Can You Get Financial Help While You Wait for a Disability Decision?

Question: My friend is waiting on disability; meanwhile her life has fallen apart. She has a degenerative birth defect that causes her to not grow collagen. As such her joints and body are slowly falling apart. Since having a spinal fusion operation, she has been unable to work. She no longer has insurance and cannot afford doctor visits or medications to help her cope with the pain. It seems like a hopeless situation, but maybe you can offer some advice. She is living in Las Vegas, Nevada if that info helps at all.

Answer: Unfortunately, your friend is in a common predicament – not being able to work and having to appeal a denial of Social Security disability benefits can create great financial hardship. Fortunately, there are several sources of assistance that may be available to her. First, your friend should contact your department of social services (in Nevada, it’s called the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, or DWSS) to see what help is available locally. A social worker at DWSS will have information on free medical care, food stamps, and welfare payments. The social worker may also be able to you your friend about may be able to refer your friend to a local charity that might help with rent and utilities.

Your friend should be able to qualify for Medicaid. She should apply right away so that she can resume seeing her doctor and taking her medications. It is very hard to win a disability appeal if you are not seeing a doctor.

Nevada was one of the states that agreed to expand Medicaid to low-income folks even if they aren’t elderly or disabled, so your friend does not have to wait to be found disabled by Social Security to be eligible for Medicaid. Your friend can apply for Medicaid through the DWSS website, where she can also apply for temporary cash assistance (welfare) and food assistance (food stamps).

Your friend may also qualify for what’s called “interim public assistance” while waiting for SSI (Supplemental Security Income). Even though your friend may have applied for Social Security disability (SSDI), which is based on her prior work earnings, she may qualify for SSI disability benefits because she has no income. SSI has a program to encourage states to pay temporary cash payments to disability applicants who are awaiting a decision from Social Security on SSI benefits. (Social Security will reimburse a state that has paid interim assistance (IA) once that applicant is approved for SSI benefits. For more information, see my article on interim public assistance.)

However, your friend will be approved for interim assistance only if DWSS believes if there is a strong likelihood that she will be found disabled by Social Security. Again, the best way for your friend to get disability benefits is to apply for Medicaid and see a doctor right away. Her doctor can properly assess whether she is still unable to work because of the spinal fusion and can prescribe medication that can help her symptoms. Your friend should also ask the doctor she sees to fill out a statement documenting her physical limitations, so that Social Security will see that they are no jobs she can do.