With special funding, The Legal Aid Society conducts outreach and provides legal assistance to persons 60 and over.   Older persons often are less able to access legal assistance, and often are the targets of unscrupulous people.   Legal Aid provides brief legal services to low-income elderly clients in the area of estate and end-of-life planning, such as preparation of deeds, wills, powers of attorney, living wills, and health care powers of attorney.   Legal Aid also provides representation and outreach to clients over 60 in the areas of consumer law, housing law, health, education, work, income and immigration. Legal Aid publishes a newsletter every other month.

FAQs

What do I do if my apartment has bed bugs? Close

Northeast Ohio and many places across the country are experiencing a significant increase in bed bug complaints. Bed bugs were once thought to be pests found only on bedding in homes, apartments, and rooming houses. Now bed bugs are found in office buildings, retail stores, hospitals, dormitories, nursing homes, office buildings, libraries, movie theaters, buses, and any other place where people gather. Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers and are easily spread by moving beds, furniture, luggage, or clothing from one location to another.

Identifying Bed Bugs

• Bed bugs are small, flat, oval, reddish-brown, wingless insects that feed primarily on the blood of humans.

• Adult bed bugs are approximately  ¼ inch long, about the size of an apple seed. Young bed bugs (nymphs) are quite small and when unfed they appear lighter and almost clear in color.

• Bed bugs do not fly or jump. However, they can crawl very fast.

Bed Bug Bites

• Bed bugs bites often occur on the arms, shoulders, neck and legs.

• The bite can usually be seen as a red bump, up to a centimeter in size and without a red puncture mark in the middle.

• The bites may occur in lines or as a cluster of three or four.

• The bite may appear within hours or delayed up to a week.

• Bed bugs are primarily a nuisance to humans and are not known to transmit disease. Some people have no reaction to bites while other people may experience itchiness and irritation. Try to avoid scratching bites. Questions about bite marks should be directed to a medical provider.

Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation

Usually the first sign of a bed bug infestation is the appearance of red itchy welts on any bare skin that is exposed while sleeping. Next, look for small black or rusty-colored spots on bed linens, pillows, or mattress. These are blood spots and bed bug droppings. Also, look for live bed bugs, eggs, and cast skins.

Inspecting for Bed Bugs

Bed bugs hide close to where people sleep. They prefer fabric, wood, and paper surfaces over metal or plastic. Look for live bed bugs, eggs, cast skins, and blood or fecal spots in these locations: mattresses, box springs, head boards, bed frames, upholstered furniture, recliners, baseboards, behind pictures, under loose wallpaper, draperies, electrical outlets, telephones, radios, televisions, stacks of books, piles of papers, back packs, luggage, futons, gym bags, draperies & curtains, stuffed animals, hollow furniture legs, door frames & hinges, wall / ceiling junction.

Treating Bed Bug Infestations

Complete elimination of a bed bug infestation can be a difficult process and may require the services of a knowledgeable and licensed pest control operator. It may take several treatments to gain control over an infestation. If a “do-it-yourself” method is chosen, only use pesticide products that are labeled to kill bed bugs. Remember to always read and follow the label directions before applying any pesticide product. Here are some additional tips to help eliminate bed bugs.

• Reduce and eliminate clutter. Don’t keep piles of clothes, boxes, toys, shoes, etc. on the floor, under the bed, or in closets. They are prime hiding places for bed bugs.

• Wash infested bedding and clothing in hot water and then dry on a hot setting for at least 30 minutes.

• Encase an infested mattress and box spring in a zippered cover that is labeled and certified “bed bug proof”. Leave the covers on for at least one full year.

• Vacuum bedrooms thoroughly and often. Pay particular attention to the area around the bed and the bed itself. Place the vacuum cleaner bag or contents in a zip-lock plastic bag and discard it in the trash outside.

• Getting rid of bed bugs is a cooperative effort. Follow all recommended preparation guidelines provided by the pest control company prior to each treatment.

• Pesticides labeled to kill bed bugs are available over the counter and may provide effective control. However, if the problem persists or is heavily entrenched, contact a knowledgeable, experienced, and licensed pest management professional for assistance.

• Since bed bugs are difficult to control, plan on several extensive treatments to eliminate an infestation.

• DO NOT USE “Bug Bombs”. These products may kill on contact but they are ineffective against hidden bed bugs. They may make the infestation worse by scattering the bugs throughout the home or apartment.

• If an infestation is suspected in a rental unit, contact the building manager or landlord about the problem. Property owners should contact a professional pest control company for advice and assistance. The Cuyahoga County Board of Health (at (216) 201-2000) is also available to assist.

Preventing Future Infestations of Bed Bugs

• Do not bring discarded bed frames, mattresses, box springs, or upholstered furniture into the home.

• Carefully inspect used or rented furniture prior to bringing it into the home.

• When traveling, inspect the bed, headboard, and furniture upon arrival. Keep suitcases off the floor and bed and inspect them before leaving. Wash and dry all clothing thoroughly after returning home.

• Caulk and seal any cracks and crevices throughout the home, especially in rooms where people sleep.

• Be careful of who stays overnight or sleeps at the house.

Bed Bugs in Nursing Homes

Although no residence is safe, certain populations are particularly prone to bed bug infestations. A troublingly high incidence of bed bug infestations has been reported in nursing homes throughout the country.

Bed bug infestations are a concern for many seniors living in senior housing. Seniors living in a nursing home may be exposed to bed bugs through shared laundry facilities or common sitting areas, or by staying in a room near someone who may have bed bugs.

Bed bugs are attracted to heat and chemicals emitted by humans and survive on human blood. Therefore, nursing homes act as a breeding ground for bed bugs due to the high rate of residents, staff and family members moving about the facility. Furthermore, residents stay in bed for prolonged periods of time and live in close proximity, making it easy for bed bugs to survive.

Recommendations for Residents in Senior Housing

• Keep any living space clutter-free. Clutter provides great hiding spots for bed bugs.

• Bites that appear after sleeping may be an indication that bed bugs are present, even if they do not itch.

• Report a bed bug infestation to the property manager or facility administrator within 24 hours of the pest sighting.

• Do not attempt to control a bed bug infestation alone. Never self treat with pesticides, especially “bug bombs”, which drive bed bugs into adjacent rooms or units.

• Do not remove anything from an infested room until after the room is treated by a pest management professional (PMP).

• Cooperate fully with the recommendations provided by the PMP to prepare rooms for bed bug inspection and treatment. Ask the property manager or administration for help if there are preparation steps that cannot be accomplished alone, such as disassembling or moving furniture. Disabled and elderly individuals should request assistance with preparation.

• Prior to treatment, place all clutter and garbage from infested rooms in sealed plastic bags. Bagged items should remain in the infested room for treatment by a PMP prior to disposal.

• The day of the pesticide treatment, all bedding and clothing should be bagged in plastic, transported to the laundry and laundered using hot water. Dry the items for at least 30 minutes on high heat. Bags used for transport should not be re-used, but should be sealed and disposed with other infested refuse.

