AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Dylan Flynn, a survivor of a traumatic brain injury, lost the public benefits he needs, just because he was raising money for charity. The 35-year-old, of Aurora, lost his food stamps while working on a mission he started called “Pass the Bass,” which helps others also suffering from brain injuries.
“I got my first bass guitar when I was 15 years old, a few months later, I suffered a traumatic brain injury in an auto accident,” Flynn explained.
Flynn was expected to spend the rest of his life in a nursing home, but has instead grown up to live an independent life.
“Having exceeded the doctors’ expectations, I just feel responsible to do what I can to support others and fingers crossed, improve their lives,” Flynn said.
As part of the Pass the Bass mission, bassists from bands across the country play Flynn’s bass guitar, and Flynn makes “Pass the Bass” t-shirts to sell at local concerts. He then donates the proceeds from those sales to the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado.
In December, Flynn deposited $2,400 he made on a big sale. He was planning to keep $400 to make more t-shirts, and donate the other $2,000. But that deposit caused the Arapahoe County Human Services Department to revoke his benefits.
“I went to a local Safeway to buy groceries, only to find out that there was no money on my card,” Flynn said. “They told me because of that deposit, I lost my food assistance.”
Now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – or SNAP – benefits, Flynn, who is unemployed, relies on that money to eat every month.
He said he tried to clear up the misunderstanding by providing the human services department bank statements showing he donated the money. When that didn’t work, he even brought in a representative from the Brain Injury Alliance to vouch for him. But still, he SNAP benefits remained suspended.
“I’m being punished for helping people struggling with brain injuries,” Flynn said. “That seems like a very illogical punishment to me.”
So he turned to CBS4 Investigates. Just a day after the investigative team started inquiring about Flynn’s case, the Arapahoe County Human Services office called Flynn to let him know his food assistance was back on.
“Coincidental it was the next day, and I had been reaching out to them for weeks, two or three times having been told it would potentially be turned back on the next day…. and hadn’t gotten it again, so I would be willing to bet a kidney that there’s no chance that I would have gotten those calls if not for your assistance,” Flynn said.
In a statement, the Arapahoe County Human Services Department said, “there are a lot of rules that prevent us from discussing specific cases.”
Flynn said he hopes the situation he went through will serve as a warning to others who rely on public assistance.
In an age of online fundraising, Megan Brand, the Executive Director of the Colorado Fund for People with Disabilities, said cases like Flynn’s are becoming more common. Her organization works to help people fund raise through the proper channels, so their benefits are not jeopardized.
“Either fundraising for themselves, or fundraising for others, they have to really pay attention to how that might affect their benefits,” Brand explained.
While she emphasized she is not an attorney, and she cannot offer legal advice, Brand did provide some tips for folks looking to raise money for a cause.
“First they need to think about how they want to use the funds, are they going to be monies used for themselves? Or are they going to be monies for other people?” Brand explained.
If you’re raising money for yourself, Brand says it’s important to set up a trust for the money to be directed. She says you can set up a trust in two ways, either work with an attorney to create one, or go through a nonprofit, like the Colorado Fund for People with Disabilities, to utilize a pooled trust.
“The benefit of the pooled trust is that the master trust document has already been written and approved by both Social Security and Medicaid, so you could set up a trust rather quickly,” Brand said.
For example, Brand said her organization helped a client raise money to buy a handicap-accessible van. Because they used the pooled trust, the client was able to raise enough money to buy the van, without ever worrying about their public benefits being in jeopardy.
If you are raising money for a charity, Brand says it’s important to have the money routed directly to that cause, without ever touching your personal bank account.
And for cases like Flynn’s, it’s important to become registered as a nonprofit, something Flynn said he is looking into doing.
Finally, no matter what, Brand said it’s always critical to be up-front and transparent with your benefits office about your intentions to fund raise ahead of time.
“They are means tested programs and they are for a person’s benefit, but you have to meet certain eligibility criteria, so part of your role and responsibility in being a consumer of those services is you have to abide by the rules, and one of those is you have to report your income and your assets,” Brand said.
The Arapahoe County Human Services Department also said in a statement to CBS4, “Our programs are designed to ensure that our clients are connected to services that help get them on a path toward economic stability. We always appreciate hearing about how people we assist are being generous to others or to community organizations. Our Human Services department helps at-risk and low-income individuals by processing applications, verifying qualifications and delivering federally allocated funds. We are legally required to follow state and federal rules about these procedures. Whenever the circumstances of a particular case fall outside of these established policies, we seek guidance from the state to ensure that we are properly determining eligibility, and this vetting takes more time than standard processing. If someone in a similar position should encounter this issue, they should disclose their situation in full at the time of contact with our department.”
That’s something Flynn says he’ll keep in mind moving forward.
“One thing that really puts a smile on my face and makes me feel better is knowing I am helping other people,” Flynn said.
He said not only were his SNAP benefits reinstated, but he was also reimbursed for the last two months his benefits had been revoked. Because he said that’s more than he needed, Flynn said he plans to use that reimbursement to buy canned goods to donate to others who are in need of food.
If you would like to donate to Flynn’s Pass the Bass campaign, click here.
If you would like to buy a Pass the Bass t-shirt, you can click here, or you can buy one from Flynn in-person at a show at Cervantes Masterpiece, in Denver, on February 20 starting at 7 p.m.