The Poverty Trap:

I am one of the millions of Americans who are living in poverty. I am also one of the approximately eight million SSI beneficiaries in this country. My monthly check which is less than $900. It isn’t easy to live off an SSI check, particularly with record-high inflation. Everything from groceries to gasoline has gone up in price. My wheelchair van requires midgrade gasoline. Right now, it is over $4 a gallon. I rarely go out to help save on transportation costs. It’s especially difficult to cope with inflation when you are forced into poverty.

Some people with disabilities rely on government assistance programs like Medicaid. For me, Medicaid pays for my PCAs. This costs around $50,000 a year. People cannot go a day without getting dressed, eating, or showering. Without the support of my PCAs, I could end up living in a nursing home. The amount of money you can make and the number of assets you can retain are limited in some of these programs. Disabled people are effectively forced to stay in poverty in order to survive. Medicaid should not be based on a person’s finances. I’ve even heard stories about married couples having to divorce so that their spouse may receive Medicaid. Some people can’t even marry to begin with.

Medicaid is also tied to my SSI benefits. Unfortunately, SSI only allows a single person to have $2,000 in assets and a married couple to have $3,000 in assets. SSI is frequently spent on rent or utilities, leaving very little money left over, and you are unable to save. Yesterday on Twitter, I saw a post questioning how a disabled person saves for retirement. Disabled people frequently cannot save for retirement. 401K plans count for the $2,000 asset limit.

If I didn’t live with a roommate, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live in my apartment. We are able to splint the rent. This means that I don’t have to spend my entire SSI check on housing. People who receive SSI benefits often struggle to find affordable housing. The waiting list for public housing can be years long. What are low-income people with disabilities supposed to do while on the waiting list? Unsurprisingly, disabled people account for 38.6% of sheltered homeless people in America, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

Americans with disabilities shouldn’t have to live in poverty in order to survive. We shouldn’t be worried about finding accessible, affordable housing. Nor should we go to bed hungry. All Americans, including those with disabilities, should be able to afford housing and groceries. Keeping disabled people in poverty is antiquated. Income and asset limits need to be abolished so that disabled people can work for a living and not lose necessary services such as medications, durable medical equipment, and PCA services.

Sources:

“Homelessness in America: Overview of Data and Causes.” The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 2018, https://homelesslaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Homeless_Stats_Fact_Sheet.pdf.

“Number of Recipients, 1974–2020.” Social Security Administration, Social Security Administration, 1 Dec. 2020, https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/chartbooks/fast_facts/2021/fast_facts21.html.

Ives-Rublee, Mia, and Christine Sloane. “Alleviating Food Insecurity in the Disabled Community.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 22 Nov. 2021, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/alleviating-food-insecurity-in-the-disabled-community/.

Star, Eryn. “Marriage Equality Is Still Not a Reality: Disabled People and the Right to Marry.” Advocacy Monitor, National Council on Independent Living, 14 Nov. 2019, advocacymonitor.com/marriage-equality-is-still-not-a-reality-disabled-people-and-the-right-to-marry/.

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