Public Benefits

Our Services

The Public Benefits Team provides free expert legal advice and representation for low-income and elderly central Ohio residents. For example, in 2020, we helped over 1051 people who were experiencing difficulties in one or more of the following areas:

  • Food Stamps
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Nursing Home Law
  • Hospital Care Assurance Program (HCAP)
  • Medicare Savings Programs
  • Medical Debt Lawsuits
  • Ohio Works First (OWF)
  • Social Security Benefits (SSI and SSDI)
  • Title XX Child Care
  • Unemployment Compensation
  • Veterans Benefits
  • Prevention, Retention and Contingency (PRC)
Public Benefits

You may wish to contact the Legal Aid Society of Columbus if you have questions regarding a public benefits program or have experienced any of the following problems during your benefits process:

  • Your benefits have been stopped and you do not think they should have been
  • Your benefits have been denied or reduced and you think this decision is wrong
  • Your benefits have been sanctioned
  • There have been delays in the processing of your application
  • You won your administrative hearing but have not yet received benefits

If you are applying for or currently receiving benefits make sure that you:

  • Pay close attention to any letters you receive from your benefits office
  • Respond to any deadlines on time
  • Keep careful records of all your phone calls, emails or meetings with your benefits office, including the time, date, and nature of any phone calls or visits to the office of your caseworker or other public benefits officials
  • Get a receipt for any papers  that you drop off at your benefits office

Self Help

The information on this page is NOT legal advice. If you are seeking representation or Legal advice, please contact the LASC Intake Department at 614-241-2001 or complete an online application. An attorney client relationship does not exist between you and the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.

The State of Ohio and the federal government offer a number of benefits for people who have low income or are elderly, including Social Security, Food Stamps/SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare, Ohio Works First cash assistance, and publicly funded child care. You can find more information about each of these programs below as well as in this pamphlet.

Food Stamps (SNAP)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes called Food Stamps, are public benefits for low-income people to buy food. In Ohio, the benefits are loaded on an Ohio Direction Card, which looks similar to a debit card. The card can be used at participating grocery stores. The amount of Food Stamps a household can get depends on the number of people in the household and their income.

You can apply for Food Stamps online, in person at your county’s Department of Job and Family Services (find your county JFS office here), or by filling out the application here turning it in to your county’s Department of Job and Family Services. If your Food Stamp application is denied or your benefits are stopped, you should immediately request a state hearing and call our office. Find out more about the state hearing process and how to request a state hearing here.

Find out more about Food Stamps here.

If you don’t report changes in household size or income, you may be sanctioned and lose your SNAP for a period of time. Find out more about sanctions and how to avoid losing your SNAP.

If you are concerned about whether receiving SNAP will impact your immigration status, we check out this information on the Public Charge rule.

Ohio Works First (Cash Assistance)

Ohio Works First (OWF) is Ohio’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, a cash assistance program for families and children. Households may be eligible if they have a minor child in the home or are pregnant and in the third trimester and have no or low income. OWF is available for 36 months, though you may able to receive it for longer than that. Find out more about getting OWF for more than 36 months.

Some households will be required to work or have a work assignment to receive OWF, but not if you are physically unable to work or in some other situations. You can apply for OWF online, in person at your county’s Department of Job and Family Services (find your county JFS office here), or by filling out the application here and turning it in to your county’s Department of Job and Family Services. If your OWF application is denied, you are given a work assignment you can’t do, or your benefits are stopped, you should request a state hearing as soon as possible and call our office. Find out more about the state hearing process and how to request a state hearing here.

If you do not report changes in household size or income or fail to do your work assignment, you may lose your OWF for a period of time. Find out more about sanctions and how to avoid losing your OWF.

Medicaid

Medicaid is a health insurance program managed by the state and the county Departments of Job and Family Services, which covers low-income individuals, families, and children. In general, children in households with an income below 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible. Adults under the age of 65 who don’t receive Medicare and whose income is below 138% of the federal poverty level are also eligible. People who work but are disabled can also get Medicaid if their income is below 250% of the federal poverty level.

You can apply for Medicaid online, in person at your county’s Department of Job and Family Services (find your county JFS office here), or by filling out the application here and turning it in to your county’s Department of Job and Family Services. If your Medicaid application is denied or your benefits are stopped you should request a state hearing and call our office as soon as possible. Find out more about the state hearing process and how to request a state hearing here.

You may have heard that the state will take your house if you apply for Medicaid. While that is not entirely true, the state can sometimes recover some of its costs from your estate if you have Medicaid. Find more about Medicaid Estate Recovery and what it could mean for you.

Most Medicaid recipients are required to enroll with a Managed Care Plan (MCP). Your MCP will be responsible for approving which medical and home health care services it will pay for. If your MCP denies you or your doctor’s request for services, you should file an appeal with your MCP and call us immediately.

Medicare

Medicare is the federal health insurance program. Medicare helps cover services like: hospital bills, doctor’s bills, and prescription drugs. It is available to people who are aged 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with end stage renal disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant). Medicare covers part of the costs of hospitalizations, prescriptions, doctors services, and medical supplies among other things. Medicare does not cover all the costs of health care. There are still deductibles and cost-sharing requirement. Most people will have to pay a Medicare premium each month, which is usually deducted directly from their Social Security checks.