Bed bug infestations are a problem that affects everyone. Do not be reluctant to discuss a possible infestation because of embarrassment. It is important to report the infestation to management. The earlier the infestation is addressed, the more likely it will be quickly controlled.

What can I do if my landlord won’t do anything to help with my mental or physical disability? Close

Sometimes there is a connection between a tenant’s physical or mental  disability and a lease violation. When this occurs, the tenant may ask the landlord for a reasonable accommodation that will allow the tenant to keep their housing. A tenant may make this request in connection with an eviction action or at any time before eviction.

Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • using a power of attorney to pay the rent on time,
  • having a cleaning service clean the apartment, or
  • moving from a one bedroom to a two bedroom apartment fora live-in aide.

Many older people benefit from a companion animal, based on a doctor’s note that the animal helps with depression or other illnesses.

If there is a connection between the health problem and the lease violation, generally the landlord may not evict for the lease violation. The landlord may deny the reasonable accommodation request if:

  • it would impose a large financial or administrative burden;
  • it would change the nature of the housing provided; or
  • it would not eliminate the direct physical threat to the health and safety of other tenants.

These reasonable accommodation rules apply in both private housing and subsidized housing. When a reasonable accommodation is granted, the tenant must then remain in compliance with the lease. A tenant may also make more than one reasonable accommodation request.

A tenant may also request a reasonable modification to their rental dwelling or to common areas of the building such as wheelchair accessible entryways to both dwelling units and common areas.

If a tenant needs a modification in order to use the apartment or house, the landlord must allow the modification if it is reasonable. In private housing (including section 8 voucher housing), the tenant is required to pay for the modification if it is reasonable.

Tenants who have either a physical or mental disability should consider using a request for reasonable accommodation or modification to obtain or keep affordable housing.

What public benefits and services do I qualify for as an older adult? Close

Northeast Ohio Launches the Aging and Disability Resource Network

  The Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging (WRAAA) has formally launched the Aging and Disability Resource Network (ADRN) in its five county service area of Medina, Lake, Geauga, Lorain and Cuyahoga counties. This Network is composed of a group of offices on aging and non-profit organizations with professional staff who can guide older adults, caregivers and persons with disabilities to services that support independence.

  “The ADRN is the starting point for answers to questions about available community services and supports that can help when the independence of an older adult or person with a disability is challenged” says Ronald Hill, CEO of the WRAAA. “Ohio’s long-term care network is complex and fragmented. Figuring out how to obtain long-term services and supports can be confusing and difficult to navigate. The ADRN provides a new system that offers Northeast Ohio residents a single, consistent, reliable way to access an array of services by making one phone call.”

  Northeast Ohio’s ADRN is coordinated by the WRAAA. The Agency developed a collaborative system among 16 local organizations that are all now functioning as one single system in an effort to provide information, seamless referral and assistance. The ADRN also provides Benefits Assistance service and Options Counseling. The Benefits Assistance service connects individuals to a Benefits Specialist who will screen for eligibility to receive public benefits and help guide them through the application process. Options Counseling is a service that allows older adults, persons with disabilities and caregivers the opportunity to talk with an Options Counselor about community services and supports to fit their needs and preferences; and guide them through what can be a difficult and complicated decision-making process.

Accessing the ADRN is easy. There is a local toll-free number that connects people to professionals who will help identify available public benefits and community- based services. These professionals are trained to present an array of options, creating choices individuals may not have known existed and then following up to ensure the individual secured the supports they needed. ADRN staff recognizes that everyone’s situation is unique and requires personal attention to make certain that all of their needs are met. Anyone, regardless of age, income level or care giving role can contact the ADRN by calling 1.855.585.ADRN (2376).

This FAQ was a story in Volume 28, Issue 1 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid.   Click here to read the full issue.

What should I know about creating a Power of Attorney? Close

Ohio’s New Law for Powers of Attorney

Ohio law related to Power of Attorney (POA) documents changed as of March 22, 2012. The old law was replaced with a new law called The Uniform Power of Attorney Act (UPOAA). This new law helps Ohioans because Ohio laws about POAs will now be similar to the law in many other states.  

The new law (UPOAA) has four parts. The first part states the rules for creating and using a power of attorney. The second part defines the authority that can be given to an agent in a POA document. The third part provides a sample form people can use who want to create a POA for property. The fourth part deals with other laws and powers of attorney that were created before the law changed.

The new law provides that a power of attorney created under the UPOAA is “durable” unless the document states otherwise. “Durable” means the POA is effective even if the person who creates it becomes incapacitated. If you do not want your POA to be effective if you become incapacitated, then you must say so in the POA document. The new law also provides that a POA is effective when executed unless it specifically says that it becomes effective at a future date or when a future event occurs.

This change in the law is a good reminder to review your documents and make sure your affairs are in order. If you have a POA created before March 22, 2012, it is valid as long as it met the requirements of Ohio law at the time you created it. If you do not have a POA, now would be a good time to create one.

Legal Aid helps low-income seniors with POAs, health care directives, and wills. Call 1.888.817.3777 to speak with an Intake Specialist at Legal Aid about getting help creating these documents.

This FAQ was a story in Volume 28, Issue 1 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid.   Click here to read the full issue.

What if my SS or SSI benefits were denied or stopped because of a warrant for parole or probation violation? Close

The Social Security Administration May Have to Pay Back Benefits Stopped or Denied Because of Probation or Parole Arrest Warrants

For millions of seniors, Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is their only income. In the past, the Social Security Administration (SSA) could stop paying benefits to someone who had a warrant for a parole or probation violation. The SSA did not look at whether the person actually violated parole or probation. In many cases, the warrant was based on a minor violation or something easily resolved.  

A national class action lawsuit stopped the SSA from continuing this practice. In a case in New York, Clark v. Astrue, the Court created a nationwide group of people who were affected by the SSA’s practice. This group may now get money paid back to them.

Everyone in the United States who could not get Social Security or SSI benefits because of a parole or probation warrant on or after October 29, 2006, is protected by this case. According to the National Senior Citizens Law Center tens of thousands of people could be affected. The amount of money owed to this group may be hundreds of millions of dollars. If you applied for Social Security or SSI benefits on or after October 29, 2006, and are waiting for a decision, you cannot be denied benefits based only on a probation or parole warrant.

If you applied for Social Security or SSI benefits and were denied benefits on or after October 29, 2006, or benefits were stopped on or after October 29, 2006, based on a probation or parole warrant, you may now be able to get benefits or have benefits paid back to you. If you believe this new rule applies to you, contact the SSA and give them your current address so you receive notice if you are owed money.

You can call the Social Security Administration at: 1.800.772.1213 TTY users should call 1.800.325.0778

This FAQ was a story in Volume 28, Issue 1 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid.   Click here to read the full issue.

Does Medicare cover preventative services? Close

Preventive Services Covered By Medicare

  Medicare is a national health insurance program for people ages 65+ and younger people with certain disabilities.

The 2011 Affordable Care Act expands the list of preventive care services you can get for free. Medicare recipients can now receive annual wellness visits to their doctor, flu shots and tests like prostate cancer screenings and mammograms.

