Helping my mom get disability
September 8, 2014 1:13 PM   Subscribe

My mom has been attempting to get disability for a while, and it won't happen. She has a paralyzed leg, and has lost feeling and fine motor control in her fingers. She has finally heard that a retirement account that she can't access seems to be the problem.

My mom has been going through the humongous hassle of applying for disability and appealing for a while. She lost the ability to use her leg and now walks with a walker, and she has also lost the feeling and fine motor control in her fingers. She has finally found out that her disability keeps getting denied because she has a retirement account from her job that let her go. The account has approximately 2500 dollars in it, and will not allow her to access it. I don't know why this is, I always thought it was possible to use a retirement account, albeit with stiff penalties. We have been given the impression by social security caseworkers that she would be able to qualify for disability, if it weren't for this account. Anytime she calls the people who administrate this retirement account, she is told that she can not withdraw any money from the account.

Meanwhile, she has been living on temporary disability which is approximately 400 dollars per month, enough to cover her mortgage. Family has been helping with the rest of the bills, I have been paying her electric bill for as long as she has been unemployed, and my grandmother, her mom, has been helping her with other bills, such as gas, other bills, and additional groceries that her SNAP benefits will not cover.

Needless to say, this situation is nearly untenable, as I have been using savings from my 11 dollar per hour job to help support her household and my household (I am her son, and single, by the way, this wouldn't be possible at all if I had my own family.)

The reason I am writing this is because the job I am working is really beginning to take a toll on my health, physically and mentally, its a physical job at a warehouse I've been at for 10 years (think similar to Amazon) I want to get myself back to school somehow, but with dwindling savings and the need to help support my mom (which don't get me wrong, I WANT to help, but feel I am attempting to claw my way up a hill by my fingernails) I don't know what to do anymore.

Can anyone think of anyway I may be able to get my mom and I out from under this situation? The retirement account really seems to be the lynchpin in this whole situation, but I'm open to any other suggestions and thank anyone in advance who might have any ideas...
posted by FireballForever to Law & Government (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can your mom give permission to the retirement account administrators to talk to you about it? Sometimes elderly parents get details wrong or misunderstand procedures and just need someone who can work through all the jargon. And if they won't let you speak with them about the account, make sure your mom calls again and asks specifically why she can't withdraw the money.
posted by cooker girl at 1:21 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Anytime she calls the people who administrate this retirement account, she is told that she can not withdraw any money from the account.

The first thing to do would be to sit down with your mom when she makes this phonecall and ask (by her giving you permission or just making a list for her) the necessary follow-up questions:

-Why can't money be withdrawn at this time?
-Can it be withdrawn under someone's authority at the place administrating it?
-What sort of account is it, specifically?
-Can any sum of money be withdrawn from it right now?
-Under what circumstances can money be withdrawn?
-Can the account be totally closed out and a check cut without it counting as a "withdrawal"?
-Can the account be closed out without withdrawal (sort of a nuclear option but may be worth it depending on the amount of disability she's passing up and her life expectancy.)

Get as high up on the chain as you can go. Ask for supervisors. Get your case number, get the ID numbers of any relevant person you speak.
posted by griphus at 1:24 PM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Despite the fact that there's not a lot of spare money lying around - your mom needs a lawyer to handle it from here. Social Security disability is notoriously difficult to get without a lawyer - probably to discourage dishonest but persistent scammers. Unofficially requiring a lawyer's participation in the process is the SSA's way of preemptively weeding out the scammers.
posted by trivia genius at 1:25 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is she eligible for and applying for SSDI as well? There are two social security disability benefit programs, SSDI and SSI, and only SSI is means-tested; SSDI should be available if she otherwise qualifies regardless of how much she has in assets, although it does have requirements around length of time spent working and paying Social Security premiums that SSI does not.

Really what she needs to do is to get a disability lawyer to help with her application, though - they pretty much all work on contingency so lack of funds now shouldn't be an issue for getting one.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:27 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is a lawyer working with you on this disability thing? Because my mom got disability and she had a pension. (I mean, she wasn't collecting from the pension when she became disabled, obviously.) But they didn't say anything like "you have a pension and other assets, so no disability for you".

A lawyer will work with you and take the fee out when your mother's disability is paid - she will get a lump sum backpayment, much of which will end up going to the lawyer but it's better than a poke in the eye.

Also, what does her doctor say about the leg? Some conditions are practically automatic qualifiers for disability, mainly progressive neurological ones.
posted by Frowner at 1:27 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Disability" from where? The Social Security Administration handles social security disability claims, but that program does not have an asset limit. The Supplemental Security Income program, by contrast, does. If she is seeking state payments, each state is different and most if not all do have asset limits.

Assuming that the $2,500 is in a 401(k) plan, she can go to a financial planning agency like Edward Jones or Raymond James and have them arrange for that money to be transferred to an IRA in her name, where she can then do the needed "spend-down" to reach the eligibility limit. The benefit is that the planner will do the legwork. Whatever she withdraws from the account will be taxable, but it does not sound like she has the income (over $8,500 per year) that would lead to a tax liability at any rate.
posted by yclipse at 1:36 PM on September 8, 2014

My mother was a smart woman and she was denied over and over again until she got a lawyer. Then it was right away. She even was told at one point that all applications are denied on the first go-around.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:38 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Does she have an attorney? Disability is done on a contingency basis, with the attorney paid by the Federal Govt if her case is approved. It won't cost her a dime to get help from a lawyer.
posted by COD at 1:43 PM on September 8, 2014

If you don't feel like you're quite at the lawyer stage yet, I'd suggest, in order

