Help for People Unable to Work: ABD, MCS and HEN

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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Does this apply to me?

Yes, if you

  • Are an adult with no children

  • Have very low income and resources and

  • Are unable to work due to disability.

These Washington state programs might be able to help you:

  • ABD (for adults likely to meet SSI disability standards)

  • MCS, sometimes with HEN (for adults with disabilities not meeting SSI standards)

ABD and MCS replace state programs that ended in November 2011:

    • Disability Lifeline

    • General Assistance (GA)

    • GAU/GAX

  • You can still get cash assistance if you are eligible for ABD. If you are not, you may qualify for MCS (Medical Care Services) and HEN (Housing and Essential Needs).

What is ABD?

ABD (Aged Blind Disabled) gives cash benefits. In 2012, a single person gets up to $197 per month. ABD also gives Medicaid benefits.

You are eligible for ABD if you have income and resources below the allowed levels and you are:

  • 65 or older or

  • Blind or

  • Likely to meet the SSI disability standard, basically that your condition prevents any type of full-time work for at least 12 months.

What is MCS?

MCS covers health care services, similar to Medicaid. MCS has different mental health coverage (sometimes less). It also has more limited coverage for long-term care services and support for people living at home instead of in health care facilities.

MCS does not give monthly cash benefits. But if you get MCS, you may also be able to get HEN. HEN can pay for housing costs and give you other "essential needs" items described below. In many counties, the amount of HEN assistance for housing is higher than the cash assistance ABD pays.

Can I get MCS?

Yes, if:

  • you are "incapacitated" and unable to work and

  • you have income and resources below the allowed levels.

It may be easier for you to meet the MCS standard for "incapacity" than ABD's "likely disabled" standard.

How do I apply for ABD or MCS?

You apply with DSHS. DSHS considers your eligibility for both ABD and MCS at the same time. If DSHS decides your medical evidence is not enough to meet the ABD standard, you may be eligible for MCS.

DSHS requires you to provide recent medical evidence about your physical and/or mental health conditions. If you need help getting or paying for medical records or exams, DSHS must help you.

If DSHS decides you are "likely disabled" enough to get SSI, you will get ABD. You cannot get HEN if you get ABD benefits.

What if DSHS denies ABD or both ABD and MCS?

You can appeal. If you are denied both, you can decide whether to appeal just the MCS denial or the denial of both ABD and MCS.

I am getting MCS. Can I get HEN?

If you get MCS, you can apply for HEN. HEN gives get help with housing costs only if you are homeless or at risk of homelessness. HEN also may give Otherwise you may get free "essential needs" like personal hygiene, household cleaning products, or transportation assistance.

When you apply for HEN, you might need proof you are homeless or at risk of being homeless. You may also have to prove additional risk factors. This could include:

  • eviction or foreclosure notice

  • you live in condemned housing

  • you were homeless within the past twelve months (letter from a shelter or other temporary housing)

You cannot get HEN if you already get:

  • PW (Pregnant Women Assistance)

  • ADATSA (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment and Support Act)

  • ABD

    • You do not need to become homeless to get HEN assistance.

How do I show "substantial risk" of homelessness if I am staying with family or friends?

The people you stay with can sign a statement or form saying you can no longer stay there unless you pay rent or utilities. Your local HEN provider has a "certification of potential eviction" form you can use.

What help can I get from HEN?

Housing & Utilities assistance: The local HEN agency will pay rent and/or utility assistance directly to a landlord or utility company on your behalf. In some counties HEN will pay back rent or utility bills or move-in deposits. A HEN provider may also pay other costs, such as application or screening fees, or storage costs.

Personal essential needs items: You might also get

  • Personal health and hygiene items (toothpaste, shampoo, toilet paper)

  • Household cleaning supplies (laundry and dish soap)

  • Bus passes, other transportation costs (limited)

    • HEN does not give retailer gift cards, vouchers or certificates to buy these things.

How much help can I get from HEN?

Housing assistance varies by county. The average is about $300 per month. Some areas may pay rent as high as $800 per month.

The local agency in charge of HEN decides how much housing assistance you will get. The agency does not give you the money. It is paid directly to your landlord, people you live with, and/or the utility company. HEN does not give housing vouchers like housing authorities do.

Where can I get more information about HEN?

Check these websites:

Where do I apply for HEN assistance?

You must apply for MCS through DSHS first. If you get MCS, DSHS should refer you to your local HEN provider. (DSHS is not a HEN provider.) See the HEN Directory for the HEN provider nearest you.

If I apply and am denied HEN, can I appeal?

Yes, but your rights are more limited than for help you get from DSHS. The agency where you apply has rules about when and why they can deny or end your assistance. These rules explain how to ask for a grievance and how that meeting will go. Look for rules about:

  • Termination of Participation and Grievance (when the agency ends your assistance)

  • Applicant Denial and Grievance (when the agency will not give you HEN assistance)

Rules vary by county. You are not entitled to get HEN assistance. HEN is not an entitlement program. This means that tThe agency can decide how much you get for how long. And iIf state funding for HEN runs out, there is no right to continuing benefits or assistance.

The state legislature has authorized the HEN program through June 2013 and may extend it.

What happens to my HEN if I lose MCS?

You will lose HEN when your MCS ends. MCS will end if you get ABD or SSI benefits.

HEN providers can keep paying for your housing for up to three months after you lose MCS. Each county makes a decision about whether to do this.

What if I need legal help?

CLEAR is Washington's free intake, advice and referral service for low-income people who need help with civil (non-criminal) legal problems. 

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:10 a.m. until 12:25 p.m. CLEAR provides free interpreters as needed. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call 1-888-201-1014, TTY or Video relay.

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider weekdays from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200 or 1-877-211-WASH (9274) (free, including from pay phones). 211 provides free interpreters as needed. Deaf and hearing-impaired callers can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 for a free relay operator. You can also find information on 211's website: www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.


This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of the date of its printing, November 2012.

© 2012 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)