General Assistance

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Author: Attorney Desk Reference Manual
Last updated: December 2006

General Overview
Statutes and Regulations
Standards Overview
Non-Financial Factors of Eligibility
Financial Requirement of Eligibility
Transitional Assistance and Family and Children Assistance for Chicago Residents

General Overview

General Assistance (GA) is often referred to as the public assistance program of last resort.  It is funded entirely with state and local monies.

The GA program is different in Chicago than the rest of the state.  For a description of the Chicago program, click here.

In the rest of Illinois, GA is administered by the township unit of local government.  In some areas, particularly for southern Illinois, the program may be administered by the county.  The program is funded through a general assistance tax levied against property.

There are two kinds of townships: those that receive state funds to administer their GA programs and those that don’t.  As a condition of receiving state funds, "receiving townships" must apply state standards (305 ILCS 5/6-11).  These standards are contained in the DHS GA Manual.  The other townships establish their own standards within the broad limits of state law.  Most nonreceiving townships use the standards contained the General Assistance Handbook for Local Governmental Units" of the Township Supervisors of Illinois (T0I Handbook).

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Statutes & Regulations

305 ILCS 5/6-1 et seq.

Regulations:

89 Ill. Adm. Code 114

"General Assistance Manual" of the Illinois Department of Human Services

"General Assistance Handbook for Local Governmental Units" of the Township Supervisors of Illinois (T0I Handbook)

A township’s individually developed written criteria.

Important Cases

White v. Roughton, 530 F.2d 750 (7th Cir. 1976)
Townships must have written standards for general assistance and must fairly and consistently apply those written standards, rather than administrators’ own personal standards.

Henson vs. East Lincoln Township
This was a Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation (LOL) defendant class action which sought enforcement of the White holding throughout LOL’s 65 county service area.  The consent decree requires all 750 townships to maintain written standards and follow them.

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Standards Overview

  • Right to a written application
  • Must be acted on in 45 days (HFS 705); 30 days (TOI 700)
  • Composition of assistance unit: specified relative or guardianship order and adult only cases
  • Must register for employment (TOI 406)
  • Financial factors (TOI 500) (HFS 500) Note: one can earmark income to avoid sibling deeming
  • Payment level: TOI 601 – no less than state level, but some townships itemize.  HFS level = $100
  • DHS standards require adult only applicants to be unemployable.

Payments

In receiving townships, recipients receive a monthly check in the sum of $100.  Non-receiving townships may make payments directly to the recipient or by voucher to a vendor, such as a landlord, grocery store or utility company.

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Non-Financial Factors of Eligibility

Age. An adult is eligible for GA if s/he is age 21 or over; is married and living with a spouse, regardless of age (even though living with a parent); or age 18, 19, or 20 and not living with a parent.

Residency. Must be a resident of Illinois.  When an Illinois resident has not lived in the township in which he or she applies for GA for a continuous period of six months, then the township of application can look to the township where the applicant formerly resided to provide GA until the six month period has ended.  Refusal of the former township to pay is not grounds for denying GA.

Last Resort. General Assistance is welfare of last resort.  The applicant or recipient cannot be eligible for other welfare programs such as TANF.

Employment Related Activities. State law requires that recipient of General Assistance make efforts to find employment and get off the welfare rolls. There are four separate requirements:

  • Registration with Job Service of the Illinois Department of Employment Security and acceptance of bona-fide job offers subject to certain exemptions such as the applicant being ill or physically or mentally impaired, or the parent of a child in need of care when child care cannot be provided.
  • If established and available, and if it is appropriate, registration in an educational or vocational training program.
  • Participation in job search, training and work programs under participation requirements to be established by the township or veterans assistance commission.
  • Participation in "workfare" programs in which the recipient of GA is assigned to employment without compensation.  Workfare is required for persons who do not participate in job search training and work programs but who are not exempt from registration with Job Service.

Conviction. Applicants for GA who are convicted twice by a court for criminal violations of the Public Aid Code are ineligible for GA.

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Financial Requirements of Eligibility

Need

Income available to the person, when added to contributions in money, substance, or services from other sources, including contributions from legally responsible relatives, must be insufficient to equal the grant amount established by Department regulation (or by local governmental units which do not receive State funds) for such a person.  305 ILCS 5/6-1.2

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Transitional Assistance and Family and Children Assistance for Chicago Residents

Who is eligible for Transitional Assistance (TA)?

To be eligible for TA, a person may not be eligible for TANF, AABD, SSI, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, or any other kind of public benefit.  In addition, they must be very poor and fit into one of seven categories of persons that IDHS calls "not employable."  If they do not fit into one of these categories, they are deemed "employable," and they are not eligible for any form of cash or medical assistance.  They are still eligible for food stamps though.

Who is considered "not employable" for purposes of TA?

There are seven "not employable" categories.

