A Guide to Adult Services & Benefits in Massachusetts

Valerie Thibault

Valerie Thibault

About the Author

Valerie Thibault is a licensed independent social worker, school adjustment counselor, and transition specialist. Valerie has worked with transition-aged youth with disabilities in a therapeutic setting for many years. Valerie has supported both young adults and families in learning about, advocating for, and obtaining necessary services and benefits.


The transition from the education system to adult systems can seem overwhelming and complicated. The information below is designed to support individuals, families, caregivers, and providers in learning about various federal and Massachusetts state services and benefits that are offered for adults over 18 years old with disabilities. Those living outside of Massachusetts may also find this information valuable since many similar programs are offered in other states, though often under different names. Some things to keep in mind when applying for services and benefits are included for additional guidance at the end.

Adult Service Agencies

The three main adult service agencies that exist in Massachusetts are:

  • The Department of Developmental Services
  • The Department of Mental Health
  • The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission

The Department of Development Services (DDS) offers services to adults with diagnoses of Intellectual or Developmental Disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Prader-Willi Syndrome, and/or Smith Magenis Syndrome. The symptoms of the disability must substantially impact an individual’s functioning across life activities, such as communication, activities of daily living (ADLs), finances, and health and safety. Services from DDS can include case management, community-based day programming, 1:1 community support, residential services, and family support centers. Services offered can vary in scope depending on the needs of the individual. To receive services through DDS, a person will first complete the application, then submit it along with any relevant documentation to their local DDS office. Documentation should include any information that can verify the impact of the above-listed diagnoses creates challenges in the person’s daily functioning. An eligibility worker may reach out for more information and an interview. Then a decision will be made, and the individual will receive a letter stating whether or not they were found eligible for services, and any next steps.

For more information about the Department of Developmental Services, including how to apply, please visit:

The Department of Mental Health (DMH) offers services to adults that have serious and persistent mental illness that substantially impacts their functioning across life activities and contexts. Clinical criteria for DMH includes but is not limited to diagnoses of Schizophrenia and other Psychotic Disorders, Bipolar and Depressive Disorders, and Anxiety Disorders. DMH offers a range of services including case management, residential services, inpatient programs, outpatient services, respite programs, and day programming. Services offered can vary in intensity depending on the needs of the individual. To receive services through DMH, a person will first complete the application, then submit it along with any relevant documentation to their local DMH office. Documentation should include any information that can verify that the impact of their mental illness creates challenges in their daily functioning. An eligibility worker may reach out for more information and an interview. Thena decision will be made, and the individual will receive a letter stating whether or not they were found eligible for services, and any next steps.

For more information about the Department of Mental Health, including how to apply, please visit:

The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) offers an array of programs that can support people with physical, cognitive, intellectual, or mental health conditions with job training and employment, independent community living, and disability determination for federal benefit programs, such as Supplemental Security Income. The programs of MRC offer various supports across environments, including in the home, in the community, and at work sites. 

For more information about the programs of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, including how to apply, visit:

Something to keep in mind about adult services is thinking about the primary reason for an individual to require services. For example, if an individual’s symptoms of depression are the ones that mostly impede daily functioning, they would want to apply for DMH services; whereas if their challenges were mostly aligned with their Autism diagnosis, they would want to apply for DDS services. For some folks, the delineation of symptoms and impacts are not so cut and dry. People are able to apply to both DDS and DMH if they feel that their symptoms are too intertwined to determine what may be the “primary” reason to need more support. People can be found eligible for both DDS and DMH, and many people have been found eligible for both DDS and MRC or DMH and MRC.

Social Security

Social security benefits are federal benefits, which fall into two categories: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). A person is eligible for SSI benefits if they are considered to have a disability that will impact their access to income and resources through employment. A person is eligible for SSDI benefits based on their parents’ ability to work and their payment into Social Security. Eligibility for SSI benefits also ensures enrollment in MassHealth medical insurance. SSI and SSDI are financial benefits, meaning that a person will receive monthly payments to support them as they manage the financial responsibilities of adult life, such as paying for rent, bills, food, ADLs, and other necessities. These financial benefits can allow more flexibility in finding meaningful and appropriate employment opportunities. 

