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Bridges Blog

How to Apply for SSI and What to Expect

The fifth in a five-part series: Social Security for Young Blind Adults Series.

This month, the Free Bridges Helpdesk Transition Tip Tuesdays explores the potential impact of Social Security benefits on young blind/low vision adults. In this last installment of this five-part series, we set forth the process of applying for SSI benefits and what you can expect along the way.

Make Sure You are Financially Eligible

As noted in the past two Transition Tips [“Income Limits for SSI Eligibility and “Limitations on Resources for SSI Eligibility”, an individual must meet strict financial requirements in order to qualify for SSI. If you have too many resources to qualify, it might make sense to look into ways to legally transfer those resources (ABLE accounts, which will be discussed in April’s Transition Tips, are one legal way to transfer resources and retain SSI eligibility).

Please reach out to the Free Bridges Transition Helpdesk for more information.

Before You Start

Social Security number needed

In order to apply for SSI benefits, you need to have a Social Security number. Many individuals get this number soon after they are born or become U.S. citizens. (Note: Legal residents who are non-citizens may receive Social Security cards, but they might not be eligible for SSI.) If you are unsure whether you have a Social Security number, ask your parent or guardian for help.

If you do not have a Social Security number or have misplaced your Social Security card, you may request a new or replacement Social Security card by completing this application and sending it to the Social Security Administration.

Direct deposit bank account needed

SSI payments are only made electronically, so you must have an electronic means to receive your SSI benefits. There is an option to have your benefits loaded onto a special debit card, but bank accounts provide more options and flexibility. Given SSI eligibility limitations on resources [see Limitations on Resources for SSI Eligibility], it is best to have the bank account for your SSI benefits in your own name alone. You may use an existing bank account or open a new one. For the SSI application process, you’ll need to bank’s routing number and your account number.

Create a my Social Security account online

If you apply online, you will need to create this account. Even if you do not apply online, you can use this account to monitor your application status, request a replacement Social Security card, and more. Follow this link to set up your my Social Security account.

When and How to Apply

When are you eligible?

Apply as soon as you are eligible to do so. If you are under 18 years old and your parents’ income and resources meet SSI guidelines, apply as soon as you can. If you are intending to apply as an adult, you may call to set up a telephone appointment before your 18th birthday. However, the appointment, itself, will not take place until after your 18th birthday. If you are 18 years old or older and meet the income and resource eligibility requirements for SSI, you may apply any time.

Why should I apply so soon?

SSI benefits can only be paid as far back as your date of application. They might not be paid that far back if other factors (such as deeming parental income, being over income or resource limits, etc.) apply.

Telephone applications

Individuals may apply for SSI in several ways. Application by telephone [1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday] allows you to communicate directly with an employee, but it can be time-consuming. Both the application itself and the waiting time for an employee to be available to answer the phone can take quite a long period of time.

In-person applications

In person applications have not been permitted since March 17, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of the date of publication (March 30, 2021), local offices have not yet reopened, and there is not an option of applying for SSI in person.

Online applications

Applying for SSI online is often convenient, but certain requirements must be met. The applicant must be between the ages of 18 and 64, must be a U.S. citizen residing in the U.S., must have never been married, and have never applied for or received SSI benefits in the past.  

Please note that, in the past, you could NOT use the online method of applying for SSI under the disability of blindness (legal blindness). This prohibition is still noted on some areas of the Social Security Administration website but not on others. Thus, it is unclear whether blind individuals may apply online. It is clear that all people applying for SSI may apply by phone or in person (which is not available right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

If your disability is something other than blindness and you meet the other requirements, you may apply online. However, remember that the eligibility criteria are different for individuals who are not legal blind [see “Disability Eligibility for SSI.”]

Information needed for the application process

Your legal name and address, your social security number, any employment history you have, whether you are or have been married, names and birthdates of any children you have, and your employment history (if any). You also need to indicate the disability (or disabilities) under which you are applying for SSI and share the names and contact information for all of your medical providers (even if not directly related to your SSI disability). You may be asked to provide documentation, so it’s good to have your Social Security card, birth certificate, state-issued identification card, and relevant medical records available.

What Comes Next?

Eligibility determination

While you apply for SSI with the Social Security Administration, that office does not review your records. Instead, the office sends your file to an agency in your state to evaluate whether you are entitled to SSI based on your disability. In Maryland this office, “Disability Determination Services” (DDS) is part of the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS).

