How to Fundraise Without Losing Your Benefits

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Art by Robin Mead and Elizabeth D’Angelo.

Many people with chronic illnesses start online fundraising to help pay medical or life expenses through sites like YouCaring and GoFundMe.

Ironically, this type of fundraising can cause you to lose your Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, Medicare Savings Programs, utilities assistance, or subsidized housing.

Luckily, there are safe ways to fundraise or receive gifts.

What are the fundraising rules? 

🌷SSI – Below are the rules for SSI.

🌷 SSDI – SSDI is totally different than SSI. There are no financial restrictions around gifts or fundraising for SSDI. Someone can give you a yacht and it will not matter. How to Tell What You’re On

🌷 Medicaid, Medi-cal and Food Stamps – The rules vary by state and program, so we can’t give specific information. However, we can say that the rules below are quite similar to most medicaid and food stamps programs.

🌷 Section 8 and HUD Housing – HUD is different than most other programs when it comes to gifts. Some of the rules below will be different for HUD: Gift Rules for HUD Housing

Safe Way to Fundraise # 1 – HelpHopeLive

HelpHopeLives is an online fundraising site for medical expenses. They do not give you any money. Instead, they collect money for you and pay your medical bills directly. Extra bonus: Donations are also tax deductible. Your friends or family can donate and get a tax deduction. Since no funds go to you it will not impact SSI or most benefits programs. Depending on frequency of payments, it could impact HUD.

Safe Way to Fundraise # 2 – UGift

If you have an ABLE account, this site will allow you to collect donations directly into your ABLE Account without affecting your SSI, Medicaid, Food Stamps or Housing Assistance. ABLE accounts are for people who first became disabled before the age of 26. You do not have to be on disability. UGiftAble. Since no funds go directly to you, it will not impact SSI, SNAP, HUD or many other benefits.

Safe Way to Fundraise # 3 – Gifts

Social Security regulations will allow you to accept certain gifts without affecting your SSI. In most cases, any gift that is not a “resource” will not affect your check. Examples of things that do not count as resources: clothes, books, computer, furniture, household items, appliances, and medical supplies. Learn more about What Counts as a Resource for SSI? and about the SSI Gift Policies. One exception to this policy is food. Regular gifts of groceries or food can cause SSI to be lowered.

🌷No Problem: Johns’ grandmother gives him a winter coat.

🌷Possible Problem: John’s grandmother gives him money to buy a winter coat.

Safe Way to Fundraise # 4 – Paying Bills

Please note: This section applies to SSI only. Other benefit programs may have different rules.

Social Security regs will also allow someone to directly pay your bills. Sometimes! It depends which bills they are paying and how they are getting paid. Check out: SSI Bill Payment Rules. One exception to this policy is food, rent, mortgage or utilities. Someone else paying these bills can cause SSI to be lowered.

🌷No Problem: Joe’s grandmother pays his car insurance and phone bill.

🌷Possible Problem: Joe’s grandmother pays his rent.

🌷Possible Problem: Joe’s grandmother gives him money to pay his car insurance.

Safe Way To Fundraise # 5 – Government & Nonprofit Programs

Many government and nonprofit programs offer assistance with medical expenses and living expenses. In most cases, this type of assistance will not affect your SSI. Programs that reimburse your expenses also will not count.

Safe Way To Fundraise # 6 – Housing Assistance

One of the biggest ways that people on SSI survive financially is through government programs that subsidize rent, such as Section 8. This will not impact your SSI check, and may have a huge impact on your ability to take care of yourself. If you think Section 8 is not available or not possible or not nice, think again: Section 8 Guide for the Disabled and Plucky

Safe Way To Fundraise # 7 – Loans

Loans from friends or family do not count as income for most benefit programs. However, if you save the money instead of spending it, it will start to count as a resource. Loans must be properly documented with a valid loan agreement. (in most cases, contract would need to be signed before the money is given to you). Loans from Friends and Family.

Safe Way To Fundraise #8 – Trusts & ABLE Accounts

ABLE accounts are excluded from Food Stamps, SSI, Medicaid and HUD Housing. Most special needs trusts are also excluded. Friends or family can deposit funds into a Special Needs Trust or ABLE account for you. Please be careful: if the money goes to you first it will count as income. Important: Check must be written and deposited directly to the trust or ABLE account. ABLE accounts are only excluded for gifts. Income from employment will still count.

🌷 No problem: Suzie’s grandmother writes a check for $1,000 to Suzie’s ABLE account

🌷 Big problem: Suzie’s grandmother writes a check for $1,000 to Suzie. Suzie cashes the check and then writes another check to put the money into her ABLE account.