Category 1. Disabled, as determined by the Department, with SSI application pending.  A person is eligible under this category if he has applied for SSI disability benefits and is found by IDHS to meet the SSI disability standards.  This determination is based upon medical evidence.  The client has to get his doctor, or some doctor, to fill out IDHS disability forms, which a caseworker will provide to the client.  Alternatively, the client can submit "medical records."  Hospital records or clinical records or a detailed letter from the treating doctor documenting the client's impairments (not just listing the diagnoses) are advisable.  If the client cannot get the forms filled out because he cannot pay a doctor to do it, he should tell his caseworker.  The caseworker will then set up an appointment for the client at a hospital for filling out the forms (IDHS has contracted with some hospitals to provide this service).

The client must also submit proof that his SSI application is pending with the Social Security Administration at any administrative level through the ALJ level.  When SSA denies an SSI application at an administrative level below the ALJ level, the client must appeal to the next level and then provide verification to IDHS that the appeal has been filed.

When clients receive TA in this SSI-related category, they get the $100 cash benefit, plus the following:

  • They are exempt from any mandate to participate in employment searches and other workfare-type activities.
  • They are entitled to Medicaid-type medical coverage, which is much more comprehensive than the medical coverage provided to other TA recipients.
  • They receive a referral to an advocate to help them with their SSI application at the first stage of the Social Security appeals process (called "reconsideration").  The advocates are at the SSI Advocacy Project, which is run on contract with IDHS by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.
  • They are eligible to have IDHS pay for a psychological examination and testing to help document their SSI application, but only if IDHS has not previously paid for a psychological examination for them.
  • When applying for TA, the recipient must sign an agreement to reimburse IDHS for the aid paid during the pendency of the SSI application, to the extent that SSI benefits are paid for any of those months.  Social Security then sends the retroactive SSI check to IDHS, which reimburses itself for the aid and sends the balance to the recipient.

Category 2. Age 55 or over and without gross earnings totaling $2,000 in the past year and also without earnings of at least $200 a month in seven of those months. The department is to take the client's word for the earnings, unless it has evidence to the contrary.

Category 3. Needed at home to provide full-time care for a medical reason for another person residing with the recipient. The client has to submit to the local office a statement from a doctor familiar with the other person's condition, which states why the person needs full time care.

Category 4. Homeless as a result of court-ordered building evacuation (not eviction), domestic violence, fire, or natural disaster within the previous six months. There are two time factors that must be met: the person must have lost his residence due to one of the above four events within the six months prior to application; and the person must be currently homeless, i.e., at the time of application. The person must be in a shelter or on the street.  Temporarily staying with relatives or friends does not constitute homelessness for these purposes.  Thus, a person who lost his residence due to one of these four reasons and is staying with a relative or friend must move to a shelter or the street prior to applying for TA, in order to meet this category.

There are fairly strict verification requirements.  Evacuation of a building must be verified by a court order or sheriff's notice.  Domestic violence must be verified by an order of protection or a police report, and the violence must have been done by someone the victim was living with at the time it occurred.  Fire must be verified by a newspaper account or a fire department report.  Natural disaster must be declared by the Governor or the President, and verification of this must be obtained by the department (a newspaper report is sufficient).  The fact of homelessness must be verified by proof of residence in a domestic violence or homeless shelter, or a statement from a social service provider that the provider is "working with" the client and no shelter space is available or the person prefers not to reside in a shelter.

Eligibility runs for six months from the date of application (not the date of the loss of residence).

Category 5. Under 20 and a full-time high school or vocational school student or training program participant. The person remains eligible during periods of summer vacation.  Verification of school attendance must be provided.  The department can make a computerized "CSOC Inquiry" if the client is attending a Chicago Board of Education School.  Otherwise, a manual form of proof from the school is necessary.  Eligibility ends in the month the person gets a diploma or the month he turns 20.  This category will be useful for families in which the children become too old to be included in a TANF or SFCA assistance unit.

Category 6. Required to take medication to control diabetes, hypertension or seizure disorders. The client must provide two verifications: a diagnosis from a doctor; and a prescription or drug container label or statement from a doctor giving the drug and dosage.  The local office sends these to Springfield for a decision.  Eligibility lasts as long as the need for the medication lasts.

Category 7. Temporarily unable to work due to a medically documented illness or incapacity. The client submits the medical data in support of his "eligible for SSI" claim (see category #1 above), consisting at least of the disability form or equivalent medical records.  IDHS then determines whether the client meets the SSI standard.  If not, IDHS then determines if the client meets this temporary incapacity category.  If so, IDHS also determines how many months the condition will last.  It must be at least 30 days.  If, after the client is made eligible, the client obtains documentation that the condition will last longer, he must submit it to the local office, which then submits it to Springfield for a determination.  If the client submits the new information prior to the expiration of the original period of incapacity, and IDHS finds his incapacity will last longer, he will receive assistance without a break.  If IDHS's decision came after he was terminated, he will be retroactively reinstated.  If the new information is submitted to the local office after the expiration of the original period of incapacity, the client must reapply.  This will cost at least a month of benefits.  To avoid this, the client must get the new information to the local office before the expiration of the original period of incapacity.

What procedures does IDHS use for TA determinations?

