Given the choice between SSI and TANF, individuals will most likely opt to receive SSI benefits, given the higher benefits. SSI recipients can then apply for TANF benefits for their children. This section discusses the differences in SSI and TANF benefits, the treatment of SSI in determining other benefits, and the process for referring individuals to SSI in the three counties.
Individuals who are aged, blind, or disabled and who have little or no income and resources are eligible for SSI benefits. Disabled individuals whose income and resources meet the SSI threshold are often eligible for TANF benefits from their state agency if they have children. However, since SSI payments are greater than TANF benefits for a disabled parent or child, these individuals have an incentive to apply for SSI. Exhibit 2.3 presents the difference between the SSI benefits for one parent's needs and the additional benefits parents could receive by being included in the TANF assistance group instead of on SSI in the three states. As this Exhibit shows, it is always in the financial interest of the SSI eligible individual to apply for SSI benefits rather than be included on the children's TANF grant.
|State||Maximum SSI payment for disabled individuals||Maximum TANF grant for one person's needsa/|
|California||$676b/||102 - 221c/|
|Florida||484||61 - 62|
|Missouri||484||62 - 102|
|a/ Represents range based on size of assistance unit; assumes at least one child remains on the grant
b/ SSI recipients are not eligible for food stamps in California because the state supplements the federal SSI payment instead of issuing food stamps. SSI for the blind is $732.
c/ Represents the exempt rates for Region 1 (which includes Alameda) effective July 1999.
In all three states, SSI is not considered when determining eligibility for TANF and benefit levels. Florida enacted legislation that included SSI recipients in the TANF assistance group, and subsequently, would count the SSI benefit as income in calculating TANF benefits. The state was to provide a special needs allowance for families that include SSI recipients. In the end, the state never implemented this provision and ultimately changed its state law, perhaps out of concern about the number of families that could potentially lose benefits.
TANF cases that are child-only because the parent is an SSI recipient may have started as a regular TANF case before the parent received SSI. Alternatively, the parent may have been receiving SSI when she learned that TANF benefits were available for her children. The process differs for each scenario. In the first situation, in which the parent was first receiving TANF, her TANF eligibility worker or case manager may have referred her to SSI. The assessment process for determining exemptions to work requirements could lead staff to detect possible eligibility for SSI. In the second situation, in which the parent was first receiving SSI, the SSI worker may have informed the parent that her children were eligible for TANF. In addition, some clients learn about benefits from outside organizations or through word-of-mouth.
The referral from TANF to SSI is fairly informal in all three counties, dependent upon staff's judgment, although Alameda has a more formal TANF appraisal and assessment process. Alameda County utilizes an upfront process that involves social workers at intake conducting an initial appraisal. The social workers are able to spot individuals who might be eligible for SSI and help them with the application process. Applicants are assigned to a two or three-hour orientation conducted by welfare-to-work staff at five agency and five community sites throughout the county. At the orientation, they are told about their rights and responsibilities and an appraisal is conducted where they are assigned to a job workshop and given child care. Those unable to find a job (or not employed full-time) are referred to assessment where an evaluation is conducted, in part, to uncover any educational, physical, or mental limitations.
In Duval, one worker noted that he typically asks clients who are not meeting their work requirements why they are not complying. The answers often reveal disability-related conditions and he will suggest that they apply for SSI. Another staff member mentioned that WAGES workers in Florida are more likely to discover individuals who might have learning or physical disabilities and they will actively encourage clients to apply for SSI, even helping them complete an application. As cases reach the time limit in Florida, clients who are potentially eligible for SSI will be given a hardship exemption until their application is processed, as long as they have not exceeded the 48-month lifetime limit. According to staff in Duval, however, clients who are eligible for SSI typically learn they are eligible early in the process before they have used up their time on the clock.
Missouri TANF workers may see individuals who might be eligible for SSI at intake and refer them, or they may learn about their possible eligibility during their participation in FUTURES, which handles the clients with barriers to participation. Still, one staff person said that she rarely referred clients to SSI because she was not qualified to make this judgment; referrals to SSI tended to come from physicians and outside organizations.
Staff in all three county offices said they have limited interaction with SSI staff, and most of it is limited to getting listings of TANF recipients approved for SSI. Confidentiality issues preclude the staff from sharing detailed information between the offices, although SSI may have questions regarding a client's eligibility that eligibility staff can answer.