Congress Must Not Cut SSI

December 19, 2011

In a recent Opinion column in Politico, Tim Shriver writes that Supplemental Security Income serves as a critical lifeline for children with severe disabilities, and must be preserved.

CLS advocates have been at the forefront of national advocacy to defend SSI from significant proposed cuts, as a co-founder of the SSI Coalition for Children and Families, which includes over 80 supporting organizations from around the country.

Read the rest of this entry »

Update on the SSP class action lawsuit (Naylor v. DPW)

June 21, 2011

Over 359,000 low-income Pennsylvanians receive a monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment of no more than $674 per month because they are unable to work because of disability, blindness, or age.

Most Pennsylvanians who receive SSI also receive an additional state-funded payment called the State Supplementary Payment (SSP).

Until February 2010, the SSP was $27.40 per month for an individual (for most people.)  But in February 2010, the Department of Public Welfare abruptly reduced this amount to $22.10 without providing the opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed reduction.

To SSI recipients, this reduction in their income was significant.  The combined SSI and SSP monthly amounts of $696.10 for an individual now equal less than 78% of poverty.  For many SSI recipients, the reduction in SSP meant a missed meal, a medical co-pay that could not be met, or a paratransit ride that could not be taken.

In November 2010, Community Legal Services, together with Dechert LLP, filed a class action lawsuit against DPW.  We asserted that DPW wrongfully reduced the SSP without seeking public comment as required by Pennsylvania law.  The lawsuit is called Naylor v. DPW. Read the rest of this entry »

CLS applauds the Corbett administration for offering additional assistance to Pennsylvanians terminated from adultBasic

April 26, 2011

CLS applauds the Corbett Administration for providing additional guidance and assistance toPennsylvaniaadults who lost their adultBasic health insurance on March 1, 2011 in seeking health insurance coverage through the Medical Assistance program,Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program.

On April 14, 2011, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department sent out 8,300 letters to women between the ages of 18 and 44 who lost their adultBasic health insurance when the program ended.  The letters advised women that they may qualify for SelectPlan for Women, a limited Medical Assistance program that provides gynecological care and other women’s health services.  The letters also advised women as to how they could seek more comprehensive Medical Assistance benefits. Read the rest of this entry »

Disabled & Elderly Pennsylvanians File Motion for Summary Relief in SSI Lawsuit

February 17, 2011

In November 2010, low-income Pennsylvanians who were disabled, blind, or elderly filed a class action law suit against the Department of Public Welfare when their SSI payments were reduced unlawfully.   The case is called Naylor v. Department of Public Welfare.

Earlier this week, lawyers for the class members filed a motion for summary relief.  In the motion, the class members laid out their full argument in detail.  To read the motion for summary relief, click here.

It will still be several months (at a minimum) before a judge rules in this case.  But stay tuned for the latest development.

5,600 Refugees Lose Their SSI Benefits this Month

October 4, 2010

This month, up to 5,600 severely disabled and elderly refugees will lose their SSI checks.  Early last week,  Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a bill to extend this vital safety net lifeline, but unfortunately, Congress adjourned prior to voting on this extension.

Community Legal Services has worked for years helping low-income refugees and asylees who are too disabled or elderly to work.  For many of these humanitarian immigrants, monthly SSI payments of approximately $700 per month are the only income they have to pay for rent, utilities, and other costs of daily living.

In 2006, CLS filed a national class action lawsuit on behalf of 60,000 immigrants.  The settlement in that lawsuit, called Kaplan v. Chertoff,  required the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to expedite the citizenship applications for immigrants subject to the time limit on SSI benefits.  In 2008, CLS joined a national coalition of advocacy organizations and successfully lobbied for a two-year extension of SSI for these immigrants.  Sadly, despite national media attention and the efforts of dozens of advocacy groups, that extension has now ended for many of these refugees.

CLS hopes to renew its efforts to obtain an extension of SSI eligibility for affected refugees when Congress returns after the election.  In the meantime, for more information, check out this publication by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  If you or someone you know has been affected by this cut off, you can find more information about your rights by reading our Advocates’ Guide to the October 2010 Cut-off.

A video produced by Michael Wong, a U/Penn Law Student, about Shmul Kaplan, the named plaintiff in the 2006 class action law suit can be viewed below.

Social Security, SSI, SSDI Beneficiaries May Get Ripped Off by Non-SSA Debit Cards

August 31, 2010

Do you know someone who has bought a “temporary” debit card for their Social Security, SSI, SSDI benefits?  If it’s not a Direct Express card, it’s not the official Social Security Administration debit card. Other cards may cost beneficiaries more and even keep them from getting their benefits.

Social Security is moving toward the end of paper checks. Recipients without bank accounts now have the option to get special debit cards (much like EBT cards) where their monthly benefits will go electronically each month. Aside from the many problems that are anticipated with this shift, check cashing places may be redoubling their efforts to snag Social Security beneficiaries before they sign up for the official Direct Express card.