IDHS should not deny a TA application without going through all of the categories.  A client should request consideration of particular categories he or she feels to be most relevant, but IDHS's duty to review all of the categories does not depend upon the client's having requested it.  When a client appeals the denial of benefits, all of the categories are at issue, whether or not the client requested or the caseworker made a decision with respect to all of them.  In these appeals, the client is entitled to submit new evidence that he did not previously submit to the caseworker.

Similarly, when a client's eligibility in a certain "not employable" category ends, IDHS should not cancel the case without first examining eligibility in all of the other categories.  If a client appeals a termination of TA, all of the categories are at issue, and the client may submit new evidence not previously submitted to the caseworker.

In practice, IDHS will determine eligibility for the SSI-related category first (if the client has applied for SSI).  If eligibility under that category is denied, IDHS will often deny the entire application without considering eligibility under the other categories. They will need to be reminded by phone or through the filing of an appeal, or both.  Also, you may have a client who has applied for SSI, but who also clearly meets one of the other categories (he is over age 55, for instance).  Caseworkers should be urged to put the client onto TA under the obvious category immediately, while still processing the SSI-related category.

What about medical coverage?

Anyone who receives a TA (other than in the SSI-related category) or SFCA cash grant also receives G.A. medical coverage (a medical card) automatically.  The children in the SFCA unit are entitled to Medicaid coverage; the adults get G.A. medical coverage. G.A. medical coverage is substantially less comprehensive than Medicaid, principally because it does not include any hospital-based services.  Medical coverage is explained elsewhere in this manual.  Persons not eligible for TA because they are "employable," including Earnfare participants, receive no medical coverage at all.

Who is eligible for state family and children assistance (SFCA)?

Families containing children are eligible for SFCA if they are not eligible for TANF.  Generally, this means that very few families will be eligible for SFCA, because most families are now eligible for TANF.  Children who live with a legal guardian are not eligible for TANF, but they are eligible for SFCA (although the legal guardian cannot receive benefits for herself).

What about noncitizens?

TA and SFCA benefits are available to:

  • U.S. Citizens
  • Permanent Residents who entered (legally or illegally) the United States   before August 22, 1996
  • Refugees, asylees, and those whose deportation is being withheld.

What are the cash benefits?

TA pays $100.00 per month.

SFCA pays the same payments as the same-sized TANF families.  Countable income (which is not determined the same way as under the TANF program) is subtracted to arrive at the actual payment.  For instance, a family of three is eligible for $377.00 per month under the TANF and SFCA programs.  The adults in the SFCA family receive Transitional Assistance medical coverage, which does not include and hospital-based services.  The children always receive Medicaid coverage.

What are the financial factors of eligibility for TA and SFCA?

This is how the client proves he is "needy" enough to be eligible for TA or SFCA, and how IDHS establishes the actual payment amount. There are two categories of financial factors: assets and income.

Assets: Assets are the cash or property the client owns.  Money received in a given month is generally income, but any of it left over in the next month is considered an asset.  Some assets are exempt or not counted.  These include clothing, other ordinary personal possessions and household furnishings; real estate used as the principal place of residence; a car of any value.

If a person's non-exempt assets exceed $2,000, the person is ineligible for TA. A family's SFCA asset limit is $3000 for two people, plus $50 for each additional person.

Income: "Countable" income attributable to a given month is subtracted from the standard payment level to arrive at the actual payment level.  Some types of income are exempt, or not countable: in-kind (non-monetary) contributions or gifts, such as food and shelter; payments made to third parties for the benefit of the recipient (e.g., payment of rent directly to a landlord); loans from persons not legally responsible for the recipient (a spouse or a parent of a child under 18 or under 21 if living in the parent's home is "responsible" for the recipient); some JTPA, VISTA and foster care payments; educational loans and grants paid directly to the school; and others (none of which are very common).  In-kind payments and payments to third parties and loans can be key strategies to prevent or resolve homelessness, because they can add necessary buying power to the recipient without reducing the TA or SFCA benefit payment or endangering medical coverage.  This is the best way to target contributions from, for example, family or friends.

When a client has earned income, there are deductions made from the gross prior to counting the earnings against the payment level:

  • Essential expenses of self-employment;
  • $90 standard deduction;
  • Up to $175.00 of out of pocket child care expenses for each child, $200.00 if the child is under 2 years old;
  • The first $50.00 per month earned by a child under 18 who is a full time student in elementary or high school ($150.00 maximum per family);
  • For TA cases, for three consecutive months each 12-month period, a further deduction of approximately $350.

Countable earned and unearned income is added together and deducted from the standard payment level to arrive at the actual payment, if any.

Lump sums. When a recipient receives a non-recurring lump sum payment (e.g., personal injury settlement, lottery winnings, large cash gift), IDHS does a special calculation. The amount of the lump sum that exceeds the asset limit of $2000 is divided by $1000 to arrive at the number of months of ineligibility.
Note: This lump sum rule only applies to "recipients." If you know when the lump sum will arrive, have the client resign from assistance before the fiscal month in which the lump sum will arrive. The client then may reapply for assistance whenever the lump sum has been spent down below the asset limit (equal to one month's standard TA or SFCA payment).

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