Safe Way to Fundraise # 9 – Fundraisers Run By Other People?

What happens if a friend or family member sets up a fundraiser, collects the money, and then pays for something for you? Social Security does not have clear specific rules about how this is handled.

If any money is given directly to you, or your social security number or bank account are attached to the fundraiser, obviously this is all going to be treated as income to you.

If someone else collects funds and uses this to directly pay your rent, mortgage, food or utilities, SSI will treat this as “in kind support and maintenance” and lower your check for the months when this happens.

If someone collects funds and pays other bills without ever giving money to you, according to these SSI rulesthis should not be treated by Social Security as income. However, the rules do not specifically address fundraising, so it is not 100% clear.

Safe Way To Fundraise #10 – More Types of Income

There are a number of other ways that someone can receive help and assistance that does not affect SSI. For example, PASS plans, school financial aid (in some cases, even if the financial aid is used for other life expenses), and work incentive programs. Please see: How You Can (and can’t) Make Money While on SSI


Learn More

How to Survive on SSI

How Will Income Affect My SSI Check?

How to Be Poor in America

Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working.

43 thoughts on “How to Fundraise Without Losing Your Benefits”

  1. What if I were to install a “Donate” button on a blog I run & the donation money was sent as a “Gift” into my Paypal account? Would that affect my SSI if I didn’t transfer the money into my bank account & the total received was under a very low amount, like $100 a year? If so, how much would I expect to lose from SSI? Should I contact them & let them know about the donations at the end of the year or something?

    (In no way does this blogging constitute a full or even part-time job…it’s a minimal hobby at best. So I don’t want to do the donation thing if it’s going to make me lose my hard-earned benefits).

    Thanks!

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    1. I don’t know if this is considered earned or unearned income. earned income $65/month is excluded. unearned income $20/month. The yearly total doesn’t matter, it’s done by month.

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      1. Hi there, You would need to know what the allowable liquid assets are for your particular state. Medicade, food stamps and SSI, which is federal. You can get $65 with SSI and that will not hurt that. Foodstamps might be a different story.

        >

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          1. There are something called able savings accounts, which allows people on SSI, medicade and other forms of public assistance to acumulate cash funds without penalty. However, those able savings accounts have certain guidelines which must be followed. This is a way liquid assets can be accumulated for things specifically for a disabled person. I wish I could tell you more… You will need to do research on the Internet. blusword

            >

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  2. I want to really encourage people to look into the Special Needs Trusts. Sleepy Girl, maybe it is time to pull this topic out and shine a light on it. Nolo has a great book to guide you through setting it up without a lawyer. It does not have to be started with a large amount of money. Just the minimum deposit for whatever bank you are going to use. And then it can wait, more-or-less inactive, until there is a life insurance payout or an inherited asset or any type of gift from a friend or relative. It is really very flexible. The overview here is more detailed than the link above: https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/special-needs-trusts

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  3. Hello there,
    Great discovery. Will share with others. Now onto my question.
    I have SSDI, medicare, medicade, snap and hud. My question is this, If I get a 3rd party to fund raise for a second sleep apnea mouth device and give the funds for the device and office visits will that be alright. I would make sure the 3rd party knows not to give me any cash.
    I do not have enough resorces to have an ableaccount or trust special needs or other type of trust. Thanks.

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    1. ABLE accounts are free to set up and I believe you can open one with $1. If you first became disabled before age 26.

      If not in an ABLE account…

      For HUD, it depends on frequency. A one time or sporadic payment or won’t impact, but ongoing office visits may be counted as income.

      Medicaid rules vary by state, and I am not sure for SNAP. It would be good to check with your case worker. Typically, programs do not count funds that go directly to a vendor (doctor, etc).

      Hope this helps.

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  4. I’m on ssi, the income-based version. I started a fundraiser for my best friend who’s dying from cancer. Someone told me that because I was the organizer, that it could affect my benefits. The money isn’t even for me but just going through my account to send to him. Should I be worried? Do I need to inform them of the fundraiser? It’s an active fundraiser and money is still coming in. Since this isn’t for me, I didn’t even think that it could affect my benefits.

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  5. I was born legally blind, I get SSI and recently started getting some other SS because my mom is now on disability. I believe it was called a child benefit. I now get the same amount as I was getting from just SSI but its now two checks. Yesterday the trike I custom built and used to get groceries was stolen. From reading the info and links here it looks like I can Gofundme a replacement without it effecting either check but I was hoping for some confirmation before I make the attempt. Also would I have to prove the value of the stolen bike and if so would it be based on what I payed or current value of the parts if I can even find them?

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    1. Sorry to hear this happened.

