General assistance

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Author: Revisions contributed by, Sue Simone, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation
Last updated: March 2014

General Overview

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

In the City of Chicago, the GA program was funded by the state but all funding was eliminated as of July 1, 2012. Therefore, there is no longer a GA program in Chicago. However, there is a medical assistance program available only in Chicago called CountyCare

In the rest of Illinois, including suburban Cook County, GA is administered by the Township unit of the 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 real property.

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Statutes, Program Standards, and Case law

General Assistance programs are governed by Illinois Compiled Statutes at 305 ILCS 5/6-1, et seq. Illinois statute requires General Assistance programs to provide financial aid that meets “basic maintenance requirements”. 305 ILCS 5/6-1. Local units of government may operate a program governed by 305 ILCS Sections 6-1 through 6-10 or may set up a program that complies with 305 ILCS 5/6-11 (Transitional Assistance and Family and Children Assistance). 305 ILCS 5/6-12.

Program Standards

To determine the program standards employed by any particular Township, one must contact the relevant Township. The following are the most common program standards utilized by Townships.

"DHS Downstate General Assistance Manual" formerly published by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS). Many Townships that used to receive state funding for their GA programs continue to use the DHS Downstate General Assistance Manual even though state funding was eliminated. Each provision of the manual is divided into Policy (PO) and Procedure (PR). Both sections of any particular provision should be reviewed. The Downstate GA Manual can be found on the Township Officials of Illinois website.

"General Assistance Handbook for Local Governmental Units" published by the Township Officials of Illinois (TOI). There are two TOI GA Handbooks: one is “Flat Grant” and the other is “Needs Allowance.” In addition, there is a 2004 version of the Handbooks and a 2009 version. Always determine which Handbook your Township has adopted.

A Township may have individually developed written criteria as their program standards. Check individual Township standards for compliance with statutory requirements, with due process, and with the Henson Consent Decree.

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, (Case No. 80-3280, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division.)

This was a defendant class action which sought enforcement of the White holding throughout much of central and southern Illinois. The consent decree requires 750 Townships to maintain written standards and to follow them. A copy of the Consent Decree can be viewed here.

Rodriquez v. Township of DeKalb, (Case No. 85-C-20190, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Western Division.)

This was another defendant class action seeking enforcement of the White holding throughout 37 northernmost counties of Illinois. The consent decree requires 682 Townships to maintain written standards and to follow them. A copy of the Consent Decree can be viewed here.

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Standards Overview

  • Right to a written application (DHS 305.1; TOI 13.02)
  • Must be acted on in 45 days (DHS 705); 30 days (TOI 8.02)
  • Composition of assistance unit: adult only cases and families with children living with a specified relative or legal guardian cases (DHS 420; TOI 3.37)
  • Must register for employment unless exempt (DHS 435.4; TOI 3.12)
  • Financial factors (DHS 500) (TOI Section 5)
  • DHS standards require adult only applicants to be unemployable (DHS 105.1)


The amount of payment provided to GA recipients varies depending upon the program standards utilized. Payments for Adult Cases are generally between $100 and $245. (DHS 610.2; TOI 9.08). Payments for Family Cases are close to the TANF payment for the same-sized TANF family. (DHS 610.1; TOI 9.09). 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


An adult is eligible for GA if s/he is:

  • age 21 or over
  • married and living with a spouse, regardless of age (even if living with a parent)
  • age 18, 19, or 20 and not living with a parent. (305 ILCS 6-1.9; TOI 1.02, 1.20, 1.33)

For households applying for Family and Children Assistance (FCA), the household must contain a child under 18 years old or 18 and attending school full-time or a pregnant woman. (305 ILCS 5/6-11(d)(1); DHS 105.1; TOI 1.20, 1.33).

Living With

Minor children and specified adult relatives within 5 degrees of kinship, as well as minors living with legal guardians may be eligible for assistance. (DHS 420; TOI 3.37).


All recipients must be a resident of Illinois. Residency means physical presence coupled with absence of intent to leave. A fixed abode is not required and so a homeless person residing in the geographic area served by the Township may be eligible for GA. There is no durational residence requirement. However, when an Illinois resident has not lived in the Township in which s/he 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. Nor can the Township of application deny GA based on a recent move to its jurisdiction. (DHS 410, 1410.4; TOI 3.11).


