General Assistance

General Assistance
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Last updated: August 2013

What is General Assistance?

General Assistance is a welfare program like the ones offered by the Illinois Department of Human Services. General Assistance gives you money or other financial help and medical assistance if you do not have any other income. General Assistance is run by local governmental units called Townships. Sometimes General Assistance is run by a county.

Illinois state law creates the General Assistance program, and gives some general rules for the program. Each township also has its own specific rules for how much General Assistance it will give. For example, some Townships give you a certain amount of cash, while other townships will give benefits. Some Townships give money directly to your landlord to help pay your rent. Each township must put its rules in writing.

In the past, the State of Illinois provided money for the General Assistance program in the City of Chicago and in a small number of Townships. As of July 1, 2012, the State has stopped paying for General Assistance. The General Assistance program in Chicago has ended. You may be able to get General Assistance in all parts of Illinois outside Chicago, including in suburban Cook County.

What are my rights when I apply?

You have the right to apply for General Assistance even if the Township tells you that you are not eligible. It is a good idea to insist on your right to file a written application, so that you get a written decision on your application and so that you can file an appeal if you are turned down.

You have the right to see the Township's written rules for its General Assistance program. If you need help filling out the application or getting information the Township asks for on the application, the Township must help you.

When you turn in your application:

  • The Township cannot refuse to take your application or deny your application because it has run out of money; 
  • You have the right to get a decision within 30 to 45 days of the date you apply;
  • The Township must give you its decision on your application in writing. 

Remember, you have the right to be treated with respect by all Township staff.

What are my rights if I am denied or my benefits get cut off?

If the township decides to deny your application, or if your benefits are reduced or cut off, they must tell you in writing before any action can occur. The letter must tell you the reason for the decision and the specific rule or regulation that backs up their decision. 

The notice must also tell you:

  • You have the right to appeal
  • How and where to file the appeal
  • The deadline for filing the appeal. You must appeal within 60 days of the date of the notice of the decision, unless the notice has a longer deadline

You have the right to appeal when:

  • You are turned down for General Assistance
  • You do not agree with the amount of benefits awarded 
  • Your benefits are being cut-off 
  • Your benefits are being reduced 

What happens after I appeal?

If your benefits are being reduced or cut off and you appeal the decision within 10 days, you have the right to keep getting your benefits until a decision is made on your appeal. In some Townships, you can keep your benefits as long as you file the appeal before the date of the reduction or cut-off. You should never get less than 10 days notice of a change. (You still have your full 60 days to file your appeal, but you can only keep your benefits going during the appeal process if you appeal within 10 days)

Your appeal will be to the Public Aid Committee of the County Board in the county where the Township is located. If the Township is in Cook County, the appeal is to the Cook County Townships Public Aid Committee. If General Assistance is handled by your county instead of by a Township, your appeal will be to the County Board of Commissioners.

You have the right to appear in person at your appeal hearing and to bring witnesses. You can have a lawyer represent you at the hearing if you decide to hire one. After the hearing, you must get a written decision on your appeal. 

If you disagree with the decision on your appeal, you have the right to file a case in the state circuit court asking the judge to review the decision. It is important to talk with a lawyer as soon as possible if you want to file this kind of appeal in court. It is best to file the court appeal within 35 days of the appeal decision, but the court appeal is probably on time if it is filed within 6 months of the decision.

How can I get General Assistance?

You must apply in the Township where you live now. It is not always easy to know where to apply. In some small townships, the job of Township Supervisor is not full-time and there may not be a General Assistance office.   

To find out where to apply, you can look on the internet, or you can look in the yellow pages of a local telephone book under "government," for the number of the County Board, which should have the information you need. If this does not work, call the local office of the Illinois Department of Human Services for your county. That office must keep a list of all the township supervisors.

Who can get General Assistance?

You may be able to get General Assistance if you have little or no money and you do not get any money from the Illinois Department of Human Services or Social Security.

Both single people and families can get General Assistance, but in most cases General Assistance is for people who do not have children under 18. Sometimes families that are not eligible for TANF (cash assistance from the Department of Human Services) because one child gets Social Security Survivor's Benefits can get General Assistance. 

If you are 18 or older, not married, and are living with a parent you may not be eligible for General Assistance. Sometimes there is an exception if you are 18 and still in high school or vocational school. If you are not receiving TANF because you are being approved or because you have received your 60-month limit, you are not eligible for General Assistance.