DDS will review the records you provide and may contact your doctors and medical providers. The DDS may determine that it needs a medical examination to confirm your blindness (or other disability). If it does, it will set up the appointment, pay for the appointment, and pay for you to go to the appointment. You need to go to the appointment and perform the required tests; if you do not, your claim can be rejected.

Substantial gainful activity (SGA) not a factor for blindness

The DDS might also send you a questionnaire seeking information about what kind of work you can do. This information is not required if you meet the definition “legal blindness” [see “Disability Eligibility for SSI.”] If you believe that your eye condition constitutes “legal blindness,” you might want to put off completing the SGA worksheet until the DDS determines your eligibility based only on blindness. If you think you might not meet the definition of “legal blindness,” you might want to complete the SGA worksheet so other disabilities may be considered. Regardless, if you are legally blind, your ability to engage in SGA cannot be used to deny you SSI.

Be Prepared to Wait

SSI determinations are not quick. They usually take three to five months to complete. Eligibility determinations can take even longer in the pandemic environment, especially if the DDS requires you to take a medical examination for eligibility determination purposes.

During this time period, you will not receive SSI benefits (there are certain, limited exceptions). Instead, if you are found to be eligible, you will receive “back pay” for the months you were eligible during the determination process. This back pay is dependent on your financial eligibility each month, and it cannot go back further than your application date. While the “back pay” often is an amount greater than the resource limits of SSI, you are given nine months to spend your back pay before that pay will be counted as a resource.

During the evaluation time period, you may or may not qualify for additional benefits [see “More Than Just Money: Additional Benefits of Getting SSI.”]

Please reach out to the Free Bridges Transition Helpdesk for more information.

April brings the “ABLE Accounts—Are They for Me? Series” to Tuesday Transition Tips from the Free Bridges Helpdesk.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

Social Security for Young Blind Adults Series

Part 1: Disability Eligibility for SSI (March 2)

Part 2: Income Limits for SSI Eligibility (March 9)

Part 3: Limitations on Resources for SSI Eligibility (March 16)

Part 4: More Than Just Money: Additional Benefits of Getting SSI (March 23)

Part 5: How to Apply for SSI and What to Expect (March 30)

Categories
Blog Disability Live Chat

I AM: Assistive Tech 3/22/2021

Assistive Technology (AT)– What’s It All About?

Have you heard about Assistive Technology (AT) but aren’t really sure what it is?  Join us on next week’s I AM weekly broadcast to learn what AT is and how it can help you gain or improve your independence.  We will also discuss Loan Libraries and Community Lending Libraries that are available at some Centers for Independent Living and MD TAP.

Here’s the closed captioning transcript

To download the presentation, see below. If it is not accessible, please contact Heather at hcomstock@imagemd.org.

Some Resources mentioned in the video:

Maryland Accessible Telecommunications program: mat.program1@maryland.gov is the email for the MAT program. You can also contact me tarita@mdrelay.org

Maryland Assistive Technology Program (MDTAP) Reuse program: MDTAP.AT-Reuse@maryland.gov

MDTAP Offices and website: http://mdod.maryland.gov/mdtap/pages/mdtap-home.aspx

Central Office
Maryland Technology Assistance Program
Workforce & Technology Center
2301 Argonne Drive
Room T-17
Baltimore, MD 21218
410-554-9230 (voice)
1-800-832-4827 (toll-free)
1-866-881-7488 (TTY)

Eastern Shore Office
Bay Area Center for Independent Living (BACIL)
909 Progress Circle
Salisbury, MD 21804
443-260-0822 (voice)
1-877-511-0744 (toll-free)

Southern Maryland Office
Southern Maryland Center for Independent Living, Inc. (SMCIL)
38588 Brett Way, Suite 1
Mechanicsville, MD 20659
301-884-4498
info@smcil.org
Western Maryland Office

Resources for Independence, Inc.
735 East Oldtown Road
Cumberland, Maryland 21502
Phone:301-784-1774
Toll Free: 1-800-371-1986

You can contact Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) in need of legal assistance related to denial of Assistive Technology devices. Our intake phone line is: 410-727-6352
Toll Free: 1-800-233-7201
TTY: 410-235-5387

I Can Connect, is the program approved by the FCC to assist
Deaf Blind individuals. Learn more at National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program | Federal Communications Commission (fcc.gov)

To register for upcoming events or to donate to support I AM, please visit:http://weblink.donorperfect.com/Independenceamplifiedmaryland

Categories
Teen Blog

News from IMAGE Teen and Young Adult Programs March, 2021

Virtual Learning Done Different



At The IMAGE Center we have taken pride in our ability to continue program learning for our teens and young adults despite the COVID pandemic. While the world remains unsure we know that the most important thing is to continue to provide opportunities for growth and learning for our young people. Our virtual learning experiences are designed utilizing short bursts of curriculum correlated with interactive activities and break out sessions to keep students connected, engaged and learning. While we know that the world has had enough virtual learning we think it’s more important now than ever to ensure our families that we will continue to work to find the balance between safety and sanity in the learning of our teen and young adult communities. We invite you to learn more about our virtual programs and how we are making virtual learning different.

