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GoFundMe money can affect Medicaid, SSI benefits

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Villanueva, center, before Feb. 5. - COURTESY GOFUNDME
  • Courtesy GoFundMe
  • Villanueva, center, before Feb. 5.
GoFundMe, the online site that says it’s raised more than $5 billion since its 2010 launch, can be a godsend for people in a financial jam due to illness or another unpredictable event.

That was true for Thomas Villanueva, 28, a civilian shot as the bullets flew when cops attempted to arrest an auto theft suspect on Feb. 5 at Murray Boulevard and Galley Road.

A GoFundMe account was set up with a goal of $50,000; it raised $29,847 from 466 people. But the account was shut down, because Villanueva, who’s now paralyzed from the chest down, needs Medicaid benefits, and he couldn’t qualify for the program if he took all the donated money at once.

That’s because Medicaid allows recipients to have no more than $2,000 in assets at any given time. Villanueva can’t afford to lose Medicaid, which pays at least $1,400 a month for his home health care, he tells the Independent via Facebook Messenger.

To avoid losing coverage, Villanueva placed the GoFundMe money into a trust account, which he can legally access over time, but only for medical needs. Marc Williams, with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, explains via email that eligibility determinations are based on whether the person applying for Medicaid can access trusts or GoFundMe accounts. “If they can,” he says, “then whatever dollar amount the applicant can access is taken into consideration when determining their eligibility.”

So it’s important that Villanueva not tap the account for large amounts that would jeopardize his Medicaid benefit.

“The bottom line gets back to who Medicaid is designed to help — lower income individuals,” Williams says, noting if there’s no constraint on how much can be drawn from a trust account, that defeats Medicaid’s purpose.

As for Social Security, if a person receives retirement, disability, spousal or survivor benefits, no worries — GoFundMe money won’t affect those benefits, says Josh Weller, Social Security Administration spokesperson in Denver. But those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, which provides cash for food, clothing and shelter for the elderly, blind and disabled people with little or no income, GoFundMe proceeds must be reported. That money, Weller says, “may affect the monthly SSI rate for that individual.”

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