Because of changes in policy, SNAP (food stamp) benefits may be reduced. This general reduction is not based on a change in your income or circumstances, but in state policy. If you have monthly medical bills over $185 and have a disabled or senior person in your household or over $354 in utility bills, you can ask for a re-calculation of your individual SNAP (food stamp) budget at DFCS. You must be able to provide verification.
1.7 million people in Georgia received Medicaid coverage as of April this year—and the majority of them are children. That’s 17 percent of the state’s population, or nearly one in five people. Georgia spent less in Medicaid expenditures on each enrollee than the national average—$3,916 versus the $5,563 spent nationally. Because of this, under the Senate-proposed healthcare bill, Georgia likely would have received a lower per capita amount than states that expanded Medicaid or spent more per person.
If the fallout from Congress’ not-yet-determined decision on health care results in cuts to Medicaid, how will the state decide who can’t receive that assistance?
Will it be the 69-year-old intellectually and physically disabled woman who is only able to remain in her home by receiving home and community-based services provided with Medicaid funds? Without those services this woman, whose case is like so many of the clients I represent, would be required to live in a nursing home, which she could not afford on her $760 Social Security retirement income.
Or will the state deny someone like 65-year-old Mr. Jones, who was recently approved for Nursing Home Medicaid, when his dementia makes him unable to live safely independently in the community? Mr. Jones draws Social Security benefits of $1,023 per month and pays $973 per month to the nursing home–leaving him $50 to pay for essentials not provided by the facility. Medicaid pays approximately $4,300 per month for his care.
Or perhaps a five-year-old severely disabled child will be denied the Medicaid assistance that allows her to receive nursing services in her home while her parents work? Shall the parents stop working to provide for the child’s round-the-clock care, or should the child be placed in an institution?
These examples all represent cases that have been handled by Georgia Legal Services Program in the past and likely will be in the future. They represent the very difficult choices that Georgia will have to make in the coming years if significant cuts to Medicaid are made.
June is elder abuse awareness month. Our attorneys were featured in the media to speak out about the prevalence of elder abuse, and ways Georgia Legal Services Program can help seniors.
Robert Bush, a supervising attorney in Savannah, was on the statewide Georgia Public Broadcasting’s morning radio show, On Second Thought. Listen to the segment on the GPB website here.
Tomieka Daniel, managing attorney in Macon, wrote the below op-ed published in Elijay’s Times-Courier:
An estimated 5 million, or 1 in 10, older Americans are abused or neglected each year, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging. June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month.
“I regularly see elderly clients that are taken advantage of by their loved ones or others around them—their homes taken, finances threatened, emotional well-being shattered. People don’t realize how at risk elderly people really are,” says Tomieka R. Daniel, Managing Attorney in the Georgia Legal Services office in Macon.
Elders who are abused are twice as likely to be hospitalized, four times as likely to go into nursing homes and three times as likely to die, according to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. “While most abusers are family members, trusted professionals and complete strangers may also target older adults,” a World Elder Abuse Awareness Day press statement states.
At Georgia Legal Services our attorneys help seniors protect themselves against such abuse, whether it be physical, emotional, financial, or otherwise. We’ve assisted with temporary protective orders to create safe environments for elderly clients in abusive situations. We’ve helped with evictions from apartments and nursing homes. And we’ve saved clients hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debts by enrolling them in the healthcare insurance programs.
In honor of Elder Abuse Awareness Month, we at Georgia Legal Services want to make it known that we’re here to help. For more information, call 1-800-498-9469 or apply online at www.glsp.org. . To report abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an older adult, please call 1-866-55AGING (1-866-552-4464) – Press “3”. For help with benefits, including Medicaid or food stamps, call our Benefits Hotline at 1-888-632-6332.
The changes to Medicaid that Congress is currently considering would have a significant impact on our clients. Medicaid funding is essential to delivering care in rural areas. The National Health Law Program and the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families put together this fact sheet outlining the effects such changes would have on Georgia. (Citations are included in the attachment.)
Here are a few highlights:
- Cuts to Medicaid will jeopardize Georgia’s ability to provide health care to children, seniors, and people with disabilities. The proposed caps under the AHCA would effectively cut $4 billion of federal funding for Georgia over a ten-year period, shifting these costs to the state.
