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The CARES Act and Public Benefits

Last week Hook Law Center provided a summary of the benefits available to individuals under the recently passed CARES Act. The Act was a bi-partisan bill that will hopefully provide some economic relief to those whose businesses and income have been impacted by COVID-19. However, many individuals with disabilities are relying on means-tested public benefits for daily support. The prospect of receiving additional income comes with anxiety over whether that income may affect their ability to receive the benefits which they need on an ongoing basis.

Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) is income for those individuals with a disability who have not reached fully insurance status based on Social Security’s definitions. SSI provides a maximum benefit of $783 per month in 2020. This amount can be reduced or lost by the receipt of certain income (earned or unearned), the payment of necessary bills such as food or shelter expenses by a third party, or by having resources which exceed a certain amount. The CARES Act is silent as to how payments received pursuant to the act may affect SSI. However, the policy which governs SSI specifically states:

Assistance (other than support and maintenance) received under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act or any other Federal statute because of a catastrophe which the President declares to be a major disaster, is excluded from countable income.  This includes assistance to repair or replace the individual’s own home or other property, and disaster unemployment assistance.

Therefore, based on the policy which was already in existence, it appears as if CARES payments will not affect SSI payments. However, the beneficiary should make sure that the funds are spent within the month of receipt, so they are not considered resources the following month. If the beneficiary does not want to spend the funds at the time of receipt, he/she may instead contribute them to an existing first party special needs trust or an ABLE account.

In addition, it appears that the CARES payments will not affect Medicaid recipients. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFRVA”) which was passed in March, states who accept additional Medicaid funding during the pandemic may NOT terminate a Medicaid recipient on or after March 18 and for the duration of the emergency. It is anticipated that all states will accept the additional funding. Both the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services have issued guidance to localities regarding the relaxed regulations and changes to Medicaid based on the current pandemic.

While there are a number of uncertainties and sources of stress given the current state of affairs, the loss of benefits based on economic stimulus payments for those who also receive public benefits should not be one of them.

Ask Kit Kat: Cats & Coronavirus

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, can cats catch the coronavirus?

Kit Kat: Yes, they can, but the good news it’s not a serious problem for them. In fact, you probably won’t even know that they have had it. Most show no signs of the disease. There also is no evidence of cats passing the virus onto humans. So hug your furry felines as much as you want! If felines were suspected of transmitting the virus to humans, we certainly would have heard about it by now, after watching the experiences of China and Italy. “While 2 dogs (Hong Kong) and 1 cat (Belgium) have been reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus known as COVID-19), infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people,” according to the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).  However, just to be safe, the AVMA does recommend that if you have symptoms of the illness, have another family member assume care of your pet. If you have a service animal or there is no one else to care for the pet, wear a facemask when interacting with them, don’t hug or kiss them, and wash your hands before and after interacting with the pet.

One can be fairly confident about this information, because the researchers who conducted studies on coronavirus and cats did so in an extreme way. What they did was to inject high concentrations of the virus up the nostrils of five 8-month old house cats. Such a high level of the virus would never enter one’s system in reality. Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University, comments, “So this is an artificial circumstance and we don’t know that it happens in nature at all.” At the end of the experiment, 2 of the 5 cats were euthanized six days later, after it was found that their lungs had evidence of the virus. The other 3 cats tested positive for the virus, but they were asymptomatic.

As it stands now, scientists say that ferrets can contract the virus, though it does not appear to hurt them.  Dogs, pigs, chicken, and ducks seem immune to the virus. All of this is great news for those of us who love creatures of the animal world which come in all shapes and sizes. (Sandee LaMotte, “Cats may get coronavirus, but experts say it’s nothing to worry about,” www.cnn.com, April 2, 2020)

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