Read the rest of this entry »

Save adultBasic

May 11, 2010

Last week the House Insurance Committee held a hearing on the future of adultBasic. Adult Basic is a popular program that currently provides bare bones insurance to 40,000 Pennsylvanians who do not qualify for any other form of public or private insurance. It is so popular and fulfills such a great need that it has a waiting list of more than 390,000 people — 27% of all the uninsured in Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, the program is threatened because its funding mechanism is up for renewal. Up to now, it has been funded by a combination of public and private funds.  Both sources are threatened. The public source is the Pennsylvania share of the Tobacco Settlement Fund, which has dwindled over the last 5 years due to competing demands for funding.  More crucial, however, is the expiration of the Community Health Reinvestment Agreement.  The CHRA is an agreement between the state and the four Blue Cross organizations in Pennsylvania.    After considerable criticism by CLS and many others of what we contended was an excess Blue Cross surplus, the Blues promised the state they would contribute 60% of their community benefit funds to funding adult Basic.  That agreement runs out December 31, 2010, leaving adult Basic on life support.  Representative Todd Eachus has introduced House Bill 2455 to preserve the program and assessing the not for profit Blues 2.4% of their premiums, about what they would pay if they were a for profit company.  CLS testified  in favor of the bill, as did Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.  The Blues vigorously opposed it.

Time will tell if the popular program survives.  It would be tragic if this last ray of hope was extinguished for the 1.4 million Pennsylvanians without insurance, especially since we only need to bridge the 3 years untill federal health reform is implemented.

Pennsylvania Medicare Beneficiaries Settle Case Against the Department of Public Welfare

May 3, 2010

Narcissa Garcia was struggling to live on her monthly disability payment of $695.00.  Her struggle was made more difficult by having her monthly benefit reduced by almost $100 to pay for the monthly Medicare Part B premium.  In November 2008, she applied and was approved for Medicaid benefits, part of which would have Pennsylvania pay her monthly Part B premium.  Because of delays, Ms. Garcia had to wait six months before Pennsylvania began paying the premium, while her monthly benefit was still being reduced.

On April 23, 2010, Ms. Garcia, the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), and the Arc of Pennsylvania entered into a court settlement with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW).  The case, Garcia, et  al. v.  Kathleen Sebelius, et al. was a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of all Pennsylvania residents who are eligible or  will become eligible for the Medicare Savings Program (MSP), the Medical Assistance program that pays the Medicare premiums for eligible Pennsylvania residents.  Advocates from Community Legal Services and the Center for Medicare Advocacy represented the  plaintiffs in the lawsuit.  You can go here to read a press release regarding the settlement. Read the rest of this entry »

The effect on home ownership when entering a nursing home.

February 1, 2010

The Aging & Disabilities Unit receives many calls from individuals and their families members about the effect that entering a nursing home has on the individual’s home ownership.  In the community rumors abound that in order to enter a nursing home and to have Medicaid pay for it, you will have to give your home to the state.

These rumors are wrong.  If someone owns a home and requires long-term skilled nursing home care to be paid for by Medicaid, she can preserve her home ownership for the entirety of her life.  This is true only for homes that the potential nursing home resident actually lives in, and not for non-residential property that an individual owns.  When evaluating financial eligibility for a Medicaid nursing home grant, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) will always exclude as a resource a home that the applicant lives in.  Again, to have Medicaid pay for long-term, skilled nursing care, an appplicant NEVER gives up the ownership of her home.

Unfortunately, these rumors can cause individuals to take steps that will ultimately affect a person’s eligibility for Medicaid to pay for a nursing home stay.  Sometimes, a home-owner will transfer their home to a family member thinking that this will protect their home from the state.  When this is done, it actually can prevent an individual from receiving Medicaid, unless they receive actual payment of fair market value for their home.  When an applicant applies for Medicaid, DPW will do an in depth review of an applicant’s financial history from the previous five years.  If DPW discovers that an applicant has transferred a home for less than fair market value, it will penalize the applicant by denying her Medicaid for a period of time.  If a homeowner anticipates a stay in a nursing home facility, she should contact an attorney before transacting any business regarding the ownership of her home.

The rumors of losing one’s home, we believe, have their origin in Pennsylvania’s Estate Recovery Program (ERP).  ERP is a program mandated by the federal government that requires all states to seek recovery from the estate of a deceased person the cost of long term nursing care paid for by Medicaid.  This law is only applicable to Medicaid recipients over 55 y.o.  Additionally, this law only takes effect after the person receiving nursing care has passed away.

Because Medicaid is a program for low-income individuals, often the only asset left in a person’s estate is the home.  Upon the death of the Medicaid recipient, DPW will send a letter to the family asking for an accounting of the deceased’s estate.  This will be followed by a claim from DPW for the cost of care provided while the individual was receiving a Medicaid grant.

However, there are many ways to avoid having to subject a home to estate recovery.  The law requires that DPW grant hardship waivers in certain circumstances (spouses, disabled children, care-givers who provided significant care prior to the entry of deceased into a nursing home).  CLS often works with family members to get these waivers.

Because of the rampant rumors about ERP, many people will not apply for Medicaid, and in turn, not receive the necessary medical care they require.  Individuals who need long-term, skilled-nursing care should know:

1)  You do not have to give up ownership of your home in order to receive a  Medicaid grant for long-term skilled nursing care.

2) Recovery from the individual’s estate after they decease is not inevitable, and many times avoidable.


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