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Grants for Creative Individuals

Grants & Public Benefits Fact Sheet

Mass Cultural Council is proud to support artists, culture bearers, and creative practitioners with the Grants for Creative Individuals program. For people who receive income-based public benefits, grants like ours can bring up an important question: If I receive a monetary grant, will it impact my benefits?

The answer is that it could. The exact impact depends on your benefit program and its rules and guidelines. Is your benefit program limited by income? Is that income calculated monthly or annually? Does your benefit have a “cap” on how much you can have in your checking or savings account every month? Questions like these are crucial to understanding a grant’s potential effects.

Your best approach before applying for a Mass Cultural Council grant is to research the rules of your benefits program so you can plan for possible impacts. This fact sheet will offer some basic information and resources that can help guide you in that planning process.

General Things to Know

What are income-based public benefits?

Income-based public benefits are assistance programs offered by local, state, or federal governments. Examples include:

Income and Asset Limits

Many benefit programs have income limits. This means they are only available to individuals who have incomes that fall below a certain dollar amount. Programs vary when it comes to the type of income (household, individual, earned, and unearned income) they calculate, as well as when they do these calculations (monthly or yearly). Some benefit programs also have asset limits (also referred to as resources), which usually apply to the number of cars and properties an individual owns and how much money they have saved in a personal bank account.

Understanding these key differences is important in anticipating and planning for the impact of a grant. Individuals with increasing incomes and assets will likely experience an impact on benefits. However, the extent and the timing of the impact will depend on your benefit program’s income and/or asset limits, the type of income your program calculates, when these calculations are done, and if you qualify for any special help that can reduce or eliminate the impact on your benefits.

Ways to Help

Benefits Counseling

Mass Cultural Council has a partnership with Work Without Limits, an initiative of ForHealth Consulting at UMass Chan Medical School, to offer benefits counseling to our grant applicants and recipients. The Work Without Limits benefits counseling program specializes in assisting individuals to understand how earned income (e.g., from work) and unearned income (e.g., guaranteed income, grants) may affect eligibility for public benefits. Work Without Limits benefits counselors are trained and certified by the U.S. Social Security Administration and Virginia Commonwealth University. They have extensive knowledge of public benefit programs and in providing benefits counseling services to individuals and families. Work Without Limits benefits counseling services are free and confidential.

To get connected with these services, we recommend answering “Yes” to the “Benefits Counseling” question in the Grants to Creative Individuals application form. Once grant announcements are made, Work Without Limits will get in contact with grant recipients who opted for these services. To get counseling services even sooner, feel free to contact Work Without Limits directly.

As part of their services, Work Without Limits kindly asks that you complete their Referral Packet prior to meeting with a counselor over the phone or via Zoom. This document collects basic information about your income, public benefits, employment status, and living situation. And, if applicable, it also grants Work Without Limits permission to formally verify your benefits. By doing so, this ensures that the counselors provide you with the most accurate information possible regarding how the grant may impact your benefit situation. Essentially, the more the counselor knows about your situation, the more they can be of help.

If you need counseling before grant announcements are made or assistance with the Referral Packet, contact the Work Without Limits intake coordinator and they will gladly help you. Call them toll-free at 877-937-9675 (press option 1) or email.

ABLE/Attainable Savings Plan Accounts

An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account can be useful for grant recipients who were diagnosed with a disability prior to age 26. A common qualifier for an ABLE account is eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. ABLE is a tax-free savings account that allows eligible individuals with a disability to set aside funds that won’t count against income or asset limitations from programs like Supplemental Security Income and MassHealth/Medicaid. Those funds can then be put toward qualifying disability expenses without having to worry that your benefits will be negatively impacted.

In Massachusetts, the ABLE account is called the Attainable Savings Plan, which is managed by Fidelity Investments and overseen by the Massachusetts Educational Finance Authority (MEFA).

Special Needs Trust

Some individuals with disabilities have a legal arrangement called a special needs trust. A special needs trust is created by the individual or a family member/friend, and then is managed by a trustee. The trustee is responsible for safely administering the finances of the trust. Similar to the ABLE/Attainable Savings Plan, funds in a special needs trust do not count against public benefits’ asset caps.

Spending Plan

If your public benefits include asset caps, a Mass Cultural Council grant could present a unique challenge. What can you do when a sudden influx of funds pushes your bank account above your benefit’s asset limit?

Not everyone is eligible to open an ABLE/Attainable Savings account or special needs trust. However, a grant recipient can still meet their benefit’s asset cap by spending down their grant in the same month the grant is received.

This requires careful planning. But a spending plan can be crucial in preventing any disruptions to important benefits. Meeting with a benefits counselor such as those mentioned above can be instrumental in creating an effective spending plan.

In Conclusion

Mass Cultural Council is committed to reaching underserved communities. We hope the resources offered in this article will help public benefits recipients to better understand how a monetary grant might impact those benefits.

If you are interested in learning about current and future opportunities for creative individuals, please sign up for our Artist News e-newsletter.

Other Resources

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice or benefits counseling.

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