      SSI does have a rule that they don’t count money received for replacement of stolen, lost or damaged items… but it usually applies to insurance reimbursements. I have never seen anyone attempt to use this for funds personally raised, and I’m not sure how it would be handled.

      In general, a go fund me account where the money goes directly to you won’t impact the SSDI part of your check, but might impact SSI and medicaid.

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      1. This is the same conclusion I came to yesterday when I posted the message. Today as I started to write this reply I wondered if it would count as a hobby material listed under personal effects. I then decided to double check the Personal Effects list and I am pretty sure it would count as a recreational item. It was also my main self transportation so it may count as a vehicle to. Also before I remembered I had this page bookmarked and tried finding it again I came across a mention that on some sites you can set it up to go strait to the merchant so that is what I’me off to look for more info on now.

        Also Thanks to everyone involved in creating this site it probably would have taken weeks for me to get this far without it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you. Hope it goes great for you. Yes, anyone who wants to just buy you a bike part and give it to you (instead of giving you money) would not be a problem 🙂 I do hope you will get your bike back soon.

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  6. I live in Wisconsin. In July I had a kitchen grease fire. I was told to throw out all food, glass, plastic, and anything I would put in or on my body. I don’t have an income to speak of, no renters insurance. Soot damage was throughout the apartment. The restoration company said they would work to get us back in our apartment by the end of the next month. Due to a long wait on building permits and the restoration company picking up other jobs it has now been four months of my belongings being covered in soot. I am on housing, food stamps, and medicaid, will need to apply for energy assistance when I get back in my apartment. I will also be filling for SSI as my medical insurance has suggested. I was originally advised to get rid of everything once the extent of the damage was realized. I was going to go through everything and clean what I could and get rid of the rest. I will be back in my apartment mid November. With how long our stuff has sat in soot, I am only going to be able to keep precious little. It is no doubt unquestionably toxic by now. I had just decided to set up a GoFundMe to start from scratch. Do you know if that would be a problem considering our circumstances. Since I could not afford storage my belongings are being stored for free at the restoration company. We have snow on the ground, and my nieces and I( I am their guardian) are still wearing a small mix of summer & fall clothes & thin hoodies. We have not had October snow in years. I’m at a loss as to what to do.

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    1. My apologies for the delay in response.

      Sorry to hear all you have been through. The rules for fundraising are going to be the same regardless of circumstances, if it is funding going to directly to you it will count as income. I hope you have found a way to get help. 🏵️ 🌼💛 

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  7. re: 1) working with a pooled SNT, 2) age 26 defined forABLE

    What a great update on this section!!! Last December I found a pooled (necessary, no fiduciary) special needs trust I wish join. It is the only regional option without an annual, ongoing percentage-of-assets fee, at least not disclosed on the Web site. However, I when I contacted them, they were less than welcoming and insisted I “run it by a lawyer,” and the money “must be free and clear of anything.” When I emailed back, in response to the executive director’s email, asking for further explanation, neither brief clarifying question was acknowledged. How do we work this out when she won’t speak with me? I was not rude but well informed.

    When I expressed my frustration and sought advice from a disability rights organization, they recommended ABLE because it was so much more user-friendly. For ABLE, how is “before age 26” defined. I had my first symptoms in August 1994, was dismissed and incorrectly diagnosed by three doctors, including one specialist, and then I called a university hospital, and they were interested. I was seen, and it was one test a month until I received my diagnosis in April 1995. I just ran a date calculator, and I was age 25 years, 8 months at the time of first symptoms, and 26, 3 months when diagnosed, and age 29 and 10 months when Medicare Part A was awarded retroactively, and age 31, 3 months when I was notified my disability claim finally passed via receipt of a direct deposit of over $32,000 in back benefits .I nearly fainted. I called the bank to confirm and remember shaking. The letter from SSA came later. 

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    1. In my understanding, you might need a doctor’s letter or some kind of medical records to confirm the age before 26, even if SSA date is later.

      I am not certain exactly what type of verification they require, you might check with the agency administering the ABLE account.

      I hope it goes great for you.

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  8. I’m on section 8 I’ve recently been fundraising for my daughter to get to dance camp so I’ve been depositing weekly donations into my bank account. Section 8 has noticed my income is $2000 over what it usually is and want me to explain it. How will these donations affect my section 8?

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    1. Hi Jeromy,

      Section 8 does not count one time or sporadic income. However, if you’ve been receiving it weekly, they may count it.

      If this has only been going on for a short amount of time, you could show them that this income was temporary and sporadic, and see if they might be willing to exclude it on that basis.

      If not, I am not certain what would happen. It may raise your rent payment for the months when money was collected, but I assume it will go back down once the fundraiser ends.

