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What programs are available to an individual with few or no resources during the Social Security waiting period?

General Assistance

"General Assistance" is a generic term that has different specific names in different states. In Massachusetts, the assistance program is Emergency Aid to Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC). It is available from the State Department of Transitional Assistance. (In most states it is the Public Welfare Dept.)

Depending on the state, you obtain a form from your doctor stating that you are disabled for a specific number of months. This program is only for people with almost no income or assets.

In Massachusetts, the limit on monthly income is about $300, and this is also the monthly payment. There is also an asset limit, which may or may not include a car. The program includes immediate Medicaid/Mass. Health insurance. You should be eligible for food stamps and fuel assistance.

Unemployment Compensation

Sometimes when a person can no longer work, s/he is laid-off or terminated. Given that Social Security can take months to be approved, the individual may instead seek unemployment benefits. Generally, a person who is laid-off is eligible.

A person who is terminated may be eligible if the termination is not his/her fault, and the employer does not contest the benefits.

A person who resigns is generally not eligible, unless s/he can show the resignation to be compelled. If you have resigned, you should check carefully as to your rights to unemployment compensation.

The issue of whether an ill or sick person can receive unemployment benefits is not a simple one. To be eligible, a person must be willing and able to work—and be seeking work.

Unemployment compensation, under some circumstances, allows a partially ill person to obtain benefits; there is some leeway for limited, partial disability. Perhaps you can work part-time. You may need to check with a disability lawyer.

However, you cannot apply for Social Security disability while receiving unemployment benefits, since your receiving unemployment benefits stipulates that you are able to work, while the criterion for receiving disability requires you to state you are totally unable to work.

Workman's Compensation

A number of patients with ME/CFS, FM, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), and toxic exposure apply for Workman's Compensation. To be eligible, you must be able to show that an illness or injury was caused, or probably caused, by your employment. ME/CFS, an immune and neurological disorder, is sometimes caused by extreme work stress or exposure to toxic materials. If you believe that your illness was caused by your job, you should check with a workman's compensation attorney familiar with the type of illness you have. The workman's compensation procedure requires perseverance.

Disability Retirement

Various public employees, both at the state and local level, are not covered under Social Security. The local or state governments have disability retirement systems.

If you are clearly disabled and can't work, you should determine whether you are eligible to take a disability retirement. Most jurisdictions require a certain number of years worked—or to be "vested"—often ten years.

For instance, the only "disability retirement" for those under the GIC Commonwealth of Massachusetts retirement plan is the raising of the "age" of the applicant to 55, if you are under the age of 55. This means retirement benefits (if you are vested) will be computed based on the creditable years worked with the system's percentage multiplier for someone of age 55. If you are age 55 or over, you must take normal retirement.

You will likely need the advice of an attorney to guide you through the disability application process. If you are in a labor union, you might be able to find an attorney familiar with obtaining disability retirement through your union; however, you may have to educate him or her about ME/CFS or FM.

You may want to hire a private attorney who knows about the illness and the retirement system. Usually you will have to obtain very thorough medical documentation to persuade a medical board and/or the retirement board of your condition.