When you become eligible for Medicare Part B (outpatient insurance), you can get a Welcome to Medicare Preventive Visit. Your doctor will review your medical history and plan your preventive care needs.

After this first consultation, you can see your doctor for an Annual Wellness Visit every year.

For most preventive care, you’ll usually pay nothing out of pocket if you have original Medicare and see providers who accept assignments. “Accepting assignments” means that they accept Medicare’s approved amount as full payment for a service. However, you may have to pay a deductible or coinsurance if your doctor has to do further tests or procedures.

Medicare completely covers certain other preventive care services for patients who have certain risk factors for disease. This applies to such services as diabetes screenings, bone mass measurements and testing for glaucoma.  

There are new preventive care services offered by Medicare since the fall of 2011. New services include screenings for depression, misuse of alcohol and obesity. There is also dietary counseling for people who are overweight and a cardiovascular risk reduction visit for combating heart disease.  

Starting in 2012, if you’re in a Medicare Advantage plan, your plan can’t charge you for preventive care services that are free for people with original Medicare. You are, however, required to see network providers within the plan.

You can learn more about Medicare’s preventive services by visiting www.medicare.gov. You can also call 1.800.MEDICARE (1.800.633.4227). TTY users should call 1.877.486.2048.

This FAQ was a story in Volume 28, Issue 1 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid.   Click here to read the full issue.

What is a Benefits Check-Up and where can I get one? Close

Benefits Check-Up

  Benefits Check-ups provide seniors with information about help that may be available to pay some bills. A Benefits Check-up will let you know if you can get help paying Medicare premiums, prescription costs, heating bills, phone bills and other expenses. You might also learn about nutrition and food stamp programs, property tax relief, home energy assistance programs and senior employment programs. Many government programs help adults 55 and older with these issues.

  A Benefits Check-up is free and safe. You will have to provide some information about your income and background. In most cases, you do not have to provide identifying information, such as your Social Security number. If you complete a Benefits Check-up, you will receive a confidential report in the mail. The report lists the help you can get and how to apply for it.

  You can ask for a Benefits Check-up at many places. Call 2-1-1 for a location close to you.

  In Cuyahoga County, volunteers with the Department of Senior & Adult Services work with seniors in various communities. If you want to make an appointment, receive an application by mail, or complete a telephone screening, call the Intake Line at 216.420.6840.

  In Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties, seniors can also ask for a Benefits Check-up by calling the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging (WRAAA’s) ADRN line at 1.855.585.ADRN (2376).

  In Ashtabula, seniors should call Area Agency on Aging at 1.800.686.7367.

  Seniors who speak a language other than English can call Asian Services in Action, Inc. at 216.881.0330. Bilingual counselors can provide brochures in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and English.

  Seniors can do a Benefits Check-up online. A trusted friend or relative, even someone who lives out of town, can help you do this. If you live in Cuyahoga County, use the online form at http://dsas.cuyahogacounty.us/ en-US/benefits-checkup.aspx. For anywhere in Ohio, use http://www.benefitscheckup.org.

If you want information on whether you qualify for help with property taxes, water and sewer bills, local phone services, prescription drugs, and other expenses, call one of the numbers listed above to ask for a Benefits Check-up.

This FAQ was a story in Volume 28, Issue 1 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid.   Click here to read the full issue.

I have received phone calls claiming I have won prizes or asking for personal information, what should I do? Close

Your personal information is important! Guard your social security number, your bank account and credit card numbers, and your driver’s license or state identification number. Some criminals trick you on telephone calls to get your personal information. The criminals can then take your information and use your credit cards and bank accounts or open new ones. A real bank or credit card company will never call you and ask for your social security or bank account numbers.

HOW TO AVOID TELEPHONE FRAUD

  • Donate only to recognized charities. Ask the caller to send more information.
  • Reject high pressure sales methods. Ask the caller to send more information.
  • Do not do business with anyone who offers to send a delivery service to collect your donation or payment for  something you have not yet ordered or received.
  • Be careful making a donation or buying a service in exchange for the promise of a guaranteed sweepstakes winning.
  •   Be careful of phone calls or emails saying that a friend or relative is in a faraway place and needs money to help him. This may be a scam. Check with the friend or relative first before sending money.

HOW TO AVOID PRIZE AND SWEEPSTAKES FRAUD

  • If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Do not pay to collect sweepstakes winnings!
  • Phone numbers can be changed on caller ID so that con artists can       trick you about who or where they are.
  • Ignore all phone solicitations to play a foreign lottery. Such sales and purchases are against the law.

This FAQ was written by Carol Kile, Esq. and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue  2 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

What should I know about payday loans? Close

In June 2008, consumer advocates celebrated when former Governor Strickland signed the Short- Term Loan Act. The Act capped annual interest rates on payday loans at 28%. It also provided for several other protections on the use of payday loans. Consumers had another victory in November 2008. Ohio voters upheld this new law by a landslide vote. However, these victories were short-lived. The payday loan industry quickly came up with ways to get around the new law and continues to operate in a predatory way. Today, four years after the Short-Term Loan Act passed, payday lenders continue to avoid the law.

Payday loans in Ohio are usually small, short-term loans where the borrower gives a personal check to the lender payable in two to four weeks, or allows the lender to electronically debit the borrower”s checking account at some point in the next few weeks. Since many borrowers do not have the funds to pay off the loan when it is due, they take out new loans to cover their earlier ones. They now owe even more fees and interest. This process traps borrowers in a cycle of debt that they can spend years trying to escape. Under the 1995 law that created payday loans in Ohio, lenders could charge an annual percentage rate (APR) of up to 391%. The 2008 law was supposed to address the worst terms of payday loans. It capped the APR at 28% and limited borrowers to four loans per year. Each loan had to last at least 31 days.

When the Short-Term Loan Act became law, many payday lenders predicted that following the new law would put them out of business. As a result, lenders did not change their loans to fit the new rules. Instead, the lenders found ways to get around the Short-Term Loan Act. They either got licenses to offer loans under the Ohio Small Loan Act or the Ohio Mortgage Loan Act. Neither of these acts was meant to regulate short-term loans like payday loans. These two laws allow for fees and loan terms that are specifically not allowed under the Short-Term Loan Act. For example, under the Small Loan Act, APRs for payday loans can reach as high as 423%. Using the Mortgage Loan Act pokies online for payday loans can result in APRs as high as 680%.

Payday lending under the Small Loan Act and Mortgage Loan Act is happening all around the state. The Ohio Department of Commerce 2010 Annual Report shows the most recent breakdown of license numbers. There were 510 Small Loan Act licensees and 1,555 Mortgage Loan Act registrants in Ohio in 2010. Those numbers are up from 50 Small Loan Act licensees and 1,175 Mortgage Loan Act registrants in 2008. On the other hand, there were zero Short-Term Loan Act registrants in 2010. This means that all the payday lenders currently operating in Ohio are doing business under other laws and can charge higher interest and fees. No payday lenders are operating under the new Short-Term Loan Act. The law specifically designed to protect consumers from abusive terms is not being used. These are troubling numbers for consumers in need of a small, short-term loan with fair terms.

