The financial safety net that is provided by the social security disability benefit program in Minnesota and elsewhere in the country is first and foremost a need-based that is only available to individuals with limited financial resources. A person’s failure to understand or account for this need-based aspect of the program can lead to serious legal problems.
Consider, for example, the case of James and Cynthia Hood, who were convicted of health care fraud in Minnesota in 2013 after they made false or misleading statements on social security benefits applications that they filed to receive aid for their disabled children. Social Security Supplemental Security Income benefits are limited to individuals who have less than $2,000 in income and assets apart from their residence and any cars that they own or lease. Where applications are filed on behalf of disabled children, their parents’ income, assets, and expected financial contributions are also considered. The Hoods had substantial dividend income from stock and farmland that they owned, and received insurance assistance from another state that they had lived in prior to moving to Minnesota. They disclosed none of this income on their Social Security disability benefits application. Prior to being charged with health care fraud, they had reportedly received more than $400,000 in state and federal Medicaid assistance and $80,000 in Social Security disability assistance. They had prepared false federal income tax returns to cover their other income when they applied for those benefits.
At the Hood’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Joan Ericksen remarked that state and federal Medicaid and Social Security disability programs were intended to help people who had a financial need for assistance, and that instances of fraudulent applications for that assistance threatened the existence of the programs. Notwithstanding these harsh words from Judge Ericksen, a Minnesota resident who may meet the financial need requirements to qualify for assistance should not be deterred from applying for compensation under these programs.
Apart from financial need, a person applying for benefits must first verify that he or she, or a child that he or she is caring for, is disabled. This verification is typically accomplished with medical reports that attest to a person’s severe physical or mental disability. The Social Security Administration will arrange for a physician to examine a disabled person if a medical report is not available. The medical report must also verify that the disabled person’s condition will either last more than one year, or that it will lead to an applicant’s death. The Administration has established an additional set of rules for disabilities involving blindness or visual impairment. Lastly, to qualify for benefits, the disability must be sufficiently severe that the person who is affected by it is unable to work or perform any services for compensation.
Social Security disability benefits applicants will also need to report their income, assets, and other financial resources. As noted, to be eligible for benefits, individuals can have no more than $2,000 in assets and resources. This limit is increased to $3,000 for couples. The Administration requires applicants to list every asset and resource they have, including savings that have been earmarked for specific purposes. For example, even a small $5,000 “rainy-day” or emergency fund will bar a person from receiving Social Security disability benefits.
The strict application of these rules and reports of enforcement actions like the one brought against the Hoods may scare individuals away from applying for Social Security disability benefits or from arguing for a larger amount if they are offered a smaller benefit. The attorneys at Chesley, Harvey & Carpenter in Mankato, Minnesota understand the Social Security disability benefit rules that apply to residents in this state, and are available to help all residents get the benefits they deserve. Please contact us to schedule a consultation on how we can help you apply for and receive those benefits.
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Contact the law office of Chesley, Harvey & Carpenter today at (507) 625-3000 for a free case review. We are located in Mankato, Minnesota.