Getting disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) can be a lengthy process. It can take several months for Social Security to approve your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Since you'll likely have little to no income while you're waiting, you might experience serious financial hardship. And you could face the same kind of financial crisis if your SSI benefits are ever terminated or suspended, because you'd lose that income while you appeal the decision.
Fortunately, most states participate in the "Interim Assistance Reimbursement (IAR) Program" and provide public assistance (or "general assistance") if you qualify. You can often get some financial help from a state agency while your Social Security application or appeal is pending.
But once your disability benefits are approved (if they are), you'll need to pay the state back with your SSI back pay (payments covering the period between your application and when your monthly benefits begin).
Interim public assistance, or just "interim assistance," is a short-term benefit from your state, usually from its public assistance or general assistance (GA) program. These programs are usually part of the Department of Social Services, Family Services, or Health and Social Services (or in New York, the Human Resources Administration, or HRA).
Interim assistance is cash that's paid directly to you, and sometimes includes payments made by the state agency to service providers on your behalf. In many states, Medicaid is also available to SSI applicants who qualify for interim assistance on a "medically needy" basis.
Before you can receive interim public assistance, you'll have to file an application for SSI benefits. (If you apply for SSDI only, you won't qualify for interim assistance.) You can apply for interim assistance once you've submitted your SSI disability application to Social Security.
To qualify for interim public assistance, your state agency must believe that your application for SSI disability benefits will probably be approved—in other words, you must be severely disabled. Additionally, you must meet the state's public assistance criteria. In most states, the requirements for interim assistance are similar to the eligibility requirements of the SSI program.
For example, if your income is more than what's allowed for the SSI program, you might not qualify to receive interim public assistance. In 2023, the income limit for SSI is $914 per month for individuals and $1,371 for couples (but not all income counts).
Once you apply for interim assistance, you'll need to sign an interim assistance agreement, or interim assistance reimbursement agreement, before you receive any cash assistance from your state. This agreement is a promise that, if your SSI disability is approved, you'll repay the state agency that provides the interim benefits. Essentially, that means the interim public assistance benefits you receive from your state are a loan that must be paid back.
Once Social Security approves your SSI application, the agency will send you a check (or direct deposit) for several months of back pay. Your back pay will cover the period from the beginning of the month after the month in which you applied for disability benefits and continue through the month before your regular benefits begin.
For example, let's say you apply for SSI on June 15, 2022, and Social Security approves your benefits on December 23, 2022. Your regular SSI would begin in January of 2023. In this case, you'd get six months of SSI back pay—from the month after you applied for SSI (July) through the month before your benefits start (December).
Your interim assistance would stop when your SSI benefits begin. The interim assistance agreement you would've signed allows Social Security to deduct the total amount of the interim cash assistance your state paid to you from your SSI back pay. The SSA would pay your state its share and then pay any remaining back pay to you.
Although Social Security will repay your state for the interim government assistance you get while waiting for your SSI benefits to be approved, the SSA doesn't run the interim assistance program itself. It's not a federal program. As such, you can't apply for interim assistance through Social Security; you must apply with your state agency.
Fortunately, most states have an interim assistance program of some kind. But each state has its own application process. You'll most likely need to apply through your state's social services agency.
For more information, contact your local Social Security office. Your local SSA representatives will likely know which department in your state handles interim assistance and can point you in the right direction.
Updated February 3, 2023
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