You, someone you love, or someone you support has a Special Needs Trust (also known as a Supplemental Needs Trust or SNT) and you are interested in learning whether the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card could be helpful in your situation.
You want to know two things:
1) Can the True Link Protection Visa Card be a tool to allow spending without jeopardizing my (my loved one’s/the person I support’s) eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid or other similar benefits?; and
2) How do I set-up and manage the True Link Protection Visa Card in a way that allows spending by (my loved one/the person I support) without jeopardizing my/their eligibility for these benefits?
Important Disclaimer: This document is not intended to provide legal advice. Everyone’s situation is different, and each state and each benefits program is different; it is important to consult your legal representative to discuss your specific situation.
As you may already know, the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines eligibility for certain public benefits by referring to the POMS (Program and Operations Manual System used by the SSA). In other words, the SSA is responsible for determining if someone is eligible for benefits and sets forth the rules for obtaining those benefits in the POMS.
The POMS specifically mentions True Link, and the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card, as a tool, that when used correctly, can allow spending by the beneficiaries of a SNT without jeopardizing their eligibility for benefits
In 2018, SSA provided guidelines in the POMS for using the True Link system to make disbursements from SNTs in a manner that does not jeopardize their eligibility for their public benefits (See POMS SI 01120.201 I.1.e.). The True Link online dashboard simplifies managing disbursements and can customize the reloadable True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card to work only where and when appropriate.
According to the guidelines in the POMS, money loaded onto the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Cards managed by a trustee of a SNT and provided to beneficiaries, is not considered income, and the balance on the card is not a countable resource. This is important because once the SSA makes a disability determination, there are still two financial tests that the individual must meet to continue to receive benefits:
1) The income test: the individual must have income below the Federal Benefit Rate. (When done correctly, loading money onto the card and using those funds on the card is not considered income.)
2) The resource test: the individual cannot have countable resources above $2,000. (When done correctly, balances on the card are not a countable resource.)
Typically, with the True Link Protection Visa Card, the trustee is the account owner and manager, and the trust beneficiary is the cardholder. When set up this way, the balance on the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card should not be deemed a resource and a disbursement from the trust to a True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card is not considered income.
However, the rules regarding disbursements from a Special Needs trust still need to be followed. Meaning, at the time a purchase is made, the ordinary rules for disbursements from a SNT apply to the purchase so its use must conform to the income and resource rules in the POMS.:
If the beneficiary receives cash or another countable resource, its value is countable as unearned income which can reduce (or even eliminate) the amount of benefits received (but you, the administrator, can set up the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card, to prevent access to cash-see below for more information on tips for setting up the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card);
Note: To understand more about how unearned income-in this case-access to cash, reduces (or can eliminate) SSI benefits, please read the examples set forth in the Compliance Guide and consult with your attorney for advice on your specific situation.
If food or shelter items are purchased, their value counts as in-kind support and maintenance (ISM) up to the presumed maximum value (PMV) which can reduce the amount of benefits received (but you, the administrator, can block certain merchants. And, if the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card is used at places that sell food or shelter, such as Walmart, Target, and drugstores, receipts should be collected for all purchases so you have evidence that the items purchased are not non-allowable expenses-see below for more information on tips for setting up the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card).
Note: To understand more about how access to SNT funds can be deemed ISM and therefore reduce SSI benefits, please read the examples set forth in the Compliance Guide and consult with your attorney for advice on your specific situation.
The True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card is an administrator-managed prepaid card with controls that allow a trustee to exercise discretion over how it is used. This means that the trustee is the administrator who manages how and where the Visa Card works by setting up certain rules in the True Link’s system called the “Spending Monitor.” The Card can be set up to allow only approved purchases and block all purchases that are not authorized (through the system’s Spending Monitor) by the trustee. With these controls in place, trustees have an auditable way to manage trust disbursements in alignment with the POMS Guidelines.
With the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card, the trustee administrator transfers funds from the SNT to the Visa Card. The beneficiary cardholder only has access to the funds the trustee transfers to the Visa Card. Beneficiaries do not have the right, authority, or power to convert or sell the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card. Beneficiaries cannot load funds onto the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Cards or remove funds from the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card themselves. Administrators can remove funds from the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Cards and return them to trust source accounts at any time. Accordingly, this aligns with the statement in the POMS where the SSA suggests that the money that is loaded onto the Visa Card in this manner is then not counted as income or as a resource.
Then, disbursements from the Visa Card must still align with the distribution requirements of the SNT. The trustee administrator would do this by setting specific controls within the True Link Spending Monitor. The True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card can be customized via the True Link system according to the guidelines in the POMS such that the cardholder cannot use it to purchase food or shelter, access cash, including through an ATM, in a bank, or by cash back after a purchase. The beneficiary cardholders can then only make purchases in accordance with the settings established by the administrator via the True Link dashboard.
Make trust disbursements onto the True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card
Manage settings in the Spending Monitor
Make individual authorizations based on the trustee’s discretion
Block access to cash, purchases at specific stores, and entire categories of spending, such as grocery stores
Monitor spending habits and adjust The True Link Protection Visa Prepaid Card settings as needed
Receive text alerts about completed and blocked transactions (note: standard text message rates, fees, and charges may apply.)
Maintain an auditable record of restrictions and any purchases made
For additional and alternative tips on how to set up the True Link Spending Monitor to best suit your situation 1) review the Tool Kit; 2) Call Customer Service with specific questions; and 3) consult your SNT and potentially your attorney to ensure that the settings align with the disbursement requirements set forth in your trust.