The Trump Administration recently submitted a new budget proposal. This so-called “Taxpayer First” budget proposes cuts to many social services, including the government’s disability program. So, much in the vein of my previous posts A Response to the Man Who Said: Nobody Dies Because They Don’t Have Access to Health Care and A Good Life…My Response to Mo Brooks and the AHCA, I’m going to respond to the recent budget proposal that threatens my ability to live as a disabled person.
Before you say, “Geez, Saidee, more politics?” understand that to me, this isn’t a political debate. You may see this as left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative. I see it as a threat to my very existence. I see it as an assault on who I am as a person and what value I hold in this world. That is not political to me. I don’t care what side of the political fence you are on, if you tell me I am less valuable as a human being because I am disabled, I will disagree with you and I will fight against you. Period.
For this article in particular, I would like to focus on the idea that seems to be circulating out there that if you cut off government assistance for disabled people, they will somehow find a way to be able to work. This idea is born out of the false notion that the majority of people receiving disability benefits are just faking it. In response to cuts to programs such as this one, Mulvaney boasts, “We need folks to work. There’s a dignity to work. And there’s a necessity to work to help the country succeed.”
Yes, we need people to work. No country could function if no one ever did any kind of work. However, there are many of us who cannot work, not because we don’t want to, but because we are physically or mentally incapable of working. It is not because we are lazy and want to sit around eating bon-bons on the taxpayers dime. It is because for whatever reason, we are completely unable to work. Does that mean we do not have dignity? Does that mean we do not have value? No, no it does not.
I’m sure there are many people reading this who are thinking, “well, yeah, some people need disability services, but a bunch of people are just faking it and taking advantage of the system.” I don’t think any program is 100 percent fool-proof, but let me explain two of the reasons why I find it hard to believe that there are that many people faking their disabilities:
1. The Wait
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, it takes an average of two to three years to get approved for disability. According to my lawyer, something like 90 percent of disability applications are denied on the first application. A slightly smaller percentage are denied on the appeal stage. Then you reach the hearing stage. In Georgia, for example, the average wait for a hearing date is 16.8 months. That’s after the first year of waiting with the initial application and appeal. Once you do get a hearing, there is only an approval rate of 48 percent. All of this is according to recent statistics from the Office of Adjudication and Review reported at disabilityjudges.com.
Remember, the entire time this person is waiting for and going through the tedious and complicated application process, they are unable to work a full-time job. Many try to work a part-time job just to survive, but there are a lot of disability judges who look at them and say, “if you can work part-time then you can work full-time,” and deny them because of it. ‘Cause, you know, working four hours a day is basically the same as working an 8 hour day. *insert eye roll here*
I don’t know about you, but two to three years without substantial income is not a walk in the park. I worry about money every single day, and I’m only one year in and not completely without income yet.
2. There are two very different disability programs with very different payouts
That’s right, your taxes aren’t actually paying for all the people on disability. Only one form of disability services uses general tax revenue. The two forms are SSDI and SSI. SSDI is a disability insurance of sorts that anyone who works pays into, much like we all pay into social security. If you should find yourself disabled, you apply for that benefit that you’ve been paying for your whole working career. They base how much money they pay you monthly on how many “working” credits you have. The longer you’ve worked and the more you’ve paid in, the more you get paid out. This comes with Medicare, which has its own premiums and copays. They will also pay you extra for any dependents under the age of 18 until they turn 18. Just to reiterate, this is a government insurance program you have been paying into; the amount paid out does not come from general tax revenue, but you still have the same wait-time and approval statistics mentioned above.
SSI is essentially welfare. This is for people with a disability that have not worked or have not worked enough to qualify for SSDI. The maximum amount per month you get for SSI is $735 for an individual or $1,103 for a couple. They do not add extra for your dependents. They also will subtract anything they count as income from that amount. For instance, child support. You also cannot have more than $2000 in savings or in most kinds of assets. SSI comes with Medicaid, another area that is being threatened by the recent healthcare act as well as the budget proposal. You can check all of these facts and stats for yourself at ssa.gov.
I don’t know about you, but there is no way I could survive on $735 a month. It’s hard for me to believe that someone would be willing to wait two to three years without pay, all while having to pay for multiple doctor’s visits for thorough records, just to collect $735 a month because they really don’t want to work.
I am disabled, not lazy…
The above quote from Mulvaney hit me especially hard this morning. This week is meant to be my last week as a regular fixture in the classroom I spent years building. I have been unable to go to work for close to a month due to extreme pain. I love my job. I put my heart and soul into my job. I put years of study into receiving training credentials and a Master’s Degree specific to my job. And now, my disability has not only taken my job from me, but it has also robbed me of the precious last few moments I had to feel even somewhat like my old self.
I remember going into my boss’s office around this time last year, sobbing as I explained I couldn’t do my job anymore. I felt, and still feel, guilt and shame because I could no longer be the teacher my students deserve. The teacher I so longed to be. I feel a great aching pain in my heart whenever I think back on all the wonderful things I used to be able to do as a teacher that I no longer can do.
My dreams have been ripped from my hands and then people have the audacity to call me lazy? To say if I wanted to work I would? To tell me I have no dignity because I cannot work? Can you imagine watching your whole world crumble down around your feet while another person, safe and secure in their privilege, tells you it’s all your fault?
There is no shame in being disabled. It is not a path in life we have chosen. We aren’t all extremely patient con-artists. We don’t sit around laughing at the abled folk who have to go to work and have lives outside of their homes while we cash our tiny little benefit checks to cover hospital bills (I’m up to about $3000-4000 so far this year).
I exist and I have a right to exist. My life does not have less value because I cannot work.