Must be a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen qualified under one of the enumerated categories including (DHS 405; TOI 3.10): 

  • U.S. Veteran honorably discharged or on active duty or their spouse or unmarried dependents;
  • Lawful Permanent Residents who entered the U.S. before August 22, 1996 or who entered after August 22, 1996 and have been in the U.S. for 5 years;
  • Refugees, asylees, parolees, conditional entrants and those whose deportation is being withheld;
  • Members of certain Indian tribes and American Indians born in Canada;
  • Amerasians and close family members admitted beginning March 20, 1988;
  • Cuban or Haitian nationals admitted before April 21, 1980;
  • Hmong or Highland Laotian tribe members legally residing in the U.S. who assisted U.S. personnel during the Vietnam era; and
  • In addition, the following non-citizens qualify for assistance under the TOI manuals:
    • Abused spouses, widows or children of a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident who no longer live with abuser or plan to live separately within one month of receipt of assistance and whose need for assistance is due, at least in part, to the abuse and
    • Victims of human trafficking. (TOI 3.10 (l-m)).

Last Resort

General Assistance is welfare of last resort. Therefore, the applicant or recipient cannot be eligible for other welfare programs such as TANF or SSI. If an applicant is no longer eligible for TANF due to sanction, noncooperation, or reaching the 60-month limit, s/he is not eligible for GA. (305 ILCS §5/6-1.3; DHS 310; TOI 3.02-3.05).

Employment Related Activities

A recipient of General Assistance between the ages of 18 – 59 (DHS 440.1 & TOI 3.12, 3.13 2004 version) or 18 – 64 (TOI 3.12, 3.13 2009 version) must make efforts to find employment unless exempt. There are three separate requirements: 

  • Current registration with the Illinois Department of Employment Security, actively seeking work, and acceptance of bona-fide job offers. This requirement is 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. (DHS 435.4, 440.2) (TOI 3.12);
  • If established and available, and if it is appropriate, registration in an educational or vocational training program intended to enhance employability. (TOI 3.17; DHS 445.1); and
  • Participation in one of two Community Work Programs - either: 1) Job Search, Training and Work (JSTW) program under participation requirements to be established by the Township; or 2) Workfare program 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. (TOI 18.02; DHS 445.1).


Applicants for GA who are convicted twice by a court for criminal violations of the Public Aid Code are ineligible for GA. (DHS 470; TOI 3.27).

Additional Non-Financial Eligibility Requirements

  • Cooperation in investigating and verifying eligibility factors. (DHS 315, 435; TOI 3.19). GA applicants and recipients must also cooperate with referrals to any special services such as the Div. of Rehabilitation Services (TOI 3.23)
  • Report changes in circumstances that might affect eligibility. Changes must be reported within 5 days (TOI) or 10 days (DHS) (DHS 435.2; TOI 14.06)
  • Apply for all potential benefits and utilize all available resources (DHS 310.5; TOI 3.21)
  • Cannot be in violation of probation/ parole or be fleeing to avoid prosecution of a felony, imprisonment or giving testimony (DHS 485.4; TOI 3.29-3.32)
  • No eligibility for those convicted of a Class X or Class 1 drug felony after August 21, 1996; (DHS 485.1; TOI 3.34)
  • If convicted of a drug felony that is not Class X or 1, ineligible for GA for 2 years after conviction unless in drug treatment or has successfully completed drug treatment within 2 years. (DHS 485.2; TOI 3.35)

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Financial Requirements of Eligibility


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 the Township for such a person. 305 ILCS 5/6-1.2; DHS 510; TOI 6.06.

Nonexempt income may not equal or exceed the payment level for the assistance unit size. (DHS 610; TOI 4.3). In-kind income is exempt. (DHS 510; TOI 6.07(a)).

Resources (Assets)

  • An asset is the equity value of real or personal property. (DHS 505; TOI 4.02, 6.02);
  • For Townships using the DHS GA manual, disregard nonexempt assets up to $2,000 for one person, $3,000 for two persons, and $50 for each additional person. (DHS 505.2);
  • Townships using the TOI manuals may individually determine the asset disregard amount. However, the applicable asset disregard may not be less than the payment level for assistance units of the same size and composition. (TOI 1.10, 6.05);
  • A person is not eligible for GA if his/her non-exempt assets exceed the applicable asset disregard; and
  • Exempt assets include but are not limited to homestead property, household furnishings, clothing and personal effects; equity value of one car; equipment and inventory needed for a business; cemetery lot or burial crypt; up to $5,000 in an irrevocable burial contract. (DHS 505.4, 505.5, 505.6; TOI 6.04).

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Additional Requirements for Transitional Assistance Using DHS Downstate GA Program Standards

Who is eligible for Transitional Assistance (TA)? 

Transitional Assistance is a program for adults with no children who are considered “chronically needy”. 305 ILCS 5/6-11. 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, the applicant must be very poor and fit into one of seven categories of persons who are considered "not employable." If the applicant does not fit into one of these categories, s/he is deemed "employable," and is not eligible for any form of cash. The applicant is still eligible for SNAP (Food Stamps).