If you are lower income, you may be eligible for assistance through Medicaid to cover your Medicare premiums, copays, and deductibles. You can apply for these Medicare Payment Assistance Programs online or at your county’s Department of Job and Family Services (find your county JFS office here).

Medical Debts

Medical debt is one of the leading causes of bankruptcies in the United States. These debts are just like other debts, and if you are unable to pay them, you can be sued in court and even have your wages garnished.

There are some programs that can help you address your medical debts. For example, if you qualify for Medicaid, you could have bills covered for services in the 90 days before your date of application for Medicaid. You can apply for Medicaid online, in person at your county’s Department of Job and Family Services (find your county JFS office here), or by filling out the application here and turning it in to your county’s Department of Job and Family Services. Depending on your income, you may be eligible to have some or all of your hospital bills covered through the Hospital Care Assurance Program (HCAP) or charity care programs. You can apply for HCAP by contacting the hospital’s billing department and asking for an HCAP application.

If you get paperwork or a complaint from a court saying that you have been sued over medical debts, you should contact us immediately. You only have 28 days to respond to the complaint. While we can’t represent everyone who calls our offices, we may be able to at least provide advice and information on how to respond on your own to the court case. We can also help you evaluate whether you would benefit from filing for bankruptcy.

Social Security Disability and SSI

Social Security Disability is a cash assistance program managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) for people who are disabled and have worked enough qualifying quarters to be eligible. To be eligible, you must be disabled based on the rules set by the Social Security Administration and be unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year.

SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is a cash assistance program administered by the Social Security Administration for individuals with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or aged 65 and older. Unlike Social Security Disability, SSI is for very low-income individuals with few resources who have not worked enough to quality for Social Security Disability. To be eligible for SSI, you must be considered disabled based upon the rules set out by the Social Security Administration. You also need to have less than $2,000.00 in countable resources and have low income.

For both programs, you can apply online or by calling 1-800-772-1213 to schedule a time to apply at your local social security office. We do not help people with their applications for Social Security Disability or SSI since there are many private attorneys who will help people if their applications are denied. If you need the names of some private attorneys who may be able to take your case, call the Columbus Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at (614) 221-0754.

The Social Security Administration will review your case from time to time to confirm you are still disabled. It is important that you quickly reply to their requests for information.

If the Social Security Administration sends you a notice saying they are going to stop your benefits or reduce the amount they are going to send you each month, it is important that you file a request for reconsideration and contact our office. Even if we are unable to represent you, we are usually able to at least give you advice on how to proceed.

You should also call our office if you get a notice saying that you have to pay back some of your benefits. Even if they are right that you were overpaid, you may be able to get it waived and not have to pay the money back. You may also be able to lower how much they take from your check each month.

Learn more about Social Security Disability benefits.

Unemployment Compensation

Unemployment compensation, sometimes called “unemployment benefits” or “unemployment insurance” is paid by the state to unemployed workers who have lost their jobs due to layoffs. It is meant to provide a source of income for jobless workers until they can find employment. In order to be eligible for unemployment compensation, specific criteria must be satisfied, such as having worked for a minimum stipulated period and actively looking for a job.

Unemployment compensation, generally provided by an unemployment check or a direct deposit, provides partial income replacement for a set length of time or until the worker finds employment, whichever comes first.

You can apply for unemployment compensation here.

If you are denied, we may be able to give advice or representation on how to handle the appeal process and how to prepare for a telephone hearing. We also may refer your case to a pro bono attorney who can represent you at the hearing. If you disagree with a decision that Job and Family Services made on your case, call us as soon as possible so that we can look at your case and give advice. In some cases we may be able to attend your hearing with you.

Child Care

If you have minor children and work, are in job training, or are in school, you may be able to get help paying for child care. Normally, your income needs to be less than 142% of the federal poverty level. If your child has special needs, then that limit is 150% of the federal poverty level. Once you start receiving child care assistance, you can earn up to 300% of the federal poverty level and still get help. If you’re eligible, then the state will pay all or some of your child care costs. Some people may have to pay part of their child care costs depending on how much they earn. You can apply for child care payment help through your local county department of Job and Family Services (find your county JFS office here) or online. If your application for child care is denied or you get a notice saying your child care is going to be stopped, you should call us as soon as possible.

PRC

PRC (Prevention, Retention, and Contingency) a one-time cash payment for families in emergency situations. It can help with expenses like late rent, security deposits, or other expenses. You can only get this help once in a 12 month period. To be eligible, you have to have a minor child in the house and have income less than 200% of the federal poverty level. To apply, you need to visit your local Job and Family Services’ Opportunity Center (find yours here) or get the application online. If your application is denied, you should call us as soon as possible.

Find out more about PRC.

Medicaid Waivers

If you have health issues that limit your daily life, you may want to apply for a Medicaid waiver program. Some waivers have a set amount of money available each year. Usually, people also need to show their need cannot be met another way (like a managed care plan). These programs give extra help, like home health care, durable medical equipment, home modifications, transportation, case management, and adult day services. You can apply for Medicaid Waiver services online, in person at your county’s Department of Job and Family Services (find your county JFS office here), or by calling 844-640-6446. If your application for Medicaid waiver services is denied, your services are stopped, or a request for a specific type of help is denied, you should call us as soon as possible.

 

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