Victories

Woman Homeless After Spending Cash Settlement
Suspended benefits ultimately reinstated

The woman’s life was in shambles when she came to the AIDS Law Project in February. Her federal social security disability benefits had been suspended and she was left homeless and destitute.

Although she tried to communicate with the Social Security Administration, she had a hard time dealing with the agency, said Jacob M. Eden, an AIDS Law Project staff attorney.

“She didn’t understand what was going on,” he said.

Her troubles began when she received a settlement payment following a personal injury. In October 2015, she received $12,000 as compensation after suffering a serious fall.

Grateful she had survived her accident and with a generous spirit, she spent almost all the money on her family for large Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. She also gave a generous gift to a Good Samaritan passerby who had helped her after her accident.

Unfortunately, she did not know that she was required to report the settlement to the Social Security Administration right away. During her yearly redetermination in mid-2016, she reported the settlement. The agency promptly suspended her benefits, claiming that she was over the resource limit of $2,000, and assessed an $8,000 overpayment back to October 2015.

With no other income or resources, she was unable to pay rent and ended up homeless.
Jacob reviewed her case and determined she was only over the resource limit in November and December. Because the woman did not have any receipts or proof of the money she spent, Jacob helped her draft a statement to the Social Security Administration explaining what had happened to the money. The Social Security Administration agreed that she was below the resource limit starting in January 2016.

This caused another complication. Since Social Security Administration rules prohibit giving away resources, her generosity led to a 16-month period of ineligibility.

Jacob argued that this penalty should not be enforced due to the hardship it would cause, and the
Social Security Administration agreed. Her benefits were reinstated and her overpayment was reduced to $2,200 – for the month she received the check and the two months she still had the money.

“She was ecstatic that her benefits were restored,” Jacob said. “Now she can start putting her life back together.”


Man Battling Disabilities, Addiction Gets Another Chance
From shelters to rehabs, stability seemed elusive

A stable life seemed out of reach for the 59-year-old man.

When he wasn’t incarcerated, he bounced from homeless shelters to recovery programs and back again. In addition to struggling with addiction, he was burdened with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, uncontrolled diabetes and peripheral neuropathy.

The way he saw it, the drug use offered an occasional escape from his painful life. It also made the stability he so desperately needed an impossible goal.

He had applied for Social Security disability benefits for years, but was repeatedly denied because of his drug addiction. Federal law prohibits awarding disability benefits to a person if alcohol and drug addiction are considered material to their disability.

Finally, he came to the AIDS Law Project for help as he once again tried to get the benefits that would offer him a glimmer of hope.

“He had a very tragic look to him,” said Juan M. Baez, the AIDS Law Project’s deputy managing attorney. “He was desperate.”

At the Social Security hearing in August, Juan argued that the man’s drug addiction was not material to his disability. The administrative law judge agreed that the man’s multiple health impairments, age and limited past work experience rendered him unable to work, regardless of his drug addiction.

Juan was able to secure for the man Social Security disability income of $733 a month, which also was granted retroactively to 2015.

“He was grateful for the assistance in getting a stable income that gives him a chance to find a home,” Juan said.”


Bookkeeping Error Imperils Family
Young mother struggles to keep family together

The 24-year-old woman was doing her best to keep her family together under trying circumstances.

She had been living with her 9-yearold child when her mother suddenly died. She immediately arranged for her two teenage siblings to come and live with her.

Doing her best to follow the rules, she reported her new household size, now four people, to the Department of Human Services (DHS). She also applied for food stamps and Medicaid for her two siblings so her family could survive.

The next thing she knew was that DHS had cut off her and her child’s benefits, putting the family in a precarious position.

Bewildered, she contacted the AIDS Law Project for help.

“She was trying to take care of her family and do the right thing,” said Adrian M. Lowe, an AIDS Law Project staff attorney.

Adrian quickly determined that DHS had made a mistake. The department had included our client’s siblings’ Social Security survivor benefits in assessing the family income, but had not counted the increased number of household members. DHS was counting the income of four people, but applying the eligibility limit for two.

Adrian filed an appeal and provided documentation that his client’s siblings were living with her. DHS redid its calculations and determined the whole family was eligible for benefits.

“It was simple enough to correct, but not something she could have done on her own,” Adrian said. “She is a very together young woman who still was tripped up by an error.”


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