- Caps on Medicaid funding would blow a hole in Georgia’s budget. Georgia’s Medicaid budget relies heavily on federal funding, comprising 49.2% of total federal funds to the state. Federal funding of Medicaid frees up state funding for schools, workforce development, transportation, and public safety.
- Priority health initiatives in Georgia are at risk if Medicaid funding is capped. Medicaid funding is essential to delivering care in rural areas. Medicaid funding helps people who need long term care, like seniors and people with disabilities, stay in their homes and communities and out of nursing facilities. Medicaid funding allows 968,300 women and girls in Georgia to obtain the health care they need throughout their lives. Medicaid is the primary source of funding for treatment services for people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders.
This year, like last year, we put together a public service announcement about a recurring DFCS computer glitch that kicks seniors and disabled Georgians off of Medicare Savings Programs. DFCS computers can’t update their systems with the annual cost-of-living adjustments until April. This means that people who get help paying their Medicare premiums receive notices that their assistance will be cut off because their incomes are suddenly too high. DFCS reports that they manually update their files, but this leaves our clients frightened by the erroneous notices and at risk of believing they are no longer eligible and losing the benefit altogether.
Last year our public service announcement turned into an Augusta Chronicle article. We had at least 30 seniors call in one day for help. In addition, some seniors who were unaware of the benefit at all find out about these programs from the public service announcement and enroll for the first time with our help.
This year the announcement was posted in papers across the state and mentioned on Georgia Public Broadcasting, which has coverage statewide. A 95-year-old woman read our notice in the Greensboro Herald Journal in a small town of 3,500. Prior to reading our article, she did not know she was eligible for the Medicare Savings Program-but after calling our Benefits Hotline, we helped her enroll in that benefit, which will save her over $5600 per year, as well as food stamp assistance.
Fran Montelaro is the Benefits Hotline paralegal who helped this client, who Fran remembers being “extremely humbled and excited” upon finding out about this program. “For me, it means speaking to someone as if she would be me at 95 years old and being treated with kindness and empathy.” Fran was recently referred to at a national aging conference in DC as the “client whisperer” because of her extraordinary abilities to relate to and solve her clients’ problems.
Are you or a loved one a veteran? Click here to download a comprehensive resource guide on services available for veterans, from help with disability benefits, education and employment information, and much more.
Join us this Friday, April 28, in Waycross from 12 to 3 p.m at the Waycross City Auditorium, 865 Pendleton Street. The workshop includes free legal services arranged by Georgia Legal Services and the State Bar of Georgia as a part of Ask a Lawyer Day. Georgia Legal Services staff will assist veterans to access benefits for which they could potentially be eligible. Spouses and dependents of the veterans may qualify for benefits as well. State and local agencies will be on hand advise veterans and their family members about the resources that are available locally. Download the flyer here.
Georgia Legal Services Benefits Hotline May Be Able to Correct DFCS Mistake
Some seniors and people with disabilities who get help paying their Medicare premiums through Georgia Medicaid are getting erroneous notices that their assistance will be cut off because their incomes are suddenly too high. The notices are a result of Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services’ (DFCS) failure to update their systems with the latest cost-of-living adjustments, updated at the beginning of each year. Losing the benefits that help pay their Medicare costs–all because of an error on the part of the state agency—is costly for people with already-meager incomes.
People who believe they are being wrongly terminated from the Medicare Savings Program or who want more information to see if they qualify should call Georgia Legal Services Program’s Benefits Hotline at 1 (888) 632-6332.
People with incomes low enough to qualify for the Medicare Savings Programs can get help with their Medicare premium. Individuals with incomes below $1,377 or couples below $1,847 can have their Medicare Part B premiums paid for and some can get Medicare deductibles and co-payments paid.
DFCS systems often do not recognize the changes in incomes as cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) made in the beginning of each year and instead issue false termination notices for those who were on the edge of eligibility. The result for some is that their Part B premiums start getting deducted from their Social Security checks. Others may be faced with copayments and deductibles they should not have to pay.
For more information, please contact:
Vicky Kimbrell, GLSP Benefits Hotline Project Director
email@example.com; 404-563-7710 ext. 1603
This article was first printed on the Legal Services Corporation website here.