As of right now, there are no new laws being considered in the Ohio General Assembly that would close these loopholes and solve the problems with the 2008 law. The payday loan industry has avoided the Short-Term Loan Act for four years, and it does not look like this problem will be resolved soon. As a result, it is important for consumers to remain cautious about payday loan stores and, where possible, borrow from places other than payday lenders.

This FAQ was written by Katherine Hollingsworth, Esq. and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue  2 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

What is Bankruptcy Bypass? Do I qualify? Close

Since 2009, Legal Aid has helped seniors and persons with disabilities deal with harassing creditors through the Bankruptcy By-Pass Program. Volunteer attorneys, through the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, assess clients’ ability to pay creditors. This program advises creditors that the harassing calls and letters must stop once the volunteers determine the client is “judgment proof.”

To be “judgment proof” means that the law will not allow the person’s income to be garnished or attached. There are many types of income that cannot be attached, or taken out of a bank account by a creditor that has gone to court and gotten a judgment against that person. Some common sources of protected income include social security, SSI, and veterans’ benefits. People helped by this program do not own any homes and are not likely to work again. They also own personal property, like furniture, clothing and cars that cannot be taken by creditors because of the value of the items.

People who seek help through this program often believe that the only option to stop the creditors’ harassing phone calls is to file bankruptcy. However, bankruptcy is not always the best choice. People can only file a personal bankruptcy once every eight years. Clients in this program are not at risk of having their money or assets taken by creditors. Because of this, volunteer attorneys will advise clients about the benefits of not using their right to file bankruptcy.

Since the program began, volunteers have helped over 100 people. Many clients comment that it feels as if a weight is lifted once the harassment stops. Creditors often give people wrong information about what funds a creditor can collect. Many people fear they will be charged criminally for not paying bills. As a result, they still try to make payments to credit card companies but cannot pay more than the interest fees. The By-Pass program will help clients sort out what expenses need to be paid each month including rent, utilities and medical costs.

If you think this program can help you, please call Legal Aid’s intake line at 216-687-1900 or 1-888-817-3777. You will be asked a number of questions to find out if the By-Pass program can help you. If it cannot, Legal Aid may still be able to assist you.

This FAQ was written by Lauren Gilbride, Esq. and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue  2 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

How can I get assistance with my gas, electric, water, or telephone service? Close

Numerous programs help make utilities such as electricity, gas, water and telephone more affordable for consumers. Listed below are several such programs along with information about who is eligible and how to apply.

Gas and Electric Service

In the summer, if you are 60 or more years old, you may qualify to receive $250 for an air conditioner and/ or utility assistance. Adults under 60 may qualify if you received a disconnection notice and you have a documented medical condition.

In the winter, emergency assistance is also available when households are threatened with disconnection or have less than a 10-day supply of bulk fuel in their tank.

The regular Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) for low-income consumers and the Percent of Income Payment Plan Plus provide year-round financial assistance to qualifying consumers. You may qualify for a one-time payment toward your gas bill and a payment plan based on your income on both your gas and electric bills. If you are already enrolled in PIPP and HEAP, you must continue to make monthly payments in order to remain eligible again next year.

For more information or to apply, contact the agency in the county where you live:

  • Ashtabula County – Ashtabula County Community Action Agency, Inc (440.997.5957), www.accaa.org
  • Cuyahoga County – Cleveland Housing Network (216.518.4014, or for seniors over 60 or anyone physically disabled call 216.774.2351 to schedule an in-home appointment), http://www.chnnet. com/electric-gas-bulk-fuel-water-assistance.aspx; Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland (216.696.9077), www.ceogc.org.
  • Geauga County – Geauga Community Action, Inc. (440.285.9141)
  • Lake County – Lifeline For Empowerment and Development of Consumers (440.354.2148), www.lclifeline.org
  • Lorain County – Lorain County Community Action Agency, Inc. (440.245.2009)

Water Service

Customers of the Cleveland Water Department may be eligible for the Water Affordability Program, which provides a 40% discount to qualifying households. You must be the homeowner, live in the home, and meet income guidelines to qualify. You can call Cleveland Housing Network at 216-774-2386 to apply or download an application at: http://www.chnnet.com/electric-gas-bulk-fuel-water-assistance.aspx

Water Department customers who are 65 years or older, or who are totally and permanently disabled, may qualify for the Homestead Program. Call the Cleveland Water Department Customer Service Department at 216-664- 3130 to apply or download the application at http://www.clevelandwater.com/Resident/discountprograms.aspx.

Telephone Service

Residents of Ohio who have income at or below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines or who participate in programs such as Medicaid, public housing, HEAP, free school lunch, food stamps, SSI, or Ohio Works First, may qualify for discounted landline and cell phone service.

The Lifeline Ohio program offered to AT&T customers provides eligible customers a $12.50 per month credit on their landline telephone bills, as well as benefits such as free line connection and payment plans on outstanding balances. Call 1-800-335-8721 to sign up (TTY users call 1-800-980-4889). See http://www.att.com/gen/general?pid=10252 for more information.

SafeLink Wireless provides qualified applicants a free phone and a choice of three monthly minute plans without a contract or bill. Additional minutes can be purchased with a TracFone card. You can apply by calling 1-800-Safelink or online at: https://www.safelinkwireless.com/Safelink/program_info/faq/ohio.

Important Consumer News about Telephone Service

Telephone companies in parts of Ohio are attempting to discontinue landline phone service to customers or require that customers bundle landline service with other services. Senate Bill 271 which passed the Ohio Senate in February 2012 is now being considered by the Ohio House of Representatives. The phone companies say that by eliminating landline service they will have more resources to concentrate on other services customers want. The consequence may be that currently affordable landline service for seniors and low-income customers will not be available as early as 2014.

This FAQ was written by John Kirn, Esq. and Anne Sweeney, Esq. and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue  2 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

How do I avoid identity theft? Close

For the twelfth year in a row, identity theft has been the #1 complaint reported to the Federal Trade Commission. What can you do to protect yourself?

  • Protect your social security number. Do not carry it in your wallet. Share it only when you know who you  are giving it to and why they need it.
  • Pick up your mail promptly. Do not leave it in a place where strangers can get it while you are away from home.
  • Shred bank and credit card statements, and any other financial documents or paperwork with personal information, before you discard them.
  • Keep personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, outside help, or are having work done in your home.
  • Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know  who you are dealing with.
  • Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. Even if it looks like an email sent by your bank or by a  government agency: It could be a fake.
  • Do not use obvious passwords like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your social security number.
  • Review your account statements regularly for charges you did not make. Also review your medical explanation of benefits forms to ensure that there are no surprise charges for medical benefits.
  • Check your credit report. Each year, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from the three major nationwide credit reporting agencies. It’s easy to get your report by calling Annual Credit Report at 1.877.322.8228.

If you suspect that you are a victim of identity theft, act quickly. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call 1-877-ID-THEFT for information about steps you can take to limit the damage. You may want to close affected accounts, file a police report, or call the Attorney General Consumer Protection Line at 1.800.282.0515. You can place a “fraud alert” on your credit report by calling one of the following companies:

  • Experian www.experian.com, 1.888.397.3742
  • Equifax: www.equifax.com, 1.800.525.6285
  • TransUnion: www.transunion.com, 1.800.680.7289  

Be careful with your personal information and take action immediately if you think someone has stolen your identifying information.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone. She does not express the views of the FTC or of any individual commissioner.

