45 days for cash benefits to be approved and accessible. Be sure the recipient’s name is on the mailbox or the mail carrier will not deliver any correspondence related to the case. “Inability to deliver” results in a case being closed for loss of contact. Be sure to inform your Social Services worker of any changes in your address to prevent such occurrences.
Prescriptions: Applicants for temporary assistance or Medicaid who do not have health insurance, but need prescriptions filled for serious medical issues, should inform their examiner about the emergency need. Since doctors no longer give patients written prescriptions, the examiner will have to verify the pending prescription by calling the doctor or pharmacy. (NOTE: prescriptions for HIV/AIDS drugs must be referred to the AIDS Drug Assistance program, 1-800-542-2437.)
An application for Temporary Assistance may be made with the help of an advocate. The client advocate will complete the application and mail it directly to the Department of Social Services. A certification examiner will contact the advocate to schedule an interview at a mutually agreeable date and time. The advocate will accompany the client to the certification interview and assist the client in obtaining any necessary verifications.
Applicants escorted by a mental health professional can usually be seen in a reasonably short time through the “Advocacy Program for Mental Health Clients.” It is very important that you arrive on time for your scheduled certification interview. Generally, you will be seen within a half hour of your scheduled appointment time.
A typical benefits award on Temporary Assistance is under $800 per month (2020) for one person living alone, and includes a basic grant, rent and utilities. THIS AMOUNT IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE (Source: www.needhelppayingbills.com/html/how_much_cash_assistance.html)
If your relative has trouble managing money, you can request that rent and utilities be paid directly to the utility companies and landlord. You can also request that the Adult Protective Services be named as co-payer, so a caseworker can supervise the patient’s funds.
Financial grants are based on household size, so if more than one person is living in the home or apartment, the income and resources, based on their relationship to the applicant are considered in determining eligibility.
Social Security (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSDI or SSD)
Benefits Available for Those Unable to Work Due to Mental Illness
Mental illness remains one of the most misunderstood medical problems facing society today. It is complex, difficult to treat and often so disabling that those afflicted with it are unable to hold down a job.
Two federal benefit programs are available to help those who cannot work due to disability: Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both are run by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and provide monthly benefits to disabled individuals and their families. To qualify, the mentally ill person must fulfill both medical and non-medical eligibility requirements. For both SSD and SSI, medical eligibility means that for at least 12 months the recipient is (or will be) unable to perform their former job or any other type of work due to disability.
Obtaining SSD or SSI benefits based on mental health problems carries with it special considerations. The SSA looks for medical findings such as marked changes in appetite or sleeping patterns; irritability; loss of interest in all activities; decreased energy; suicidal thoughts; hallucinations; marked difficulties in social functioning; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.
SSA may also find someone disabled if they can show that the person has a residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate or one or more years’ inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement with an indication of continued need for such an arrangement.
If the claimant has any history of alcohol or substance abuse, the Social Security Administration will closely scrutinize whether or not the substance abuse is material to the issue of disability. In other words, they will examine whether or not the person would in fact be totally unable to work if the person ceased the abuse. If the claimant continues to abuse substances and refuses recommended treatment, it is likely that the claim will ultimately be denied.
Non-medical eligibility is different for SSD and SSI. For SSD, a claimant generally must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for five out of the last ten years before the onset of the disability.
For SSI, a needs-based program, there is no work history requirement but the applicant must have limited income and assets.
To obtain SSD or SSI, an application must be filed. The applicant can call the Social Security toll-free number (800-772-1213) to set up a teleconference with a representative, or contact an attorney or other legal advocate who handles SSI and SSD claims. A claimant can also apply online by visiting the Social Security Administration website at www.ssa.gov. While processing the claim, the SSA will review your medical records and physicians’ reports. Strong medical evidence is essential to winning benefits. Thus, it is crucial to have support from the claimant’s doctor.
If the claim is approved, the recipient will receive monthly benefit payments, family benefits where eligible (SSD only), and medical coverage in accordance with entitlement rules.
If the SSA determines that it is in the disabled person’s best interest to have another person manage his or her finances, a representative payee will be assigned and benefit payments will go to that person. This could happen, for example, if the recipient suffers from a mental impairment and is unable to reason properly, is disoriented or has seriously impaired judgment, or has been found legally incompetent by a judge in state guardianship proceeding. These are just a few examples of why a representative payee might be assigned. By law, the SSA must exercise extreme care in determining whether a payee is needed, in selecting a payee who will serve the best interest of the beneficiary, and in monitoring the performance of the payee.
A parent may file a claim on behalf of an adult child who is in denial about their disability. SSA rules provide that the claimant (the adult child) must sign the initial application, except in extreme circumstances, e.g. if he or she is in a coma. Therefore, although a parent may complete an application on behalf of an adult child and provide all required information, in most cases the child will still be required to sign it (claimants who are physically incapable of signing their name can mark an “X” in front of a witness). Once the initial application is filed, a representative who has filed the appropriate paperwork (Appointment of Representative form) with the SSA can submit any additional forms, appeals, etc. on behalf of the claimant.
SSD and SSI claims processing can take a long time. The average applicant receives at least one denial and must go through an appeals process before winning benefits. The total amount of time for a claim to be approved can range from a few months to two years or more. It is important that you don’t get discouraged, and even more important that you don’t give up. Most SSD and SSI claims are eventually approved. In the meantime, make sure you have emotional support from others–your family, friends, and/or a support group. They can help you get through what might seem like an eternity of waiting. Be persistent, and you or your adult child stand a good chance of winning benefits.
Impact of Work on Social Security & Other Benefits
A common concern for individuals who are considering going back to work is what will happen to income, health benefits, and entitlements when getting a job. Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Social Security Income (SSI) may be affected. https://www.ssa.gov/ Calculating how earnings from a part-time job may affect the amount of benefits you receive is very complicated and you should seek assistance through SSA, a community resource or an attorney specializing in this area.
For individuals who have never worked or who haven’t worked in many years, part-time work may be the best way to begin working. Many others find part-time employment becomes a long-term option until they are able to work a full-time job. They may be able to receive benefits and earn a paycheck at the same time.
Go to https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10095.pdf for SSA brochure, “Working While Disabled: How We Can Help”
If one is denied benefits under SSI, SSD, or Temporary Assistance, or if such benefits are going to be terminated, the person has the right to a Fair Hearing. Requests for a Fair Hearing should be made immediately and they should contact one of the legal assistance services which can protect their interest and rights. See Legal & Criminal Justice.
Assistance with Obtaining Resources & Supports
This section cannot cover every resource that may be available. Many other nonprofit and community agencies offer assistance with obtaining these services. Please call 211 or go to 211WNY for additional resources.
Mental Health Advocates of WNY
Legal and Advocacy Services
Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers (BFNC)
45 Jewett Ave
Buffalo, NY 14214
292 High Street
A health and wellness care coordination program.
180 Washburn St
Lockport NY 14094
Neighborhood Center, Niagara Falls
64 19th St
Niagara Falls, NY 14301
Town of Tonawanda Coalition
160 Delaware Rd
Kenmore, NY 14217
Maria M. Love Convalescent Fund
P.O. Box 293
Buffalo, NY 14213
11955 Liberia Rd
East Aurora, NY 14052
North Buffalo Community Association
203 Sanders Ave
Buffalo, NY 14216