Author: David Wolowitz & Michael O'Connor, Prairie State Legal Services
Last updated: November 2002
What It Is: A public needs based program that provides money or vouchers for food, rent, utilities, clothes, medical care, and other basic essentials. It is for people with very little income and assets who do not qualify for other programs or who are waiting to see if they qualify for SSI benefits.
Where to Apply: In Chicago, you apply at the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). Elsewhere, you apply at your local township office.
Who May Be Eligible: Low income persons who are not receiving other public benefits.
What is General Assistance?
General Assistance (GA) is a program to provide aid to very poor people who are not receiving, or do not qualify for, other public benefits. GA is to help meet basic needs such as housing, utilities, food, clothing, and medical care. The aid can be in the form of cash, vouchers, or medical assistance. In the city of Chicago, GA is administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). In most of the rest of the state, GA is administered by townships. Adults with disabilities may need to rely on GA while they are waiting to receive disability benefits from Social Security or some other source. In Chicago, the GA program operates in accordance with IDHS rules concerning eligibility and amount of assistance.
In the rest of the state, there are a few townships which receive money from the State to operate their GA program. These townships, called "receiving townships," must follow the IDHS rules.
The vast majority of townships in the State do not receive state funding. They are free to adopt their own rules. Most of these townships follow a standard set of rules which are written in a book called the "General Assistance Handbook". This handbook is compiled by the Township Supervisors of Illinois (TSI).
Some counties have a county-wide Veteran's Assistance Commission, which administers General Assistance for veterans and their families.
Description of the Program
The GA program provides financial and medical assistance to eligible needy families or individuals who are ineligible to receive assistance through a categorical or Federal Assistance Program, such as TANF (Transitional Assistance for Needy Families). There are two types of assistance:
IDHS cannot limit the number of months that an otherwise eligible person or family may receive such benefits.
In Chicago, you file an application for GA at your local Department of Human Services (IDHS) office.
Individuals "Not Employable"
You are eligible for TA if you are "not employable." IDHS can determine that you are not employable, if:
In order for IDHS to determine that you are "disabled," you must have filed an application for SSI, and:
The application was denied due to a finding of not blind or "not disabled" and an appeal of the decision is pending at the reconsideration or ALJ level;
The application is pending; or
The application has been approved for temporary SSI benefits.
If Social Security finds you eligible for SSI, then IDHS will determine your eligibility for Aid to the Aged, Blind or Disabled program, and you will not be eligible for GA.
Non-Financial Factors of Eligibility
In order to be eligible for GA, you must meet the following conditions:
As a condition of eligibility, you must sign a repayment agreement in which you agree to repay out of any SSI you receive the GA that is provided while your SSI application or appeal was pending.
If you are ineligible for TANF because you reached the maximum time limit for the receipt of TANF benefits, you are not eligible for GA.
Financial Factors for Eligibility
In order to be eligible for GA in Chicago or in the receiving townships, your countable income must not exceed your benefit (payment) level. IDHS will count all currently available earned and unearned income which is not specified as exempt. There is a long list of the kinds of unearned income which IDHS considers to be exempt. IDHS considers the following kinds of earned income to be exempt:
In addition, there are certain recognized employment-related expenses which IDHS will deduct from your countable, earned income.
Assets. IDHS will consider the value of non-exempt assets in determining your eligibility for an assistance payment. If the value of those assets, taken together with your countable income, exceeds your payment level, you will not be eligible for GA. There is a long list of the kinds of assets which IDHS regards as exempt.
In addition, IDHS disregards up to $2000 of equity value of assets for a one-person family and up to $3000 of equity value of assets for a two-person family. The asset disregard increases by $50 for each additional person.
The payment levels for GA cases are flat, monthly standard amounts. The amount for your assistance unit is based on three variables:
If you have any countable income or assets, IDHS determines your actual payment amount by a process of budgeting the value of such income and assets against the payment levels.
If IDHS determines that you are "not employable" based on the Social Security disability criteria, you are entitled to a long list of different kinds of medical services, including emergency dental services. (Persons under age 21 are entitled to non-emergency dental services, as well, and to chiropractic, podiatric, and optical services). All other GA recipients are entitled to a more limited list of medical services.
Who is Eligible for General Assistance?
In order to be eligible, you must be a resident of the area served by the GA office. Also, you must have very little income from other sources and you can have few assets. The specific income and asset limits depend on the rules followed by your township.
Under the TSI rules, if the equity value of your non-exempt assets is greater than the GA payment level, you are not eligible for GA. Likewise, if your currently available non-exempt income equals or exceeds the GA payment level, you are not eligible for GA.
The townships will not count your "exempt" assets. There is a long list of exempt property. It includes such things as the property where you live, household furnishings, one motor vehicle with an equity value not exceeding $1500, clothing and personal effects. Your "exempt" income is not counted, either. Again, there is a long list of exempt income.
To be eligible for GA, you have to apply for all potential financial benefits from other sources. Also, you cannot be eligible to receive assistance from any other government benefit program. You may be eligible for GA even though you are receiving medical assistance from the Illinois Department of Public Aid. If you are denied assistance from another government benefit program because you failed to cooperate, you may be denied GA.
Also, you may be eligible for GA if you have applied for SSI (or have an appeal pending on your SSI), but you are still waiting to see if you will be approved for SSI. As a condition of eligibility, you must sign an Agreement to Repay, agreeing to repay out of any SSI you receive the GA that is provided while your SSI application or appeal was pending.