Peer Mentor Spotlight

Rebecca Parker




A long time participant in IMAGE Teen and Young Adult programs Rebecca Parker became a natural fit as our first ever Connect Teen Mentor. Rebecca is kind and patient and knows first hand the benefit of working closely with peers. Here is what Rebecca had to say about being a Connect Teen Mentor.


My first time at the Image center was in 2016. I just graduated high school. The Connect Program was meeting at 510 Johnny’s. I knew two people there. Then in the summer we went golfing and did other outings. I rejoined them in the summer of 2017. I have been with IMAGE for about 4 years, almost 5 years now. My favorite memory at IMAGE is Golfing and doing yoga in the Connect Program. I realized I knew someone in the program since preschool, which was awesome and we reconnected. I like being a Peer Mentor because I love to help people and I love to make new friends. Peer mentorship is important because being a leader is a great example. I think peer mentorship helps teens with disabilities because I went through the program myself and know first hand. Teens can keep on doing the program and one day might become a peer mentor too.

Upcoming Events




The Connect Program


April 6th & 20th
May 4th & 18th
June 1st & 15th


The Connect Program is a program that empowers teens and young adults with disabilities to step outside of their comfort zone, make connections with their community, build social experiences and recognize and achieve skills needed for increased independence in adulthood. These skills include money management, time management, social and communication skills, personal hygiene, meal planning and decision making skills just to name a few.
Contact jleone@imagemd.org learn more.
Register here




PreETS Self Awareness and Self Advocacy Training Program


Monday and Wednesday sessions available. Email for additional registration information.

The Self Awareness & Self Advocacy Training program through DORS is a five week program utilizing curriculum designed to empower teens with disabilities to explore areas of self awareness and promote the importance of self advocacy to enhance the overall independence and vocational opportunity of each student. During this program students will work with professional staff from The IMAGE Center to begin to engage in curriculum addressing Self Awareness & Advocacy, Disclosing Disability, Rights, Future Outlook, Transition Outlook and Utilizing Resources.

Contact jleone@imagemd.org learn more.
Categories
Blog Disability Personal Experience

Spotlight IMAGE: Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology, also known as AT, encompasses a wide variety of items and techniques from low-tech such as a cane to high-tech software that can read computer screens. The idea behind Assistive Technology is to increase an individual with a disability’s independence.

The IMAGE Center is home to a variety of AT programs that we would like to spotlight for you.

“My child loves photography, music, art, and dance. She is a whiz at doing puzzles, word finds, and CandyCrush. Due to it having cellular ability, she'll be able to listen to music, watch movies, and use her behavioral apps to calm herself down in any setting. Most of all this iPad Pro will allow her to live the life she deserves, and to her fullest potential.”  – J’s Mom.
A quote from J’s mom via email about the impact of the AT purchase program for her daughter.

An AT Success Story:

J is a young woman with autism who participated in the AT purchase program to purchase an Ipad Pro that has helped her communicate, practice her social skills, and decreased her anxiety. Here’s what J’s mother told us in an email!

“Thanks to a grant from The Image Center of Maryland, whom helped my child with disabilities get a grant for an IPad Pro with cellular capabilities. Covid 19 made this process became a little more challenging than expected. But, we made it through! This Ipad Pro will help to:

  • greatly enhance her social skills, which will help her to gain confidence while trying to interact and communicate with others.
  • at speech therapy, the device is used for receptive, expressive and pragmatic speech. while working on volume, intonation, and enunciation (articulation) of words.
  • help her to express feelings and recognize emotions in others.
  • help to decrease her behaviors and anxiety through better communication. Text to speech, speech to text, behavioral apps., even YouTube, and whatever else she may need to use.
  • gain knowledge and understanding of health procedures using visuals.
  • help her to follow directions more clearly.
  • used for zoom meetings for various activities.
  • duo allows her to interact with friends that have different mobile devices.
  • research with help for volunteer opportunities.
  • it is also being used to assist with technology research to be used for her very loud voice.