“My medicines cost $200 per month. I wasn’t able to get them although I had had two prior heart attacks. Now I can get my medication because of the Medicaid. I would have given up without your help.”
“Thank you very much for helping me. I called everyone and did everything I was supposed to do. GLS was the only place that helped.”
These quotes are from people who received help through Georgia Legal Services Program’s (GLSP’s) benefits hotline.
The hotline was created in 2012 to optimize the legal process of receiving public benefits—specifically, to reduce the number of hearings attended by GLSP lawyers and to help clients get the food and health care they needed, which were often delayed or denied by the bureaucratic process.
In addition, the hotline served a critical purpose because at the time in Georgia:
- The state’s Medicaid, food stamp, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs were put online and applications, renewals, changes, and notices were often not sent.
- Many local welfare agency offices closed and the staff in the remaining offices weren’t allowed to talk to the public.
- The state agency’s central phone system was a mess, with wait times lasting up to four hours.
- The system had a 48 percent drop rate to get through the phone lines for food stamps and Medicaid applications or renewals.
The GLSP benefits hotline uses a holistic model to provide legal assistance quickly, efficiently, and effectively. The paralegals who staff the hotline take individuals out of the GLSP intake and screening queue and transfer them directly to public benefits attorneys for legal assistance. In addition, they work with state agencies to solve problems and partner with other organizations to provide housing, education, veterans benefits, and other assistance.
For simple issues such as lost documents or a missed phone interview, the hotline staff contact the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, and the issue is often resolved the same day.
From the hotline’s creation in 2012 through 2016, more than 2,700 people have been helped. And, according to estimates by the hotline’s funders, those people have received nearly $7 million in benefits. (See the table below)
|Year||Funder/grant||Number of individuals served||Estimated value of benefits by funder|
|2012||National Council on Aging (NCOA) Innovations Grant||647||$647,211|
|2012-2013||NCOA/Healthcare Georgia (HCGA)||467||$863,480|
|2014||NCOA/Robust Follow Up||475||$1,729,001|
|2016||NCOA/Victim Legal Assistance Network (VLAN)/LSC||504||$1,670,710|
These numbers don’t reflect the identification of larger issues—GLSP identified and resolved a problem affecting 40,000 Medicaid recipients who had been terminated because the vendor failed to send renewal forms. In addition, GLSP obtained benefits for Medicaid recipients weren’t receiving automatic drug coverage, as required by federal regulations.
Such outcomes have led to a high level of client satisfaction with the benefits hotline and GLSP. According to the Georgia Health Policy Center’s evaluation of the hotline’s impact, “Three to six months after their hotline contact, 80 percent of respondents felt that their overall well-being had improved since they received help from GLSP.”
For more information on GLSP’s benefits hotline, click here.
Georgia Legal Services Civil Rights Complaint on Behalf of Farmworker Yields Results
On February 8, 2017, the Georgia Department of Agriculture agreed to make its protections for workers more accessible to non-English speakers. The agreement, reached between the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a result of a complaint that Georgia Legal Services Program brought to the EPA. Georgia Legal Services brought the complaint on behalf of a Spanish-speaking client, whose initial complaint of a worker protection violation was dismissed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture because the department was not equipped to interview a non-English speaker.
The Georgia Legal Services client, an agricultural worker in the south of Georgia, became ill after being exposed to pesticides while working on a farm in July 2015. The worker’s exposure to pesticides was caused by the farm’s inadequate pesticide handling, in violation of EPA regulations. The worker filed a complaint to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, but the agency was unable to adequately process the complaint because of the language barrier and, as a result, it dismissed the worker’s complaint.
The worker’s complaint demonstrated a violation of the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard, a regulation designed to protect agricultural workers. The regulation includes requirements for protective equipment, safety training, restricted-entry times following pesticide application, and others that prevent poisoning and injury from pesticides.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture, which receives funding from the EPA, is charged with enforcing the Worker Protection Standard in the state. All state agencies that receive federal funding to provide services to the public must make sure that those services are accessible to all individuals, regardless of race, color or national origin, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services Program brought this matter to the EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office and, as a result, the agencies signed an agreement committing the Georgia Department of Agriculture to develop, publish, and implement written procedures to ensure meaningful access to all of the department’s programs and activities by all persons–including people with limited English proficiency.