This FAQ was written by  FTC Attorney Maria Del Monaco,   and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue  2 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

I am a senior with student loan debts. What help can I receive? Close

Many seniors are in default on student loans. These loans may have been taken out for them or others. Either way, Social Security is offsetting the benefits of social security retirees and disabled seniors with these debts.

By law, Social Security can take retirement and disability benefits to repay student loans in default. Social Security can take up to 15% of a person”s benefits. However, the benefits cannot be reduced below $750 a month or $9,000 a year. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cannot be offset to repay these debts.

Before offset begins, Social Security sends a notice. Debtors should know that the notices they receive from Social Security are just to tell them that offset will begin. Debtors cannot appeal, challenge, change, or question this debt to Social Security. To do this, they must go back to the agency to which the debt is owed. The notices from Social Security will have the name and contact information for the agency that is claiming the debt is owed. To change or challenge the offset, the debtor will have to set up a payment plan, or argue hardship to the agency that is owed the money.

Debtors can avoid or stop an offset by getting the student loan out of default. Income Based Repayment (IBR) is an option. It gives borrowers a way to make loan payments. IBR provides for reasonable student loan payments based on a person”s income. Payments can be as low as $0. After 25 years on the program, any remaining debt is forgiven. People with loans in default cannot be in the program. However, people can get their loans out of default by making a number of “reasonable” payments. Once the loan is out of default, offset of benefits should stop.

This FAQ was written by  former Legal Aid attorney Carol Eisenstat,   and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 3 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

Do seniors qualify for food assistance? Close

Many seniors struggle to pay bills while on a fixed income. They might have to choose between buying food or medication. Under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), seniors may qualify for food stamps (now called “food assistance”) to help buy food.

In Ohio, a person can apply for food assistance at the local County Department of Job and Family Services. They can apply in-person, by phone, or on line. If you apply by phone, you will be mailed an application that same day. Later, you will need to have a face-to-face interview with your caseworker. You will also have to give proof of your income and bills (e.g. rent and utilities receipts, bank statements). It is important that you mail, fax, or deliver these papers as soon as possible.

Whether you can receive food assistance depends upon:

  • the number of people in your household,
  • your income, and
  • your resources (such as cash, savings and checking accounts).

Your income must be below a certain limit. A special income rule applies to elderly or disabled persons. The county will not look at your “gross” income, but will subtract certain expenses (such as heating and cooling expenses, mortgage or rent, and medical expenses), and use this “net” income to decide if you qualify.

A household with an elderly member (over 60 years old) can have up to $3,000 in resources. Household goods, most retirement plans, and the home you live in are not counted as a resource.

If you are approved, you will receive an “electronic benefits transfer” (EBT) card. Shopping with the card is like shopping with a bank debit or ATM card. You can buy food or food-related products, including seeds and plants to grow food. You cannot buy alcohol, tobacco, or vitamins. In 2012, a single senior can receive as much as $200 per month for food assistance. A household of two can receive up to $367 every month.

If you think you might qualify, you can do a quick check and apply at Ohio’s Benefit Bank online at www.thebenefitbank.com. You can also call your County Department of Job and Family Services or apply online at https://odjfsbenefits.ohio.gov.

This FAQ was written by Legal Aid attorney Deborah Dallman,    and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 3 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

I receive my Social Security, SSI or other benefit payments through checks: how will the 2013 policy changes affect me? Close

If you, a friend, or family member is getting Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or any federal payment, it is likely that you get them electronically. However, many people still get benefits and other payments with a paper check.

Soon, people will not be able to get a paper check in the mail. By March 1, 2013, nearly all federal payments will be made electronically. This will include Social Security and SSI benefits.

People will be given two ways to receive their benefits. One choice will be direct deposit to the person’s bank or credit union account. The federal check then will go straight into the person’s account on payment day each month.

Another way to get a payment will be with a direct express debit card account. Money would be put on the card’s account on payment day each month. Payments will then be available for the person to make purchases and get cash back with purchases. To learn more about direct express go to www.GoDirect.org.

People who still get paper checks now need to change the way their payments come to them. The change can be made at the local federal benefit agency office, on line at www.GoDirect.org or by calling the U.S. Treasury Electronic Payment Solution Center at 800.333.1795. For direct deposit, people can also make the change at their bank or credit union.

People who are just applying for benefits will not be able to get paper checks. They will only be able to receive federal benefit payments electronically. Their choice will be to get their payments by direct deposit or on the direct express card. When they apply, they will have to choose one of these ways for payment. If they want to choose direct deposit, they will have to provide their bank or credit union account information.

The government said it made the change from paper checks because it is safer and easier. It also saves taxpayers money and is good for the environment.

This FAQ was written by Legal Aid attorney Karla Perry,    and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 3 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

What should I know about pre-paid debit cards? Close

People are swiping more at the checkout line, and they are not using a traditional credit or debit card. Millions of consumers are now using prepaid debit cards to make payments. Prepaid cards are debit cards without a bank account attached. Cards provide instant benefits to customers including access to a wide array of ATM networks, faster payment, and less of a need to carry cash.

The speedy growth in the prepaid debit card market is due to several needs. First, nearly 30 percent of Ohioans are under-banked. This means either they have no bank account or they have an account but use check cashers and fringe lenders. These cards fill some of that void. Second, cards reduce costs to employers and government agencies. It is cheaper and quicker to use a debit card than to produce a paper check. Ohio has moved to cards (if direct deposit is not used) for unemployment and food assistance. Social Security, if not direct deposited, is now also provided on debit cards. Nevertheless, there are some costs to the consumer. Consumer advocates have rightful concerns about the fees on these cards and how much the user knows about them. Some cards charge for basic services like monthly access and ATM fees. Additional fees include overdraft, replacement, paper statements, customer service calls, and load fees. A major concern is that some cards have a point-of-sale transaction fee, meaning a charge “per” swipe. The overall concern is that fees will add up and reduce the overall benefit of the card.

Perhaps the largest challenge for clients entering the field of prepaid debit cards is the abundance of choices. There are hundreds of different cards with different fee structures. Greater openness is needed so that customers can compare cards to each other. A nonprofit research group, CFSI, designed a disclosure box that is an excellent way for customers to understand the costs of a card and compare it to others (see below).

Some advice for card shopping includes:

  • Stay away from celebrity-branded cards, which often have higher fees;
  • Avoid cards with overdraft fees and lines of credit;
  • Determine what functions are of interest to identify the best card; and
  • Direct deposit into a bank account is almost always the best option.

This FAQ was written by David Rothstein of Policy Matters Ohio and the New America Foundation,    and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 3 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

I am a senior and a homeowner. Are there any special tax breaks for me? Close

Ohio’s Homestead Exemption exempts the first $25,000 of the value of your home from being taxed.     For example, a home that is worth $100,000 will be taxed as if it were worth $75,000.   On average people who qualify save $400 a year.

