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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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