People who live in any government operated institution for persons with a developmental disability or other impairment are not eligible for GA.
Unless you are exempt, you must be registered with the Illinois State Employment Service, and must actively seek work. You cannot refuse an offer of suitable employment. You are exempt if you are medically unable to work. You also are exempt if you have another household member who requires full-time care by you and for whom you are the responsible relative. There are a number of other exemptions.
How to Obtain General Assistance
You should file an application with the Township Supervisor for the township where you reside. Your local phone book should have a listing for the location of your township office. If you are a veteran residing in a county with a Veteran's Assistance Commission, you should apply at the Commission's offices.
Each township must provide an application form for GA to any person requesting GA. The township must process every application. No township can deny or refuse an application because the township claims to lack the funds.
The township may ask you to provide your rent receipts, utility bills, medical bills, wage stubs, or other types of verification of your income, assets, and needs.
State law requires that non-exempt GA recipients must look for work and participate in work activities assigned by the Township. People with disabilities may be required to provide medical verification of their condition so that they will not be subject to these requirements. You may also be exempt from these work activities if you are needed at home to provide care for a person with disabilities.
The Kinds of Assistance Provided
Usually, a township can provide GA only for the following basic maintenance needs:
The township can provide GA totaling the grant amount in one or any combination of these categories. The township can provide this assistance in the form of a voucher. By submitting the vouchers, your landlord, utility, grocery store, or other provider can be reimbursed for goods or services they provide to you. However, the total monthly payment level is small, and likely will not meet all of your needs.
Other townships, instead of issuing vouchers, will issue a small cash payment directly to you.
Example: Under the TSI rules, the current payment level for a single adult individual is $165 per month.
The monthly payment levels generally are greater for "family cases," where children reside in the household. The payment level increases with the number of persons in the family.
Example: The payment level for a family case of four persons, including adults and children, is $415 per month.
Many of the townships also will approve additional amounts for special needs, including a therapeutic diet allowance, and day care costs to enable the care-taker adult in a family case to participate in education or training. In some cases, GA may provide assistance to pay for funeral and burial expenses.
Townships must pay for pressing medical needs if there is no other source of payment available. Only medical care that is necessary or essential is covered. Other types of care, such as preventive care, optical, and chiropractic care generally are not covered. Dental care is not covered except for the relief of serious pain or infection. You are required to obtain pre-approval from your GA office for non-emergency medical care.
GA Must Be Provided For As Long As You Need It
The township must provide ongoing GA payments for each month that you qualify. The township cannot require you to file a new application each month. It may require you to supply verification that you are still qualified in order to keep getting assistance without interruption.
Some townships also provide "emergency assistance," in cases where the applicant is without food, shelter, clothing or has another immediate need. The circumstances in which emergency assistance will be provided and the amount of emergency assistance depends on the township's rules. A township can provide emergency assistance only once in a 12-month period. If you qualify for an on-going regular GA payment, your township should not limit your assistance to just "emergency assistance."
Whenever IDHS or the township takes any action against you, you are entitled to receive a written notice. This should occur whenever your application is denied, or your benefits are being reduced, suspended, or terminated.
The Township Supervisor is required to give you a written notice approving or denying your application within 30 days of the date of your completed application. In Chicago, IDHS must give you notice within 45 days.
There are specific requirements for these notices. The information should enable you to understand exactly what the decision is, why it was made, and the rules on which it was based. The notice also has to tell you how and when to appeal if you disagree with the decision.
Townships also must provide a "budget worksheet" along with the notice whenever the decision is based in any way on your income or assets. This worksheet should enable you to review the township's calculations for errors.
Whenever your benefits have been denied, reduced, suspended or terminated, you can appeal the decision. Under IDHS rules and the TSI rules, you must file an appeal in writing, within 60 days of the notice. If you are a current recipient of GA and you file your appeal within 10 days of the date on the notice, you have the right to continue to receive benefits at the same level pending the outcome of the appeal.
If you cannot afford an attorney to represent you in an appeal, contact your local legal services office. See the section of this guidebook titled "Legal Advocacy for People with Disabilities," in Chapter 16, Miscellaneous Rights.
When you appeal, you are entitled to a hearing. The hearing is conducted before a committee, consisting of the Chairman of the County Board and four township supervisors from your county. In receiving townships or in the City of Chicago, appeals are heard by the Illinois Department of Human Services.
If you request it, you may request an informal review conference with the GA office to discuss the matter and to try to resolve it. Regardless of the outcome of the informal conference, you are entitled to a hearing if you have filed a timely appeal.
At the appeal hearing you have the right t
You should receive a copy of the IDHS or Committee's decision in writing.
If your appeal is denied, you are entitled to file a case in Illinois Circuit Court asking a judge to review the denial. This kind of lawsuit is called "certiorari" review. The judge will review the case to determine whether the township decided the facts fairly and properly applied the law. The judge will not hear testimony or accept new evidence.
Statutes and Regulations
The statute governing General Assistance is in the Public Aid Code and can be found at 305 ILCS 5/6. The rights and responsibilities of persons receiving assistance can be found at 305 ILCS 5/11.
The statute governing Veterans Assistance Commissions can be found at 330 ILCS 45/9 and 45/10.
The state regulations on GA in the City of Chicago and in receiving townships can be found at 89 Ill.Admin.Code 114.
The GA rules for non-receiving townships that have adopted the TSI rules can be found in the"General Assistance Handbook." If townships have adopted their own rules, you can obtain a copy of those rules or review them at the local township office.
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