My child loves photography, music, art, and dance. She is a whiz at doing puzzles, word finds, and CandyCrush. This Ipad Pro allows her to bring out her best abilities for her disability, and achieve many goals. Due to it having cellular ability, she’ll be able to listen to music, watch movies, and use her behavioral apps to calm herself down in any setting. So, one can see that it is definitely considered an emergency if it is left home. Most of all this Ipad Pro will allow her to live the life she deserves, and to her fullest potential. Thank you Image Center for making the many challenges in her life a little easier for her to adjust to.”

Assistive Technology Purchase program

The IMAGE Center may be able provide home modifications, vehicle modifications and/or assistive technology services to eligible individuals with significant disabilities when needed to achieve the goal of living independently in the community.

These can include non-work related technology items, home modifications and even vehicle modifications. There is a maximum limit of $5,000 per request. Consumers are responsible for 30% of the project costs.

To learn more about the AT Purchase plan, check out our website.

Maryland Accessible Telecommunications

The IMAGE Center was pleased to partner with the Maryland Department of Disabilities on the Maryland Accessible Telecommunications (MAT) program to help individuals with hearing difficulties access telecommunications equipment designed to overcome issues with traditional phones. Our staff member works with individuals to identify equipment that best suits the consumer and provides training and follow-up on the equipment.

Shelf and table with a variety of telephones displayed
Various accessible phones on display at the IMAGE Office as part of our Maryland Accessible Telecomummunications program.

For more information about our MAT Evaluations, please visit our page or contact ilat@imagemd.org.

Ramp Loan Program

In a partnership with the Maryland Technology Assistance Program (MD TAP), the IMAGE Center has a selection of temporary ramps that may be borrowed, free of charge, for up to six months. These ramps can fill in while a permanent home modification is being explored or in the event of a temporary need.

Assistive Technology Library

The IMAGE Center is home to a display of various assistive technology including a modified kitchen. Visitors can see various items available and test them out, including a motorized cabinet to help identify optimal heights for cabinets.

Looking in the cupboard
Two IMAGE staff demonstrate the adjustable height cabinet.

Community Lending Library

Partnering with MDTAP, IMAGE is set to be one of the sites of a Community Lending Library of Assistive Technology. Individuals will be able to borrow AT items to evaluate how well they work for the person before making a financial investment for an item of their own!

Who to Contact about AT?

For more information about our AT Programs, please contact:

atservices@imagemd.org or call 443-275-9395

Donate Now

Please consider a donation to support our Assistive Technology programs. You can visit our webpage to make an online donation or set up a recurring gift! A gift will help us continue to make these services available within our community.

Categories
Bridges Blog

More Than Just Money: Additional Benefits of Getting SSI

The fourth in a five-part series: Social Security for Young Blind Adults Series.

This month, the Free Bridges Helpdesk Transition Tip Tuesday explores the potential impact of Social Security benefits on young blind/low vision adults. Individuals who receive SSI may also be eligible for additional benefits and discounts from other government programs and from private businesses. This fourth installment of the series shares some of those benefits.

Medicaid Eligibility

In Maryland (and most states), once you are approved for SSI benefits, you will also be approved for Medicaid benefits. Medicaid in Maryland covers doctor’s visits, emergency room visits, prescriptions, and other medical needs with low co-pays or no co-pay at all. If you are covered under another plan (like your parent’s insurance), you can still get Medicaid as your secondary (back-up) insurance.

Like SSI, Medicaid has income limits and resources limits discussed in previous articles in this series: Income Limits for SSI Eligibility and Limitations on Resources for SSI Eligibility. However, you may still receive Medicaid benefits even when you are ineligible for SSI due to income or resource levels.

Please reach out to the Free Bridges Transition Helpdesk (contact information below) for more information.

Establishing Your Own “Household” for Benefit Purposes

As noted in Income Limits for SSI Eligibility, your monthly SSI payment is based on income, and free rent and food from family or friends is considered “in-kind income” and will reduce your monthly SSI payment by one-third. For 2021, that means that a typical monthly payment of $794 would be reduced to $529. That’s a difference of $265 each month—adding up to $3,180 over the course of a year.