For more information about social security benefits, including how to apply, please visit:

For more information about MassHealth, including how to apply, please visit:

If a family member, caregiver, or other adult has concerns regarding an individual’s ability to manage their Social Security benefits, they may apply to be the individual’s representative payee (rep-payee). A rep-payee is responsible for managing the Social Security payments of the person in their care.

For more information about representative payees, please visit:

Guardianship

When an individual turns 18, they are legally considered an adult and become their own guardian. A family member, caregiver, or other adult can seek guardianship for an individual that is 18 or older if they have concerns over the individual’s ability to make safe decisions about their physical, medical, or legal needs. A person petitioning for guardianship of an individual must complete paperwork, gather supporting documentation from medical and mental health professionals, and appear in court. Guardianship is not one size fits all, and the type of guardianship a person has should be individualized to their needs. 

For more information on guardianship, including necessary paperwork and an outline of responsibilities, please visit:

Transportation

Cities and towns that have public transportation often have reduced fare options that riders with disabilities can apply for. For example, in the Boston area, the reduced fare option for individuals with disabilities is called a Transportation Access Pass (TAP) Charlie Card. This pass allows riders to use the existing public transit system at a lower cost per ride. More information about the TAP Charlie Card can be found here:

Individuals with disabilities that impact their ability to earn a driver’s license or get around using existing public transportation routes can apply for paratransit services in their area. Paratransit services have an application process and sometimes an interview process as well to determine a person’s eligibility. Paratransit services offer reduced fare rides that are often door-to-door, or at least more easily accessible than the public transportation system in the area may be. One example of a paratransit service in Massachusetts is the RIDE, which services 58 cities in the Greater Boston area. More information about the RIDE can be found here:

If a person is unsure if they have the ability to learn to drive, driving assessments can be completed to help make that determination. There are also some driving schools with specialized programs to teach people with disabilities how to drive. More information can be found here:

Housing

Individuals can apply for Section 8, the federal rental housing assistance program administered by the state/city, if their total gross income is under a certain limit, set forth by the government and determined by where the person is living. The Section 8 process involves applying for a housing voucher that will enable the individual to pay lower rent. Applications can be submitted to both Local Housing Authorities as well as Regional Administering Agencies. There are often long waitlists for Section 8 vouchers, so it is important to apply as soon as possible after a person turns 18 years old if their goal is to live in independent housing and they need financial assistance. 

For more information about Section 8 vouchers and how to apply, please visit:

Another housing option is pursuing a residential placement through DDS or DMH. This can include group living, supported housing, and pathways to independent living.

Additionally, there are several private pay supported-living programs that exist across the state. These options often include an application and screening process to ensure that the individual and the program are a good fit.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) offers monetary benefits for the purchase of food items. SNAP benefit eligibility is determined based on factors such as income of the individual or household, disability status, and age. The goal of SNAP is to give opportunities for people to buy and learn more about nutritious foods. SNAP also offers other benefits including nutrition classes, employment education and training opportunities, and other discounts and resources.

For more information, including how to apply, please visit:


Things to Keep in Mind
  • Processes take time. The sooner an application is submitted, the sooner eligibility can be determined, and the sooner services and/or benefits can begin.
  • Documentation is key! Make sure to thoroughly read what materials the application requires. This can include relevant evaluations, medical or psychiatric assessments, financial information, legal documents, and historical information. Submitting the required documentation with the application will help the agency better understand the needs and provide appropriate assistance.
  • Individuals can be found eligible for services by more than one adult agency, and agencies should work together with the individual and/or family to ensure they are providing necessary services. Similarly, individuals can be found eligible for multiple financial benefits if they meet the criteria. 
  • Be sure to inform the service or benefit agency of any relevant changes that may impact the application during the eligibility determination process. Update the agency of any relevant changes once you are receiving the services/benefits as well to ensure they are still appropriate.
  • If services or benefits are denied, or more information is requested, be prompt with following up. There are often instructions on when and how more information should be provided or how to file an appeal. If this deadline is missed, the application process must start over at the beginning.
  • Ask questions! If something does not make sense, contact the agency directly to ask questions and get support. 

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