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  9. I am on disability & my vans transmission is going out, i don’t receive enough money to get it fixed, i am stranded. Can i get a gofundme account to raise the monies to fix my vehicle without getting in trouble? I need my van to get groceries & go to doctors appointments, i would hope it would be okay, thanks.

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  10. Regarding fundraising and SSDI, if I fund-raised for myself, is it unearned income? Is it federally taxed? Is it unearned income that counts against the Protected Income Level (Medicaid Buy-In in my state uses a two-tiered test, net 250% FPL AND one based on the PIL.) Does directing fundraising payments to a special needs trust protect me from my Medicaid eligibility concerns, particularly regarding unearned income and the PIL?

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    1. I don’t know a lot about taxes, but I assume it would be unearned income… unless you have established yourself as a small business/self-employed and are offering some kind of gift or service to people who donate.

      As far as I know, work/earned income cannot be excluded as income, even if deposited into a trust.

      Gifts/unearned income might be excluded as income, but I believe this would only happen if the gifts are made directly into the trust (by the person donating, or by the person running the fundraiser). If you collect the donations and then put it into the trust, I believe it will count as income to you.

      Please check with a medicaid planner or special needs planning lawyer to double check 🙂

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    2. We need a Transit that is wheelchair accessible for my disabled son. He is on SSI and Medicaid, how can we raise money for this vehicle without losing his benefits? I currently tote him to transfer him in and out of our van. Our current van can not be modified because there are 7 people in our family.

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      1. You can ask for people to donate directly into an ABLE account – or one of the links above is a fundraising site that collects donations and puts them in ABLE for you.

        IMPORTANT: the money cannot go to your bank account, you cannot put it in the able account yourself. It must go into the ABLE account directly. Hope this helps.

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  11. This may help me but I don’t know yet if its what i was looking for. My dad just passed away so moneys real tight since we won’t have that check anymore and mum will have to find work. Problem is i really need a new mattress, mine’s all out of shape and not at all as comfy as it used to be….

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    1. I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to this. I’m also not certain if the donations would be excluded in this case. Trust often cost a few thousand dollars to set up so depending on how much money you plan to read you may or may not find that worth it. It might be a good idea to consult with a special-needs planning lawyer Who specializes in trusts.

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    1. For HUD it will probably depend if your cousin receive funds all at once or repeatedly over time. They do not count one time lump sum gifts.

      For SNAP you would need to check the rules in your state. It might depend if you are giving your cousin money or paying for something directly (like a medical bill).

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  12. If a person has recently filed for disability, can they have a go fund me page to help with medical bills and living expenses without getting denied?

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    1. Question: If a 60 year old owe’s back disability from 15 years ago, and they have been diagnosed with an automatically approved disability NOW… what happens with the back disability owed if they begin disability? Also, if they are currently employed but declared disabled … what happens with insurance? What are the options (Texas)?

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      1. As far as I know, there wouldn’t be any impact on the application and approval process. But it is possible that after approval your check might be lowered so they can start collecting the money that is owed.

        If you are a very low income, it is possible To apply for an overpayment waiver.

        I really don’t know how to answer the question about insurance, as it probably depends what type of insurance you are on and how you are currently getting that insurance.

        If you are currently employed, depending on the amount you were earning you may or may not be eligible to apply. I hope this is helpful.

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  13. Are you familiar with patient assistance programs? I know people with very serious illnesses can get help with medical expenses (medications, equipment, etc.), typically because their care is so expensive and beyond what insurance covers. I think some of them may pay directly on patients’ behalf but others require you to pay up front and then get a reimbursement later.

    I’m looking into getting some assistance programs for myself. I would be careful to keep records of amounts spent and reimbursed. However I’m concerned if any money comes into my hands in the form of a reimbursement it could count as “In Kind Support and Maintenance” and my SSI check gets reduced. Are you aware of any exceptions for receiving money in this case?

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    1. Found it.

      My understanding from this page is that a reimbursement from a nonprofit would not count as income. Also, a reimbursement for medical expenses would not count as income.

      You would still need to be under the resource limit by the last day of the month, so if you got a large reimbursement all at once that would be something to keep an eye on. Hope this helps.

      https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/416/416-1103.htm

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  14. OMG! I did a GoFundMe for my dog that was dying and raised $690.00!! I had no clue this would cause problems as a donation for medical. Ugghhh I’ve been on SSI ten years! I’m worried.

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  15. This blog is gorgeous! The colors are happy and uplifting, for me anyway. And the way you make bland, mind-numbing information like SS and SSI simple to understand is as close to being a joy to read ad possible. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

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