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

There are seven "not employable" categories. DHS 480.

Category 1

Disabled as determined by the Township , and has an SSI application pending. (DHS 480.1).

A person is eligible under this category if s/he has applied for SSI disability benefits and is found by the Township unit to meet the SSI disability standards. The disability determination is based upon medical evidence. The client has to get his/her doctor, or some doctor, to provide medical records and complete any disability forms provided by the Township.

The applicant 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 applicant must appeal to the next level and then provide verification to the Township that the appeal has been filed.

The applicant must also sign an authorization for repayment of assistance 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 the Township, which reimburses itself for the aid and sends the balance to the recipient.

Category 2

Age 55 or over and has not had gross earnings totaling $2,000 in the past year and has not earned at least $200 a month in 7 of those months. (DHS 480.2).

The Township is to take the applicant's word for the earnings, unless it has evidence to the contrary.

Category 3

Required to take medication to control diabetes, severe high blood pressure or seizure disorders. (DHS 480.3).

The applicant 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.

Eligibility lasts as long as the need for the medication lasts.

Category 4

Needed at home to provide full-time care for a medical reason for another person residing with the recipient. (DHS 480.4).

The applicant has to submit to the Township office a statement from a medical provider verifying the need for applicant to remain in the home.

Category 5

Under age 20 and a full-time high school or equivalent vocational school student or training program participant. (DHS 480.5).

The person remains eligible during periods of summer vacation. Verification of school attendance must be provided. The school must be approved by the Illinois Office of Education. Eligibility ends the month after the person receives a diploma or the month s/he turns 20, whichever occurs first. This category is useful for families in which the children become too old to be included in a TANF or FCA assistance unit.

Category 6

Homeless as a result of court-ordered evacuation (not eviction), domestic violence, fire, or natural disaster within the previous six months. (DHS 480.6).

There are two time factors that must be met:

  • The person must have lost his or her residence due to one of the above four events; and
  • The person must be currently homeless, i.e., at the time of application. he person must be in a shelter or on the street. Temporarily staying with relatives or friends does not constitute homelessness for these purposes.

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 Township (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.

Assistance under this category is limited to six (6) months from first full month of assistance. However, ongoing eligibility may be available under a different category.

Category 7

Temporarily unable to work due to a medically documented illness or incapacity. (DHS 480.7).

A client may be eligible for GA during the period of time the illness or incapacity is expected to last. The applicant must be unable to work at least 30 days from the date of application. The applicant submits the medical data in support of his or her temporary incapacity and the Township then determines if the applicant meets this temporary incapacity category. If so, the Township 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, s/he must submit it to the Township office for a determination. If the client submits the new information prior to the expiration of the original period of incapacity, and the Township finds his or her incapacity will last longer, s/he will receive assistance without a break. If the new information is submitted to the Township 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 Township office before the expiration of the original period of incapacity.

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What About Medical Coverage?

The children in the FCA unit generally should be entitled to AllKids medical coverage from the Illinois Department of Human Services. Otherwise, the amount and nature of medical assistance under the FCA program shall be determined by the unit of local government and no particular medical services are required to be covered. 605 ILCS 5/6-11(d)(4).

Adults between the ages of 19 and 64 years of age, inclusive, should apply for the ACA Adult Medicaid program available through the Illinois Department of Human Services. This is part of the Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act. ACA Medicaid provides more comprehensive medical coverage for most adults eligible for General Assistance. More information on applying for ACA Adult Medicaid can be found here or here.

If an adult is not eligible for ACA Medicaid, then for adults receiving TA, medical assistance may be provided by the Township “in an amount and nature determined by the unit of local government.” 305 ILCS 5/6-11 (c)(3). Townships providing medical coverage under FCA are not required to provide the same coverage for TA recipients. 305 ILCS 5/6-11(d)(4).

For Townships that provide medical coverage under the DHS Downstate GA Manual, the medical coverage is substantially less comprehensive than Medicaid, principally because hospital-based services are only covered for FCA cases. Only Medicaid that is “necessary and essential” is covered for TA cases. Payment is generally made by vendor payment. There is no reimbursement. DHS 1100. Persons not eligible for TA because they are "employable," including Earnfare participants, are not eligible for GA medical coverage but may be eligible for ACA Medicaid.

For Townships that provide General Assistance under 305 ILCS 5/6-1, the Township must also provide for either:

  • necessary treatment, care, and supplies required because of illness or disability; or
  • acute medical treatment, care, and supplies only.