However, by paying rent and receiving SSI, you might not qualify to be a dependent anymore for your parents’ taxes. Therefore, it’s important to discuss these matters early to determine what is best for your family. Please reach out to the Free Bridges Transition Helpdesk (contact information below) for more information.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Support

Individuals with “legal blindness” and other significant disabilities qualify for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. In Maryland, these services are provided by The Office for Blindness & Vision Services (OBVS), part of the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), the agency that provides VR services to individuals with disabilities.

These VR services are focused on helping individuals with disabilities find competitive work and can include help paying disability-related training programs, college expenses, and assistive technology (such as refreshable braille displays, magnification devices, and accessible software). Usually, OBVS will only pay a portion of these expenses—based on the individual’s income and resources. However, OBVS clients who are receiving SSI do not need to contribute to the cost of these services and supports.

You can become a DORS/OBVS client when you’re as young as 14 years old, and there’s no upper age limit. If you want more information about VR services in Maryland, please reach out to the Free Bridges Transition Helpdesk (contact information below).

Other Government Benefits

Please note that these government benefits are dependent on you establishing your own “household.” Thus, establishing your own household can not only increase your SSI monthly benefit, it makes you eligible for additional benefits.

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides funds that can be used to purchase food, including some drinks like milk. This program used to be known as “food stamps,” and it is intended to help individuals with low incomes afford adequate nutrition.

In Maryland, SNAP benefits can be used at grocery stores. You may also purchase eligible food items from Amazon, Walmart, or Shop Rite using your SNAP benefits. In addition, you may use SNAP benefits to purchase prepared meals at approved restaurants.

Please reach out to the Free Bridges Transition Helpdesk (contact information below) for more information and help in applying for the SNAP program.

Free cell phone or landline services

Lifeline is a government program that provides free cell phone or landline services to low-income individuals. Individuals with SSI or SNAP benefits qualify for the Lifeline program, and they may choose which company to use. These companies offer different plans and include free talk and text minutes and free data plans, but there can only be one Lifeline service per “household.” Please reach out to the Free Bridges Transition Helpdesk (contact information below) for more information and help in applying for free phone services through the Lifeline program.

Other government assistance programs

In Maryland, state supplements to SSI payments are limited to individuals who are living in care home, an assisted living facility, or a rehabilitative residence. Nevertheless, Marylanders may qualify for other cash assistance programs if they meet certain requirements. There are also special programs to help with temporary or emergency needs.

Disability-related Transportation Discounts

Maryland offers some discount programs (particularly related to transportation) that are available to individuals with disabilities. These do not require that the individual receive SSI, but “legal blindness” often meets the eligibility requirement. These programs include “Maryland Parking Placards/License Plates for Individuals with a Disability,” discounted fares and/or MobilityLink transportation from the Maryland Transit Administration, and reduced fare and paratransit programs with regional transit programs in Maryland.

Amtrak, the federal passenger train service, also offers discounts for passengers with disabilities.

Please reach out to the Free Bridges Transition Helpdesk (contact information below) for more information.

Discounts from Private Businesses

Internet services

Comcast offers “Internet Essentials,” which provides internet services to certain individuals (including those receiving SSI or SNAP benefits) for only $9.95 per month. Comcast is currently offering the first two months for free if you sign up by June 30, 2021. This program also waives application fees and equipment rental fees.

Amazon Prime membership

Amazon Prime membership provides a good number of benefits, including free Prime shipping, streaming videos and music, discounts and early access to shopping options, and more. Prime membership usually costs $12.99 per month, but individuals receiving SSI or SNAP benefits pay only $5.99 per month. Please note that this is the full Amazon Prime membership, and all regular membership benefits are included.

National Parks and Museums

National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Access Pass

This pass is valid at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites (national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests and grasslands). The “pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person).” The Access Pass also provides a 50% discount on expanded amenity fees at many locations.

Free and discounted museum admissions

Museums for All is a program that offers free or discounted museum admission for individual who receive SNAP benefits. The maximum entrance fee in this program is $3. There are eighteen participating museums in the state of Maryland and more than 500 across the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the museums are currently closed; nevertheless, here is the full list of participating museums in the Museums for All program

Next week, we share “How to Apply for SSI and What to Expect” in the March 30 Tuesday Transition Tip from the Free Bridges Helpdesk.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

Social Security for Young Blind Adults Series

Part 1: Disability Eligibility for SSI (March 2)

Part 2: Income Limits for SSI Eligibility (March 9)

Part 3: Limitations on Resources for SSI Eligibility (March 16)

Part 4: More Than Just Money: Additional Benefits of Getting SSI (March 23)

Part 5: How to Apply for SSI and What to Expect (March 30)

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