by: Begley Law Group

by Thomas D. Begley, Jr., Esquire, CELA and Emily Schurr

            Frequently personal injury victims are seriously injured and completely unable to work, are seriously injured but are limited in the work they can perform or are simply personal injury victims who never could perform a high level of work.  There are a number of benefit programs that may be available to these individuals that are often overlooked. Personal injury victims often apply for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare, and Medicaid.  However, they often overlook Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP), and Federally Assisted Housing.  These programs provide different benefits and have different goals.  This article will highlight each program individually.

Federally Assisted Housing

            Federally Assisted Housing provides assistance with housing expenses for eligible individuals and households.  There is an income limitation of 50% to 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI).  AMI varies and is calculated on a regional basis, rather than a statewide basis.  It includes earned income received by family members aged 18 and over and unearned income from all family members including those under 18 years of age.  There are certain income exclusions. There are deductions for dependents and elderly or disabled family members.

Under the new HOTMA regulations affecting Federally Assisted Housing that were implemented in February 2023, the net family assets cannot exceed $100,000 (this amount will be annually adjusted for inflation).  In addition, the family cannot own real property not occupied by the family, unless the property does not meet accessibility/disability related needs.  Again, there are certain specified exclusions including items of personal property, retirement plans, and certain personal injury settlement recoveries.  There is a two-year lookback for transfers of assets.  This includes transfers to trusts but does not include a disposition of assets through foreclosure or bankruptcy.  The penalty is simply that the family would not be eligible for benefits for the two-year lookback period.  A Special Needs Trust would be required if the excess dollars are considered “net family assets,” but not if they fall within an exception, such as a personal injury settlement.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

This program, commonly called food stamps, provides a food voucher to qualified individuals.

  • Benefit Amount. The payment is based on income and household size.  SNAP benefits come on an electronic benefit card (EBC) that works like a debit card.  The amount of the benefit depends on the number of people in the household.

Household Size                       Maximum Possible Amount

  • $281
  • $516
  • $740
  • $939
  • Income Limit. The income limit for SNAP eligibility also depends on household size.

Household Size                       Maximum Allowable Income

  • $2,096
  • $2,823
  • $3,551
  • $4,279
  • Resource Limit. The maximum countable resources for the household is $2,750, unless one member is disabled or age 60+, which raises the resource limit to $4,250.
  • Transfer of Asset Penalty. The transfer of asset penalty is imposed with a lookback of three months.  The penalty ranges from one to twelve months depending on the amount transferred.
  • Self-Settled Special Needs Trust. A Special Needs Trust could be utilized in certain situations to maintain eligibility; however, the individual must be disabled and meet the other requirements for a Self-Settled Special Needs Trust.
  • Participants aged 16 to 60 must work unless disabled.

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

LIHEAP pays for home heating and medically necessary cooling costs.  The benefit is based on income and household size.  There is a related program known as New Jersey Weatherization Program.  Eligibility for LIHEAP is limited to households whose income is 60% of the New Jersey State Median Income Level.  For 2023, households are subject to the following income eligibility requirements:

Household Size                       Maximum Allowable Income

  • $3,464
  • $4,530
  • $5,596
  • $6,662

There is no resource limit and, therefore, no transfer of asset penalty.  A Special Needs Trust is not required.

Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP)

            LIHWAP provides assistance to low-income families with their water and sewer bills.  This is a temporary grant that provides forgiveness of overdue water and sewer balances.  The maximum benefit is $4,000.  Income eligibility requirements are based on household size and are the same as the income eligibility requirements for LIHEAP.  There is no resource limit, so no transfer of asset penalty, and no Special Needs Trust is required.