Who is eligible?   Homeowners who:

  1. Are 65 years old or will turn 65 this year, or
  2. Were permanently and totally disabled on or before the 1st day of the year in which they file, or
  3. Are the surviving spouse of a person who was already enrolled in Homestead, and the survivor was at least 59 years old when the spouse died.

What property is eligible for the exemption?

  1. The property must be the place where you live most of the time, and
  2. You must have been living there as of January 1st, and
  3. Your name must be on the deed; if the property is held in a trust, you must have a copy of the trust.

You must apply for the exemption by June 3, 2013.   (A late application can also be filed for last year.)

If you apply based on your AGE, you must have PROOF OF AGE.   For proof, you can use things like a driver’s license (current or expired), State of Ohio ID card, birth certificate or passport (current or expired).

If you apply based on DISABILITY, you must have PROOF OF DISABILITY.   For proof, you can give things like the Auditor’s Certificate of Disability form signed by your doctor OR a statement from Social Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Railroad Retirement Board, or the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation finding you to be totally and permanently disabled.

If you are found to be eligible, you do not have to re-apply in future years.

To get an application form, more information and help, call your county Auditor’s Homestead Department:

  • In Cuyahoga County, call 216.443.7101
  • In Ashtabula County, call 440.576.3793
  • In Lake County, call 440.350.2536
  • In Geauga County, call 440.279.1617
  • In Lorain County, call 440.329.5207

This article was written by Legal Aid attorney Marley Eiger and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

What are some common questions about Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney? Close

Q: Aren’t Living Wills or Health Care Powers of Attorney just for older people?

A: It is important for anyone over age 18 to think about filling out one or both of these documents. Serious illness or injury can strike at any stage of life. A Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney will help to ensure that your wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment are followed regardless of age, and that when you are no longer able to voice your own wishes, your prior decisions are followed or made for you by the person you choose.

Q: Can I include the fact that I wish to donate my organs after death through a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney?

A: The best way to ensure that your organs will be donated after death is to complete the Donor Registry Enrollment Form included in this packet.

Q: If I state in my Living Will that I don’t want to be hooked up to life support equipment, will I still be given medication for pain?

A: Yes. A Living Will affects only care that artificially or technologically postpones death. It would not affect care that eases pain. For example, you would continue to be given pain medication and other treatments necessary to keep you comfortable. The same is true with a Health Care Power of Attorney. The person you name to make your health care decisions would not be able to order the withholding of treatments that provide you comfort or alleviate pain.

Q: If I have a Living Will, won’t my physician be more likely to give up on me if I become really sick?

A: No. Physicians have a duty to maintain life as long as there is hope of recovery. A Living Will simply allows you to determine how much life-sustaining treatment you wish to receive in order to postpone dying once two physicians have determined that you will not recover.

Q: Which is better to have, a Living Will or a Health Care Power of Attorney?

A: Actually, it is a good idea to fill out both documents because they address different aspects of your medical care. A Living Will applies only when you are terminally ill and unable to communicate your wishes or if you are permanently unconscious. A Health Care Power of Attorney becomes effective even if you are only temporarily unconscious and medical decisions need to be made. For example, if you were to become temporarily unconscious due to an accident or surgery, the person you name in your Health Care Power of Attorney could make medical decisions on your behalf. If you have both documents and become terminally ill and unable to communicate or become permanently unconscious, the Living Will would be followed since it speaks to your wishes in these situations.

Q: When does a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney become effective?

A: A Living Will becomes effective if you are terminally ill and unable to express your wishes regarding health care or if you are permanently unconscious. In both cases, two physicians, not just one, must agree that you are beyond medical help and will not recover. If you have indicated that you do not want your dying to be artificially prolonged and two physicians say that there is no reasonable hope of recovery, your wishes will be carried out.

A Health Care Power of Attorney becomes effective whenever you lose the ability to make your own decisions, even if only temporarily. At these times, health care decisions will be made by the person you designate.

Q: Can I draft a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney that says if I become critically ill, I want everything possible done to keep me alive?

A: Yes. But you can’t use the standard forms in this packet. You would need to speak with an attorney about drafting a special document. You also may want to discuss this approach with your personal physician.

Q: If I name someone in my Health Care Power of Attorney to make decisions for me, how much authority does that person have and how can I be certain that he or she is doing what I want done?

A: The person you name as your attorney-in- fact has the authority to make decisions regarding aspects of your medical care if you become unable to express your wishes. For this reason, you should tell the person you name how you feel about life-sustaining treatment, being fed through feeding and fluid tubes, and other important issues.

Also, it is important to remember that a Health Care Power of Attorney is not the same as a financial Power of Attorney, which you might use to give someone authority over your financial or business affairs.

Q: If my condition becomes hopeless, can I specify that I want my feeding and fluid tubes removed?

A: Special instructions are needed to allow for the removal of feeding or fluid tubes if you become permanently unconscious and if the feeding and fluid tubes aren’t needed to provide you with comfort.

If you want to make certain that the tubes are removed should you become permanently unconscious, you need to place your initials on the space provided on the Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney form. If you don’t want the tubes removed when you are permanently unconscious, then don’t initial the forms.

Q: Do I have to use the standard forms for a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney or can I draw up my own documents?

A: These forms (click here to access details), which were produced jointly by the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, comply with the requirements of Ohio law, but you do not have to use these forms. You may wish to consult an attorney for assistance in drafting a document or you may draft your own. However, in either case, the documents must comply with the specific language spelled out in the Ohio Revised Code.

What should seniors be thinking about when it comes to money? Close

1. Am I eligible for any benefits?

Many benefit programs can help people who have limited income afford living expenses such as utilities, food, health care and transportation. Some of these programs are designed just for seniors and adults with disabilities. You may become eligible for programs once you reach a certain age, experience a new health condition, or lose a source of income.   The easiest way to find out what assistance you are eligible to receive is by completing a Benefit Check Up.  Seniors and adults with disabilities can contact the Aging and Disability Resource Network to complete a Benefit Check Up: 1-855-585-ADRN (2376) or go to www.benefitscheckup.org

2. Have I been a victim of identity theft?

Someone may be using your identity and ruining your credit. If identity theft continues, you could be sued by creditors and you might not be able to borrow money when you need it. You can check your credit report to find out if someone has opened accounts in your name.  Each year, you can get a free credit report from three different companies.  You should request one every 4 months from a different company. To request a credit report call Equifax at 1-800-525-6285, Experian at 1-888-397-3742, or Trans Union at 1-800-680-7289.  You can also request reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com.  If your credit report shows activity that you did not authorize, follow the steps recommended by the Federal Trade Commission to report and stop identity theft.  See http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft.

 

3. Am I financially prepared for an emergency?  

Emergencies are unpredictable but there are some things you can do to prepare yourself.