For Townships using the TOI Handbooks, the General Assistance Medical Assistance (GA-MA) Program adopts and follows the DHS Family and Children Assistance Medical Program, including the medical schedules and rules regarding what constitutes necessary and essential medical care, treatment and supplies. (TOI 10.02). 

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CountyCare for Chicago Residents

What is CountyCare?

The State of Illinois and Cook County Health & Hospitals System are operating a Medicaid program for uninsured adults in Cook County only called CountyCare. This is a Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act (Healthcare Reform).

With CountyCare enrollment, individuals will receive medical care from providers in the Cook County Health & Hospital System (CCHHS) and select community providers.

Who is eligible for CountyCare?

To qualify for a CountyCare Medical Card, individuals must:

  • Live in Cook County
  • Be 19-64 years old
  • Have income at or below 133% of the Federal Poverty Level ($14,856 individual, $20,123 couple – annually)
  • Not be eligible for “state Plan” Medicaid (parent, pregnant, blind or receiving disability income)
  • Not be eligible for Medicare
  • Be a legal immigrant for five years or more or a US citizen
  • Have a Social Security number or have applied for one

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Appeal Rights

An applicant or recipient has the right to appeal any action, inaction or decision of the Township office. An appeal must be filed within sixty (60) days after the applicant or recipient is informed of the action, inaction or decision. (DHS 220.5; TOI 15.03). The appeal may be filed with the Township office or with the County Public Aid Committee. If the Township is in Cook County, the appeal is to the Cook County Townships Public Aid Committee. If General Assistance is administered by the county instead of by a Township, the appeal is to the County Board of Commissioners.

Appeals are heard by the County Public Aid Committee which usually consists of the County Board Chairman and several Township supervisors not affiliated with the Township whose decision is being appealed. The County State’s Attorney may be present to provide the Committee with legal advice.

Appellants have the right to be represented at the hearing, submit evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and present arguments. Appellants also have a right to a written decision on the appeal.

If the appeal is adverse to the Appellant, review in the Circuit Court is available by Writ of Certiorari. There is a deadline for filing an appeal in court. It is best to file the court appeal within 35 days of the appeal decision, but the court appeal is probably on time if it is filed within 6 months of the decision.

IMPORTANT NOTE RE: AID PENDING APPEAL: If an appeal is filed by the 10th calendar day after the date of notice (DHS 220.6) or on or before the Date of Change reflected on the Notice of Change (TOI 15.12, DHS 220.6), the appellant may request that benefits continue while the appeal is pending. A Notice changing or terminating benefits should always be dated at least 10 days prior to the date of change.

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Issue Spotting

  • Townships cannot refuse to allow someone to file an application;
  • Townships cannot require a new application every month;
  • Townships cannot deny GA benefits to eligible applicants/recipients because the township has run out of money;
  • Townships cannot require an applicant to complete work activities before being allowed to file an application;
  • Townships cannot require applicants to prove they are eligible before being allowed to file an application;
  • Townships must have written rules for their GA program that are available for public viewing;
  • Townships must assist applicants in filling out applications and gathering information to determine eligibility;
  • Townships must give their decision on an application in writing. The notice of the decision must state whether the applicant is approved or not and must state the specific reason for the decision;
  • Recipients have the right to receive a written notice before the Township reduces or terminates GA benefits. The Township must state the reason for the decision and cite the rule or regulation that supports the decision. The decision must also state the appeal rights; and
  • Townships cannot limit assistance to Emergency Assistance only.

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Other Township Assistance

Funeral and Burial Expenses

If a person who is receiving General Assistance dies and does not leave enough money for his funeral and burial, the Township will assist with those costs. Many Townships use a $1500.00 limit on these expenses. (305 ILCS 5/6-6; DHS 1205; TOI 11.03)

Disaster Assistance

Townships may provide disaster assistance when the President has declared a disaster in an area that includes the Township. The Township may give assistance to people who have suffered loss, damage or other hardship because of the disaster. This assistance is for people who have applied for help from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) or the SBA (Small Business Administration) but have not gotten a decision yet from FEMA  or SBA. Townships also can give assistance to people whose homes have been damaged in a disaster, while they wait for a decision from an insurance company. Recipients of emergency assistance for food and temporary shelter, must agree to pay it back to the Township. 305 ILCS 5/6-9.

Emergency Financial Assistance

Townships also may give "emergency assistance" in life-threatening situations or to help someone become self-sufficient. However, persons already receiving monthly General Assistance from the Township cannot also get emergency assistance. A person can get emergency assistance only one time per year. It is important to know about this because some Townships have improperly asked people to decide whether they want Emergency Assistance or monthly General Assistance; other Townships have told people the Township only gives Emergency Assistance. All Townships must have some form of monthly General Assistance program. 305 ILCS 5/6-10.

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