Are people with severe disabilities treated like second class citizens? Absolutely!
The federal government has been offering financial support to people with permanent disabilities since 1956 (called SSI since 1974). The goal is to make sure people who are permanently disabled and not able to work full time receive the financial benefits needed to live even just a basic life.
The federal benefit level is $674 dollars a month (California adds an additional $171, for a total of $845 for CA residents). This is meant to pay for everything; rent , food, transportation, utilities, clothing, medication co-payments, etc. If you want to get a job to increase your income you then have to deal with a complicated set of rules that end up with you loosing both your benefits and health insurance. You end up being punished for wanting to work.
Currently the federal government says that for an American citizen to live a basic life they must have an income of roughly $1,160 a month. California says it must be roughly $1,280 and month. And San Francisco says it must be roughly $1,638 a month.
I live in San Francisco. My income is limited to half of what the City says is needed just to live in the worst neighborhoods and eat rotten food. Is this fair?
SSI is not Welfare. We are incapable of holding down full time employment. And most of those on SSI live with severe developmental disabilities. And many of us want to work and give back to society. I personally donate many dozens of hours a month. I feel productive and I know that I am giving back to my community. But if someone wanted to pay me for my work I would have to say no. My medical insurance is vital to my survival. If I get paid for my work I loose my insurance. I would physically deteriorate and end up in a nursing home rotting away for the rest of my life (and I’m only 37).
And there is more:
If you are in SSI you do not automatically qualify for housing assistance. In California you do not get Food Stamps. And you do not automatically qualify for assistance with transportation or other basic needs of life.
Now, I have been attending a University for the past 5 years. The federal government has a cap on how much an individual can receive in federal grants and loans. I have reached the cap. There is no extra assistance for people on SSI. And there are no private loans or scholarships for people with disabilities. If I were a part of any other minority group I would easily be able to continue my education. But because I am disabled there is no assistance for me. No one cares how hard I have had to work to be where I am. No one wants to hear it. And even if I did qualify for other scholarships my age would be an automatic denial since I’m in an undergraduate program.
You are not on SSI because of your attitude or level of education. You are not on SSI because of your race or gender. You are on SSI because in 1956 Congress felt that you needed assistance to survive. And in the 1970s President Nixon felt you deserved a streamlined system that was less confusing and offered you more benefits.
How is any of this fair? There are changes that need to be made:
1) I truly believe SSI should solely be for those who have been disabled since before the age of 18 (or those born with genetic conditions that cause disability later in life).
2) Make SSI a permanent program with no reevaluations.
3) Raise the base rate to match the minimum wage of where the recipient lives.
4) Create a new housing program that subsidizes rents for people on SSI and that limits the ability for landlords to say no. At the same time give the landlords a greater ability to evict tenants who cause problems. And have no cap on the cost of rent that is to be subsidized.
5) Create a 2nd housing program that encourages financial institutions, developers, and private home owners to donate their housing/units to people on SSI. This will create permanent homeownership and increase the number of rental units available for others. There would be a cap on the cost of the property and the building would have to meet building code requirements and repairs would have to be designed to last at least 15 years. The program would also be limited to people aged 35 or older. And only be for those who are intellectually capable of taking care of their own housing.
6) Create a new section of Medicare that covers all medical costs for people on SSI. Funding would come from a transfer of federal Medicaid dollars (people on SSI get Medicaid).
7) And finally, allow people to work no more than 20 hours per week and be able to make up to $1,500 a month before reduction in benefits begin.
We have a moral obligation to support those who are incapable of supporting themselves.
And so I ask the question again: Are we treated like second class citizens? Absolutely!