  • Keep copies of important papers such as insurance, bank account, health care and estate planning information in a safe place you can easily find them.
  • Keep some emergency money in a safe place where you can easily get it, even if you can only spare a small amount.
  • Identify a safe place you can stay temporarily if something happens and you cannot stay in your home.  Also make a plan for how you will get there.
  • If you have someone in your life you trust completely, consider sharing the above information with that person so they can help you if needed.  Do NOT share information about your finances or other important matters with anyone you do not know well and trust completely.

Planning ahead can help keep unexpected costs to a minimum during an emergency.

 

This article was written by Emily Mutillo from the City of Cleveland Department of Aging and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

Should Seniors Be Cautious When Considering Home Repair Contracts? Close

Warn seniors to be cautious when considering home repair contracts paid for by a reverse mortgage.

In Cleveland, the Office of Fair Housing and Consumer Affairs has received complaints from seniors who were unaware that they had signed reverse mortgages after being solicited by remodeling contractors to do work on their home. In some cases, the contractors have taken all of the proceeds from the homeowner and performed little or no work. The contractors tell seniors that there is a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program to help pay for the repairs but in fact the seniors are left with a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), commonly known as a reverse mortgage. Caution seniors NOT to rely on advice from anyone who recommends such a product or service. For additional information:

  • Consumers in the City of Cleveland with questions about possible scams can call the Office of Fair Housing and Consumer Affairs at 216-664-4529.
  • Consumers with questions about reverse mortgages can call Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland at (216) 458-4663.
  • Consumers who want to file a complaint should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Department at 1-800-282-0515 or online at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/consumercomplaint.

What are some self-help tools I can use in my legal case? Close

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland recently created a self-help section on its website to begin providing tools to people who must go to court on their own without the help of an attorney.  The tools currently available can help people with the following:

Keep checking the Cleveland Legal Aid website for more self-help tools in the coming months.   If you have questions, attend one of Legal Aid’s free brief advice clinics.  You can find a list of upcoming clinic dates and locations here: http://lasclev.org/events/category/brief-advice-clinics/

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I need winter heating assistance – what do I do? Close

Winter heating assistance begins October 20, 2014 and continues through April 15, 2015.

Refer people in need of help paying utility bills to 2-1-1 to find a provider who accepts utility assistance applications.

Also, customers can walk-in for utility assistance at the Utilities Resource Fair, Saturday October 18, 2014 from 10 am – 2pm at West Side Community House.  Click here for more details on the Resource Fair and click here for more information about PUCOs winter reconnect program.

How can I use the Social Security website? Close

Social Security’s website is www.socialsecurity.gov. Like any government website, the official website of the Social Security Administration is full of helpful information. There are long lists of publications, forms and other web resources.

There are many things that can be done through Social Security online. This includes applying for benefits, appealing decisions, finding out if you can get benefits, and estimating future benefits.

The website is where folks can set up an account with Social Security. Up to 14 million people have established a personalized my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.  With an account, folks can see information from their home, office or library.

The Social Security Statement is one thing that you can get on the website. It is a good planning tool. It provides people age 18 and older with important information about their wages and taxes.

Individuals who currently receive benefits can manage their benefit payments. Folks can get an instant benefit verification letter, change their address and phone number, and start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment.

You can’t apply for a card online because the Social Security office has to verify certain documents. You can, however, complete and print the application to bring to your local office.

The Social Security website has undergone changes to make it easier to read and navigate. You can find more answers by first going to the Frequently Asked Questions tab at the very top of the home page. This tab section also allows you to convert the website to its Spanish version as well.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Karla Perry and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Is Financial Assistance Available for Seniors to Help Pay Property Tax? Close

A new wave of foreclosures hitting greater Cleveland is the result of the county selling property tax debts to institutions that then file foreclosures against the homeowners when they cannot pay the taxes owed.

Seniors on a fixed income sometimes face particular hardship in trying to pay even a small arrearage.  Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP) offers a small loan program (up to $6,500) for Cuyahoga County residents over age 55 who need a loan to pay back property taxes and avoid foreclosure.  See more information at by clicking here.

What is the SSA Representative Payee Program? Close

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has authority to appoint a person or organization as representative payee for a beneficiary to manage payments for a beneficiary who is unable to do so.

The SSA follows certain procedures when administering the program in order to:

  1. determine whether it’s in the beneficiary’s best interest to have a payee;
  2. select the proper payee;
  3. have adequate oversight over the payee’s activities; and
  4. provide redress for any misuse of funds.

Read more about each of these procedures at Justice in Aging Fact Sheet: SSA’s Representative Payee Program.  If you know someone who may need a representative payee, call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213.

How can I get help with medication costs? Close

Referrals for free or low cost medication and medical care now available by calling 2-1-1.

In Cuyahoga County, residents can call 2-1-1 to access free or low cost medication and medical care.

Click here for a printable flyer with more information!

Do I qualify for SSDI and SSI Social Security Benefits? Close

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides two benefits based on disability or blindness:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While they both
provide benefits for people who are “disabled”, SSDI and SSI differ in several ways.

To receive SSI or SSDI benefits, a person must have a “disability”. Social Security defines disability
as: 1) a medically-determined physical or mental impairment which has lasted, or is expected to
last, for at least 12 months, or is expected to result in death, and 2) because of this impairment, a
person is not able to work in any “substantial gainful activity” (SGA.) Social Security determines that
a person is able to work in SGA, if the employment income the person receives is over a certain
amount.

SSDI provides benefits to persons who: 1) are “disabled” and 2) are “insured” by the Social Security
trust fund. To qualify as “insured,” a person must have worked for a certain length of time, and while
working, paid FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act) taxes. Eligibility for SSDI does not depend
on a person’s current income or resources.

SSI provides benefits to persons who: 1) are aged, blind or disabled (including children) and 2)
have limited income and resources. A person is considered “aged” for SSI at the age of 65 years.

To be eligible for SSI, a person’s current income and resources cannot be over the specific dollar
amounts or limits set by Social Security. Some types of income and resources are not counted, such
as food stamps, home energy assistance, tax refunds, or tuition scholarships, among others.

In some cases, a child may qualify for SSI. Social Security defines a “child” as a person who:
1) is either under age 18 or under age 22 and regularly attends school, and 2) is not married or
head of a household. For a child to be eligible to receive SSI benefits: 1) a child must be either
disabled or blind, and 2) a portion of the income and resources of the child’s parents cannot be
over a certain amount or limit.

Once a person qualifies to receive SSDI or SSI benefits, it is important to read notices from SSA and
follow the program rules; otherwise, those benefits could be terminated. If benefits are terminated by
SSA, the recipient can appeal the decision by following the directions on the notice or calling Legal
Aid to apply for help at 1.888.817.3777.

This article was written by Karen Seawall and appeared in The Alert: Volume 32, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Am I entitled to an attorney in guardianship proceedings? Close

 

Sometimes mental health or physical illnesses make it difficult for
a person to make decisions about their basic needs, finances, and
medical issues. If you or someone you care about struggles to
make these kinds of life decisions, a court can appoint someone
else to make the decisions. This process is called “guardianship.”

