Financial Assistance While Waiting on Disability

There is help available while you're waiting for Social Security or SSI disability payments, but you have to piece it together.

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How to stay afloat while you're waiting for Social Security to approve your SSDI or SSI disability benefits is a tricky issue in most cases. What resources are there to help you while you wait? There are a few sources of assistance for those seeking Social Security Disability (SSDI) or SSI benefits based on disability.

Department of Social Services

If you haven't gone to your local Department of Social Services (DSS), you might want to consider doing that. Try to speak with an Adult Services Social Worker (every social services department is different, many departments of social service locations have a department titled "adult services") and see if you can be referred to local assistance programs. These workers can often point you in the right direction.

Public Assistance

Previously known as "welfare," public assistance (called General Assistance or General Relief in some areas) is a state program that pays a limited amount of benefits to those without children. The amount of the benefit, and how long it can be paid, varies widely by state and county. If you have filed for SSI benefits, you may be able to get a cash payment through the Interim Public Assistance program.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The TANF program, a federal program operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides cash assistance to low-income families for a limited period of time.

Food Stamps

Food stamps are available through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for disabled individuals. You will be financially eligible for food stamps if you are financially eligible for SSI (there is a low asset limit). You can apply for food stamps at most Social Security offices. You can find out if you're eligible, and how much you may be able to get, with the screening tool at


When I was a caseworker (in addition to being a disability examiner, I was a former Medicaid caseworker and a former food stamp caseworker), individuals in need could get referrals to private charitable organizations that could occasionally assist with rent, utility, and transportation assistance. Often, this assistance is on a need-evaluation basis and occasionally it is one-time help only, but it's worth checking into.

Department of Vocational Rehabilitation

You might also want to contact the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) in your state. If you qualify for VR assistance, this department can sometimes assist you in a variety of different ways, even to the extent of getting you examined by a physician to determine the extent of your limitations. The report of such an exam could be very useful in your disability case, and "voc rehab" counselors are generally willing to provide such information when asked by either the disability examiner at DDS (Disability Determination Services, an agency that works for the SSA) or by a disability attorney or non-attorney representative, if you hire one.

You can find the contact information for your state's Department of Vocational Rehabilitation in our state disability resource lists.

Plan for the Long Haul

Something else I generally tell claimants is this: the wait for disability benefits is typically very long. Analyze your personal finances and plan for the long haul. For some people, this may mean cutting back on expenses or even looking at pulling equity out of their homes to make sure they can keep their bills paid while they wait for the process to play itself through.

By: Tim Moore, former Social Security disability claims examiner

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