- you making sure she has all the facts right re: retirement account and whatever SSI is saying (and making sure the SSI/SSDI distinction is clear)
- once the facts are clear, you or her contacting her representatives. They have people specifically in constituent services who can help with things like benefits issues.
- lawyer

Best of luck, this is a pain in the ass. Make sure you are also taking care of yourself, drawing appropriate boundaries and maintaining self-care as you navigate through all of this stuff. It's tough to not lose yourself in it but you're no use to anyone if you can't keep your own health up.
posted by jessamyn at 1:45 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding jessamyn's advice to talk to your congresscritter. You know Bob Goodlatte, the head of various congressional committees and thorn in the side of various Democratic causes? Here in his district, I once phonebanked a woman who identified as a Democrat, who was voting a straight Democratic ticket right down to the teeniest races, except for Bob Goodlatte. I was like "uh, can I ask?" and she's like: "I know, I know, but he helped me get my disability benefits."

In short: your congressional representative & staff really are set up to do this, and you should take full advantage.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:14 PM on September 8, 2014

I'm a lawyer who specializes in disability. If you have any questions, shoot me a message.

The real question is what programs your mother qualifies for. The retirement account creates problems if she is only eligible for SSI because she has not worked much in the last 10 years. If she has a decent work history, she may be eligible for SSDI--which pays more.

Any lawyer in this field will agree to a contingency fee that seeks 25% of any past-due benefits your mother may be entitled to. This is the only fee agreement for Social Security disability allowed by federal law.
posted by Dignan at 2:38 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm also an attorney who focuses on helping people with social security troubles. I'd have to agree with posters who suggest that getting better answers from the retirement account people is the place to start. It certainly sounds as if your mom has applied for SSI benefits; the program has strict limits on the resources an applicant can have. She may well meet the test for disability (as folks at the SSA office have told you), but is being denied based on her access(!) to the retirement account funds.

Having a doctor document her inability to work could be what is needed to allow a penalty-free distribution from the retirement account. If the withdrawal can be accomplished (and the money distributed spent and/or loans repaid to get her below the resource limit), it sounds as if a new application could be successful on the initial go-round (although it's very easy for the SS workers to say that they'd pay if they could when they know that they can't because of the resource barrier).

As Dignan mentioned, although the check paying the attorney fee may come from the government, it is deducted from your mom's past due benefits - generally, she gets 3/4 of the total, with the attorney taking 1/4.
posted by bullatony at 4:07 PM on September 8, 2014

Hello all, am at work so I might can answer some questions, called my mom and asked some questions,

My mom is drawing SSDI and getting benefits for 530 dollars, 104 is taken out for medicare. (she believes this is the case, she said all the paperwork says SSD)

SSI denied her benefits, they said she couldn't have benefits with that retirement account.

The retirement account is administrated by her old company that she used to work for, a regional daycare chain. The account is stock in the company, valued at approx. 2000 dollars. She was told she couldn't access this for 5 years after leaving the company. She was let go nearly 2 years ago, after her health declined.

Thanks again.
posted by FireballForever at 5:41 PM on September 8, 2014

The account is stock in the company, valued at approx. 2000 dollars. She was told she couldn't access this for 5 years after leaving the company

Get proof in writing. Worst case scenario you saved your lawyer some legwork.
posted by griphus at 5:57 PM on September 8, 2014

(To be clearer: either they might be bullshitting her, or you get proof that her assets are inaccessible, which may help an appeal.)
posted by griphus at 5:59 PM on September 8, 2014

She has ssdi. She has been approved and as soon as she is under the asset limit of 2000 dollars ssi will kick in. Figure out the account and keep her assets under 2000.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:01 PM on September 8, 2014

Of course report her assets are under 2000. When the payments are split (ssdi and ssi) she will get a total of 741 a month. She may also be eligible to have her medicare payment reduced based on the state.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:03 PM on September 8, 2014

From the official SSA rules:
"The value of a retirement fund is the amount of money that an individual can currently withdraw from the fund. If there is a penalty for early withdrawal, the fund's value is the amount available to an individual after penalty deduction. However, any taxes due are not deductible in determining the fund's value."

So if the account cannot be accessed, you need to get that documented, as mentioned above.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:04 PM on September 8, 2014

I'm a caseworker who spends time with these annoying details of the split payment ( ssdi and ssi). Seriously it's complicated but the hard part of getting her approved is finished. All you need is to figure out this one company and have assets under 2000. She can never ever have more than 2000 (aside from qualified assets like her home). So if she ends up with 2000.01 for a month they will stop the SSI payment until she is under the amount because she is not currently qualified. But she has been found disabled. The reasoning is that it is supplemental income for someone who has nothing else. Someone a long time ago set the limit to 2000. It is small because it hasn't been changed since then.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:09 PM on September 8, 2014

Hello again,

Was able to talk to my mom again, she said that she HAS offered proof to her case worker that this retirement account was unable to be accessed. She faxed paperwork to them stating the amount, and how much she was able to access (none) and the case workers also took the phone number of the company and called them to verify that she could not access that retirement account. Afterwards she was told that she was not qualified for SSI and that she was just "out of luck", still because of the retirement account.
posted by FireballForever at 9:15 AM on September 9, 2014

This may be a good time to verify what your mom has said and then get your elected representative's Constitutent Services working on this. There is (or should be) no "luck" here, it's math and if they're getting a different result than your mom is for some reason, something has to give to get it sorted. I'm sorry you are in the middle of this and I wish you luck getting it sorted.
posted by jessamyn at 6:25 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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