A guardianship starts with an application in Probate Court. Often,
the application is filed by a family member or a social service
agency. If someone applies to be a guardian for another person,
that person has the right to be at all Court hearings. The Court will
ask a doctor to evaluate the person, and the person has the right to
ask for an independent expert evaluation (a second opinion from a
different doctor). The person also has the right to have an attorney
represent him or her. If the person cannot afford an attorney or
independent expert evaluation, the court must pay these fees.

After the Court approves a guardianship, the person who struggles
to make decisions is called a “ward” and the “guardian” must
make decisions in his or her best interests. The guardian has to
talk with the ward when possible. If a ward later feels capable of
making independent decisions, he or she can ask the Court for a
“Guardianship Review Hearing.” A review hearing can happen
once a year; a request to modify or end the guardianship can be
made anytime.

Before 2013, few Ohio probate courts appointed the ward an
attorney in the Review Hearing. However, in January 2013, the
Ohio Supreme Court decided that all Probate Courts must appoint
an attorney if the ward could not afford one
in the case State ex rel. McQueen v. Cuyahoga County. Now,
Ohio law requires probate courts appoint an attorney to represent
a ward at any hearing reviewing or challenging the guardianship,
if the ward cannot afford counsel and requests an attorney.

For more information about guardianships, see Ohio Guardianship
Guide at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Files/Publications. Helpful
forms and other information may also be found at Disability Rights
Ohio, www.disabilityrightsohio.org.

This article was written by Deborah Dallman and appeared in The Alert: Volume 32, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I receive Social Security. Can I appoint someone to help me manage my living expenses and basic needs? Close

Recipients of some Social Security Benefits who need help managing their money may have a “representative payee” appointed by the Social Security Administration.

A Rep Payee can be a friend, family member, or other trusted person or it can be an organization. Regardless, a Rep Payee is responsible for paying the beneficiaries living expenses and essential needs, and helping to manage the person’s money.

The Rep Payee must follow certain SSA rules, and may not use the beneficiary’s money for the Rep Payee’s own personal gain or fail to pay the beneficiary’s expenses.

If you know about problems with a Rep Payee, the issue should be reported to SSA Office of the Inspector General.

More information about making a report is available at  http://oig.ssa.gov/what-abuse-fraud-and-waste/misuse-benefits-representative-payee.  More information about the Rep Payee program can be found at http://www.justiceinaging.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/FINALSSAs-Representative-Payee-Program.pd

How can seniors learn more about benefits available to them? Close

BenefitsCheckUp is a web-based service that helps seniors. It is especially helpful for those with limited income and resources, their family members and, social service organizations. It connects people to over 2,000 public and private programs.

Many adults over 55 need help paying for basic needs. Some of the benefits screened for are health care services, prescription drugs, rent assistance, in-home services, meals, heat, and energy assistance, and transportation.

The screening tool can also be a help to younger adults with disabilities and to their caregivers. The program can often screen for benefits that people are unaware of or unlikely to have.

BenefitsCheckUp is a free service provided by the National Council on Aging (NCOA). The website for this service is
www.BenefitsCheckUp.org. Since 2001, millions of people have used BenefitsCheckUp to find helpful programs.

To start using BenefitsCheckUp, people click on an online questionnaire. The questionnaire asks the user a series of questions. The program then produces a “report card” explaining what benefit programs the user may be eligible for and how to apply for them.

It is a completely confidential service. Users do not need to give their names, addresses, telephone numbers, or social security numbers. Users only need to enter their age, income, and zip codes and BenefitsCheckUp will identify programs for which they may qualify.

BenefitsCheckUp has recently been updated to include some new features. For instance, users can select a program category (like health care, tax relief, transportation) and quickly screen only for that category. There is also a new resources library. This library includes a search by state for various fact sheets.

This article was written by Karla Perry and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How do Representative Payees Protect Seniors? Close

With Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments on the rise, many seniors are unable to manage their money, including Social Security benefits. To make sure these seniors receive and properly use their benefits for food, housing, and other essential needs, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can appoint a third party, known as a “representative payee.” Seniors, advocates, and caregivers should be aware of the representative payee program and its importance.

Choosing a Representative Payee
When seniors receiving social security benefits or their caretakers feel they cannot manage their money, they can ask the SSA to appoint a representative payee. The benefits are paid directly to the payee. SSA will first look to the beneficiary’s family and friends who are willing to serve as a payee. If no family or friends are available, SSA may appoint an organization to be the payee. The individual or organization seeking to become the payee must apply with the local SSA field office or online.

Duties of a Representative Payee
SSA encourages payees to take an active role in the beneficiary’s life. A representative payee must:
• Meet with the beneficiary on a regular basis.
• Use the money to pay for the beneficiary’s needs, including housing and utilities; food; medical and dental expenses; personal care items; and clothing.
• Save any unspent benefits to meet later needs.
• Keep accurate records of benefit payments and how they are spent and regularly report that information to SSA.
• Report any changes that may affect the payment of benefits.

Protection Against Misuse of Benefits
For seniors on fixed incomes, every penny counts. All payees must follow SSA rules. They must maintain records showing all money received and purchases made on beneficiaries’ behalf. If a payee misuses benefits, SSA can impose criminal and civil penalties. Suspected misuse should be reported to the local SSA office, or by calling 1-800-269-0271 (TTY 1-866-501-2101), or submitting a report online at http://oig.ssa.gov.

Resources
• For help when social security benefits are terminated or reduced because of an overpayment, recipients can apply to The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland by calling 1-888-817-3777.
• For more information about the SSA Representative Payee program, see: www.ssa.gov/payee – “When People
Need Help With Their Money” and also http://www.justiceinaging.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/FINALSS
As-Representative-Payee-Program.pdf
• Adults age 60 and over may also contact ProSeniors telephone hotline by calling 1-800-488-6070.

This article was written by Deborah Dallman and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Who Needs Advance Directives? Close

Advance directives help ensure that you receive the medical care you would want even when doctors and family members are making decisions on your behalf. There are two different types of advance directives: Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will.

Health Care Power of Attorney: This document allows you to legally appoint a person to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make your own decision, even if the period of disability is temporary. It is important for you to discuss how you feel about important health care treatments so that the person to whom you assign this responsibility understands your wishes and is comfortable with the role.

Living Will: With this document, you specify whether or not you would want life sustaining treatment in the case that you are unable to make an informed medical decision and you are in a terminal condition or a permanent unconscious state. You may also specify your wishes regarding organ and tissue donation in this document.

To start the advance directive planning process, speak with your doctor about the types of health care decisions that could come up in your future. Consider what is important to you and your family. Once you feel confident about your wishes, you need to complete legal forms. Your local area agency on aging can assist you in finding the correct documents. Alternatively, you can seek help from a lawyer to complete the documents. Low-income older adults and people with disabilities or serious illness can apply to Legal Aid for help by calling 1-888-817- 3777. You can also use this online interview tool, which will help you create your own Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney (https://lasclev.org/selfhelp-poa-livingwill/).

After completing your advance directives, give a copy to your doctors, and make your family and close friends aware of where you keep a copy. Also give copies of the directive to the person named as your Health Care Power of Attorney. It is never too early to start planning, and remember to review your advance care planning decisions at least every 10 years.

This article was written by Emily Depew and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

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