While some people are born with little or no vision, many others experience blindness as they age. To qualify for federal benefits as a blind individual, you must be legally blind. That means your vision is not correctable to at least 20/200 in your best eye, or you have a visual field of 20 degrees or less in the better eye. You might qualify for state benefits even if you're ineligible for federal benefits.
Social Security Programs
Blind or low vision individuals might qualify for one of two federal Social Security programs: Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you are visually impaired and working, you can earn up to $2,040 monthly and still qualify for Social Security disability as of 2019. Earnings limits change annually. Need-based SSI payments depend on your overall income, which varies according to the state. Previous Social Security contributions are not required to qualify for SSI.
Tax Benefits and Deductions
Visually impaired taxpayers are allowed a larger standard deduction on their federal income tax returns. In addition, you can deduct costs related to medical treatment for your vision loss, including Braille printers and the costs of Braille books and periodicals that exceed standard versions. You can also deduct the cost of your eyeglasses, examinations and any optical surgery, along with necessary modifications to your home to accommodate your condition. If you have a guide dog, the cost of his care – including trips to the vet – is deductible.
If you work, you can subtract expenses necessary for you to continue employment, whether you work for someone else or are self-employed. The Internal Revenue Service refers to these as impairment-related work expenses. Check with your state's department of taxation for state-related tax breaks for legally blind people.
State Blind Pensions
States have their own programs benefiting legally blind residents. For example, Missouri's Blind Pension program has been in existence since 1921. It provides monthly benefits for blind residents who don't qualify for SSI. In addition to a monthly cash grant, eligible blind residents also receive health care coverage.
To qualify, a visually impaired resident can't have personal property or real estate valued at more than $20,000, with the exception of a primary home. A visually impaired Missourian, with a sighted spouse who lives in the state and can provide support, can't qualify.
State Cash Grants
Washington provides eligible legally blind low-income residents with a monthly cash grant. For eligibility, residents can't qualify for SSI or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Illinois offers a similar monthly grant program, which allows visually impaired residents to meet their basic needs. To find out if your state offers a cash grant or pension program for qualifying blind residents, contact your state's agency for social and health services.
- Social Security Administration: If You Are Blind Or Have Low Vision—How We Can Help
- Turbo Tax: Tax Tips for the Blind
- California Department of Social Services: Handbook of Resources and Services for Persons Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services: Aged, Blind or Disabled Cash Assistance Program
- Illinois Legal Aid: Disabilities Guidebook: Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled Grant Program
A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt writes regularly for various legal blogs. Her work has appeared in LegalZoom, USA Today and many other publications.