Each Township must have its own rules for who can get General Assistance. You have the right to ask your Township to let you see their written rules for General Assistance. If you think that your Township's rules might not follow the legal requirements described in this article, or if you have other questions about the Township's rules, you can ask a legal aid lawyer or other lawyer to look at the rules.

Can I get General Assistance if I am working?

It depends. In some townships, if you do not have children under the age of 19, you must be unable to work in order to get General Assistance. Sometimes this means that you must have made an application to the Social Security Administration for SSI disability benefits and the Township must believe you are disabled. In other Townships, you can be considered unable to work, even if you are not disabled for Social Security.

Some reasons for being unable to work include:

  • Serious medical, physical or mental problems
  • Age 55 and over and no recent income
  • Temporary illness or incapacity, like having a broken leg
  • Taking a medication to control diabetes, high blood pressure or seizures
  • Staying at home to take care of someone with a serious medical condition

You can ask the Township to pay for a physical exam to help it decide whether you are employable.

Some Townships give General Assistance to people who are able to work. If the Township does provide General Assistance to people who are able to work, you must register for work and must accept a job if one is offered to you. 

In some Townships you must look for work or to take part in a work training program in order to get General Assistance. You may be asked to do work for a not-for-profit organization or a government agency in order to earn your General Assistance. If you are not able to work you may be excused from this work requirement. Again, you have the right to ask the Township to show you its written rules on the work requirement.

How much money can I get?

The amount of General Assistance you get depends on the township and if you are a single person or a family. If you are single, you should receive about $160 - $245 per month. Families receive more. In some Townships, you may get extra benefits if you have "special needs" like a diet requirement, transportation, basic telephone or daycare.  

General Assistance is a monthly benefit program. Some townships pay by check and others pay by voucher. Payment by voucher means that the money is paid directly to the person or business (like the landlord or utility company) giving you goods or services.  

The supervisor cannot stop your benefits or refuse to give you benefits because the Township has no more money, because you have been on assistance too long, or because the Township has a policy that General Assistance is only for emergencies.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Be sure to give correct information about your income when you fill out the General Assistance application. If your situation changes after you apply or while you are getting benefits it is very important to tell the Township about the change as soon as it happens. Some changes you should report include, if you move, get a job, or get married.

What medical assistance can I get from the Township?

General Assistance may also include medical assistance. The Township is allowed to give medical assistance for emergencies only. You can ask your Township Supervisor to show you the written rules saying what medical assistance the Township gives.

In the City of Chicago, General Assistance has ended and there is no General Assistance medical program. Cook County has a new medical assistance program called "County Care." If you live in Cook County but outside of the City of Chicago, you can also be eligible for County Care.

Funeral and Burial Expenses

If a person who is receiving General Assistance dies and does not leave enough money for his funeral and burial, the Township will assist with those costs. Many Townships will pay up to $1500.00 for these expenses.

What is Emergency Assistance?

Under Illinois law, a Township also may give "Emergency Assistance" in life-threatening situations or to help someone become self-sufficient. If you are getting monthly General Assistance from the Township you cannot also get Emergency Assistance. 

You can get Emergency Assistance only one time per year. This is important because some Townships have wrongly asked people to decide if they want Emergency Assistance or monthly General Assistance; other Townships have told people the Township only gives Emergency Assistance. All Townships must have some form of monthly General Assistance program and you have the right to apply for the monthly program. If the Township tells you that it only has an Emergency Assistance program, or that General Assistance is one time only, the Township is not following the law.

What is disaster assistance?

Townships may provide disaster assistance when the President has declared a disaster in your area. The Township can give assistance if:

  • You have suffered loss, damage or other hardship because of the disaster
  • You applied for help from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) or the SBA (Small Business Administration) but have not gotten a decision yet from FEMA or SBA  
  • Your home was damaged in a disaster and you are waiting for a decision from an insurance company  

If you receive this kind of assistance from your Township, you must agree to pay it back. If a Township gives disaster assistance, the Township should make it available even if you do not qualify for monthly General Assistance benefits. If you are receiving General Assistance and you receive disaster assistance, you should continue receiving his monthly General Assistance. You have the right to ask the Township to show you its rules for disaster assistance.

Veterans and families of deceased veterans

If you are a veteran who was honorably discharged, or a family member of a deceased veteran who was honorably discharged, you may qualify for benefits similar to those described in this article, through the Veterans Assistance Commission in your county.

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