Berge & Berge, LLP Blog

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mom Frozen Out of Public Benefits After Son’s Death

Can in-home supportive services caregivers collect unemployment benefits after their child dies?

Can in-home supportive services caregivers collect unemployment benefits after their child dies?

In an ideal world, no parent would have a terminally ill child or have to bury a child. It’s just not the natural order of life. Yet, life isn’t ideal--or even fair.

In California, a parent of a terminally ill child may not only apply for assistance through the federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits program, but may also seek state-based assistance by applying to be an In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Caregiver for their child. The latter designation allows the parent to stay home to care for their terminally ill child while earning minimum wage. IHSS Caregivers can also care for their spouses, other relatives, or even strangers.

What happens to these benefits when your child dies?

Both federal SSDI benefits and IHSS Caregiver benefits are terminated immediately upon the death. IHSS caregivers who care for people who are not their child or spouse are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits while they seek employment. However, those who were caregivers to their own child or spouse are not eligible for any unemployment benefits.

This inequity leaves the most emotionally devastated caregivers—those who are grieving the recent loss of a child or spouse-- suddenly without any income or means of support. This significant problem is exacerbated when caregivers have been out of the traditional workforce for an extended period of time and may have lost any meaningful work skills and network contacts which would help secure a new job.

A new bill, Assembly Bill 1930, unanimously passed the Assembly recently and is making its way through the Senate. It seeks to give IHSS caregivers of their spouses and children the same supports and benefits available to the IHSS caregivers of others.

The bill would help people like the single mother from Barstow who lost her son after a 9 ½ year battle with severe heart defects. The severity of the boy’s congenital condition, repeated heart attacks and strokes, and 50 surgeries, left him susceptible to illness and infection.

The inseparable duo lived a life of near constant isolation. The boy, who was Skype-schooled, had the cognitive ability of a two year old and loved Olaf the snowman from Frozen. Fans of the film won’t miss the irony of the life-long isolation of Princess Elsa and her famous heartfelt lyric “…a kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen”.

Right after his death, the mom lost her Social Security Disability benefits, IHSS caregiver benefits, and also the child support she’d been receiving for several years, leaving her grieving and in dire financial straits, ten years out of the workforce. The devastated mother—hugging the stuffed Olaf toy that holds her son’s ashes-- spoke of the difficulties of rejoining society and finding work quickly.

If you or someone you love is disabled, you may be entitled to receive government benefits and assistance and should consult an experienced disability law attorney. If you sought benefits and were denied, an attorney may be able to help appeal the denial.

The California attorneys at the Law Offices of Berge & Berge are committed to assisting clients in obtaining valuable public benefits, including but not limited to SSDI benefits, Veterans benefits, and MediCal benefits.  A public benefit is a type of government assistance given to individuals who meet certain eligibility criteria and may include, among other things, medical coverage or monetary compensation.  

The Law Offices of Berge & Berge in San Jose, California, is a South Bay estate planning and public benefits law firm. Our attorneys are knowledgeable in what is required to qualify for many of the widely used public benefits offered by the State of California and the federal government. If you are in need of or have a question regarding eligibility for public benefits, contact The Law Offices of Berge & Berge today at (408) 985-9918 or online here.

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