Obtaining disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) can be a lengthy process. While you are waiting for an approval for SSI or SSDI benefits, you may experience serious financial hardship. The same hardship can occur if your SSI benefits are ever terminated or suspended, and you have no income while you appeal the decision.
Fortunately, most states provide public assistance, or "general assistance," if you qualify. You can often receive some financial benefits from a state agency while your application or appeal with the SSA is pending. However, you'll need to pay back the state with your SSI back pay (payments you are due from the date of your application to present).
"Interim assistance" is a benefit from your state, usually from its public assistance or general assistance (GA) program, which is often part of the Department of Social Services or Department of Health and Social Services. It consists of a monetary benefit paid directly to you, and sometimes payments made by the state agency to service providers on your behalf. In many states, Medicaid is also available based on a "categorically medically needy" basis.
Before you can receive interim assistance, you will have to file an application for SSI benefits. You then apply for interim assistance and sign what's called an interim assistance agreement or interim assistance reimbursement agreement. You will be approved for interim assistance only if there is a strong likelihood that your SSI application for benefits from the SSA will also be approved; in other words, you must be severely disabled.
Additionally, you must meet the state's public assistance criteria. The public assistance criteria in your jurisdiction should be similar to the eligibility requirements of the SSI program. For example, if your income exceeds what is allowable by the SSI when determining eligibility of benefits, you might not be able to receive interim assistance.
The interim assistance agreement is a promise to repay the state agency that provides the interim benefits. Essentially, the benefits you receive from the state are basically a loan.
When your SSI application is approved by the SSA, you should receive several months of back pay, from the first of the month following the month in which you applied for SSI, to the present. The interim assistance agreement that you will be required to complete and sign allows the SSA to deduct the total amount of your interim assistance benefits from your SSI backpay lump sum. Then, the SSA will repay any remainder to you.
For more information, ask a field representative at your local SSA office or call 800-772-1213.