by Jack Bragen
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t seems that those legislators who make the state and federal laws would rather that all disabled people fade out of existence, or go live in an institution. Not only does the government want to eliminate the public benefits that allow us to barely get by in society, but at the same time they have increased the barriers that exist toward holding part-time employment.
For most people with disabilities, it is too much to expect that we get a regular nine-to-five job, should such a job be available to us, which normally it isn’t. It seems that, short of winning the lottery (and we can’t afford lottery tickets and at the same time pay rent), our only alternative is to get part-time employment to try to supplement the meager benefits that we get from the government.
I know someone who tried to work at a part-time job by becoming an IHSS (In Home Support Services) caregiver for another disabled person. Almost immediately, her SSI income was slashed drastically. Soon on the coattails of this, her rent that she was responsible for under HUD was raised. These reductions in benefits were based on gross pay, not on the take-home amount. Additionally, she was responsible for steep union dues. Within a few months of working as an IHSS caregiver, it became clear that this worker had less total income as a result of getting a job.
On top of this is the fact that our overall benefits have become more scarce under a series of ruthless cuts. The SSI dollar amount has been slashed several times in a row, by a total, for some, of over $100 a month. When you’re getting a total income of $800 a month to begin with, losing $100 of it is significant.
Our benefits under Medi-Cal for eye and dental care have been eliminated. I guess now we are supposed to go around toothless and blind. And under SSDI, there has been no cost-of-living increase for about the last three years.
At the same time, food prices have gone up, and a gallon of gas is a couple dollars more. The renter’s credit, something that gave a few hundred dollars of relief to the poor on an annual basis, is gone. The amount that Section 8 housing will pay for a one- or two-bedroom apartment has been reduced, and disabled people have to make up the difference.
If a person is ambitious enough to try self-employment, since no one will give them a job, try paying for bonding, licensing and insurance out of your startup capital, and then see how much you will need to earn to pay that overhead. And just where does this startup capital I am talking about come from? I haven’t answered that yet.
If you feel clever and your field of self-employment is going to be computers, keep in mind that it is likely that your advertising costs will be more than your gross receipts for a given time period: The field is saturated with unemployed techies.
If your field of self-employment is janitorial or some type of manual labor, good luck performing the job while taking Zyprexa, Abilify, Depakote, or other of the new medications. These drugs can alleviate some of the symptoms of mental illness. Yet, coincidentally, they cause severe lethargy, which will slow down your work pace to below a competitive level.
President Obama was supposed to redistribute the wealth, yet this looks more like stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. Once again, the poor and disabled have been shortchanged even by our own Democratic Party.
The struggle of the mentally ill or otherwise disabled is multifaceted, difficult, and sometimes lonely. It seems there are few allies in this battle, other than our disabled peers, as well as family members who may not completely understand what it’s like to deal with a disability and subsist on such a severely limited income.