Public Benefits are Key!: ABD and HEN – April 19th, 2023

Welcome to our latest ABD/HEN Training!

Welcome to our third training on ABD and HEN programs. In case you missed it, we got a thorough overview of program details and client advocacy advice from:

  • Hannah Rosenberger – Benefits Legal Assistance Program, Solid Ground
  • Teresa Dillard and Joseph Hardy – King County Housing and Essential Needs Program

Check out a recording of our training below!

What Is ABD?

The Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) program is a cash assistance program facilitated by DSHS. Benefits include a monthly cash disbursement of $417 for individuals or $528 for couples, assistance when applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, and an automatic referral to the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program – more on that later!

To be eligible for ABD, an applicant must be 65 or older, visually impaired or blind, OR have a physical or mental disability that prevents them from working full-time for at least 12 months. If qualifying as visually impaired or disabled, they must be at least 18 years old. Note that applicants are not eligible for ABD benefits if their disability or impairment is primarily related to substance use.

Additionally, the applicant must be a Washington resident and a U.S. citizen, with certain exceptions.

To be eligible, their income must not exceed $339 per month for one-person households or $428 per month for two-person households if income is unearned (from unemployment, Social Security, or other sources). If income is earned (wages from employment), it must not exceed $678 per month for one-person households, or $856 for two-person households. Additionally, they must have less than $6,000 in liquid resources, such as cash on hand or in checking/savings accounts

Applicants can work part-time or receive VA benefits and be eligible for ABD, as long as income doesn’t exceed limits. Not sure about eligibility? Visit to learn more.

The Application Process

To apply for ABD:

The application process requires a Financial Interview to confirm financial eligibility and a Social Worker Interview to record proof of disability.

Physical or mental disability can be proven by sharing medical records that documents diagnosis and how conditions impact a person’s ability to work. If the applicant lacks a formal diagnosis, DSHS will provide an evaluation or request one from an existing provider.

Linked are examples of the Physical Evaluation form and Mental Health Evaluation form.

A letter or support, as written by a provider or family member, can also be helpful in demonstrating disability.

When approved, the applicant can expect to receive ABD benefits for 24 months, after which their eligibility will be reviewed. During this time period, they are required to apply for SSI and may be required to participate in treatment for mental health concerns or substance use disorder.

Note that as long as they are applying for SSI, or in the process of appealing SSI denials, the applicant can receive ABD benefits. This may last several years, as the process can be drawn out due to high burden of proof and long processing times.

What to Do if Benefits Denied or Terminated

Unfortunately, not everyone is immediately approved for ABD benefits. Common reasons for denials include:

  • Medical evidence not received by DSHS within 45 days of submitting the application
  • Medical evidence is more than 90 days old and therefore “not current”
  • Assertions by DSHS that there is “failure to prove disability” or “lack of objective evidence”
  • Implicit bias on behalf of a DSHS Social Worker or others processing the application
  • Forms not completed completely or correctly

People can also obtain benefits and then be terminated due to perceived ineligibility by DSHS.

To avoid denial or termination of benefits, Benefits Legal Assistance (BLA) recommends the following:

While applying…

  • Designate an Authorized Representative if help is needed to submit medical records, coordinate with DSHS, or attend interviews
  • Request an Equal Access Plan if the applicant has impairments or limitations that could impact typical requirements for maintaining benefits

If already approved for benefits…

  • Request an Equal Access Plan if they have not done this already
  • Comply with any treatment requirements from DSHS
  • Report any changes to household size, income, or resources by the 10th day of the following month – not sure what to report? Contact DSHS at 1-877-501-2233 or BLA at 206-694-6743.

If benefits have been denied or terminated, you can appeal this decision via an administrative hearing within 90 days of notice.

You can contact:

  • DSHS at 877-501-2233 or
  • The Office of Administrative Hearings at 360-407-2700 or 800-583-8271

Note that if the applicant’s benefits were terminated, they can continue receiving benefits if you request a hearing within 10 days of receiving notice.

If you have appealed and have still not received benefits, you can reapply if the applicant’s situation has changed since the time of your last application – this may be due to a loss of income, change in household size, or many other factors!

Need help applying for ABD or facing denials? Contact the Solid Ground Ask a Lawyer program at and include “Ask a Lawyer” in the subject line.

What is HEN?

The Housing & Essential Needs Program (HEN) provides access to housing assistance and basic needs assistance for those who are unable to work due to disability. Unlike ABD, HEN is accessible to those disabled due to substance use.

To be eligible for HEN, a person must:

  • Be unable to work due to physical or mental disability and
  • Receive ABD benefits or have no income
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Not receive any other cash benefits, such as TANF, unemployment, or SSI (but can receive during SSI application process)

Catholic Community Services emphasizes that HEN benefits may not be sufficient for high-needs clients, such as clients who need intensive housing navigation support, due to limited staff and high program demand.

To access HEN benefits, the applicant must apply for ABD and receive a notice from DSHS that they are eligible for HEN, after which the applicant must contact Catholic Community Services to coordinate services at 206-328-5755, then visit the Phoenix Center at 2329 Rainier Ave S, Seattle 98144 for an intake appointment – operating hours are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursday, 10am-2pm.

Housing benefits includes $1000/month in rent and utility assistance, $1000 move-in assistance every two years, and one-time back rent assistance or back utility assistance. Note that housing benefits are not currently available to new clients due to limited funding, and will open up to new clients as current clients exit based on level of need.

Essential Needs benefits include an ORCA subsidized pass, a bag of cleaning and hygiene items available once per month, and light case management and program referrals. Despite limited access to housing benefits, these basic needs benefits are available to anyone who is HEN-eligible.

Questions? Email HENKC[at]ccsww[dot]org.