I was in hysterics yesterday about how disability is a poverty trap.
You’re literally locked into programs. Want to receive SSI? Meet the income guidelines. Think 700 dollars for a whole month isn’t enough to live on? Get a job. To continue receiving SSI, stay in the income brackets. Oh, and your income will subtract from your SSI payments. You are locked into 700 a month, you are disabled, working is an incredible challenge, sometimes impossible; you can either work for some of that money, or receive the same amount without the work. Do you have huge medical needs? No problem, most on SSI qualify for Medicaid, and after 2 years you get on Medicare. Are you relying on that? Well, if you want to get out of poverty let’s hope not.
Once you earn enough that over-take what SSI could bring, you either fall out of Medicaid or lose Medicare because you lost SSI. You now have to buy insurance from your worker; hope they provide it, wish for it to be cheap, and pray to a deity it covers all you need (you’re not likely to be able to pay daily co-pays if you’re working, and if you’re working you’re to busy to attend daily appointments, and you still have to balance your housing and bills on top of that).
Oh, and did you want to eat? On top of your 700, you qualify for food stamps. With 0 income, you get, max (for NM), 180 for the whole entire month. Hope you don’t need any special, expensive diets, especially if it’s necessary for function. Your food stamps amount gets knocked down with every dollar your earn. With my cash assistance, 240 a month, I lost 20 dollars of my food stamps; we’re conditioned that 20 isn’t a lot, but assume you can eat meals for 1, and that’s 20 whole meals, if you eat 3 times a day that’s about a weeks worth of food. Imagine that 180 is still cheap for food for an entire month (spoiler alert: it is).
Climb out of the poverty bracket, you lose your SSI and food stamps. So, that’s 180 from your own money. Let’s pretend bills aren’t a thing, cellphones aren’t necessary this day and age, and the internet is a luxury. You now have to pay for your own medical bills, cut down the amount of appointments for time and because nobody hires someone with limited schedule, you have to pay for your food, and you have no disposable income. Add back your bills.
Now, add in the economy. Let’s say you didn’t go to school (If you did, add student loan payments to your list. These happen regardless of SSI or not). Your jobs are limited to entry jobs, most likely part time, most likely minimum wage. Pretend you have an awesome manager who loves you, you get 30-35 hours a week. Federal minimum is 7.25. Let’s just assume you’re New Mexican, and earn 25 cents extra to that. You’re looking at about 800 a month. Look at you! All independent, earning your own money! You keep your food stamps, you keep your Medicaid, and there goes SSI. You’re nearly dead from working so many hours, and so hard to be able to earn your bosses approval, so congrats on your 100 extra! But, wait a minute… It was hard surviving on 700. It was hard even with all your therapies and doctors. So.. it’s still hard to survive, but you have less tools to cope now? Uh-oh. Schooling is a must then, huh?
So, you leave your job, you head to school. You get to keep your benefits. Phew, good thing you can have more appointments now, because you need serious therapy on top of things to help you cope with what that job did to you. Well, you still put in as much time, but at least the schedules are flexible. It would be awesome if you didn’t have a disability that affected intelligence, schooling, or cognition; you may be in school, on your poverty benefits, a very long time. Well, also the fact that not everyone can even do schooling. But, you, johnnyjillian, can. And thank goodness! So, you spend 4 years to get your bachelor’s. Good for you, johnnyjillian!
Too bad nobody told you that that degree doesn’t do much in this economy. Oops, that was 3,000 for your in-state community college associates and 30,000 for your in-state, state university bachelor’s. Well.. live cheap and pay it back through your benefits while you wait for work. You may go further in your education, thank goodness for your good work ethics, and your very high grades and community service, because you get into a Masters program that’s very competitive; spoiler alert: each Master’s program is. Once more, add intensive education, cognition, blah blah, and this time no online classes! Who knows the amount of debt there, or if you can even qualify for loans. Though, it’s too bad that even MAs can end up working retail jobs. Guess you have to step up your game, huh?
Well, without disability, a PhD is a very hard degree to obtain. Schooling got increasingly harder with every semester, but the grades requirements didn’t fall as well. The community service, the interning, the experience, all of that, it all comes together and asks that you be exceptional for acceptance. Beyond acceptance lies work that is super-intensive, hyper-focused, cut-throat.. I hope your disability is autism, johnnyjillian, because your hyper focus might be the only thing to bring you in front of the competition.
Then, your jobs are limited; hope you picked a good field, or else you might end up only being able to teach at colleges, for a dirt-cheap salary. And so, johnnyjillian, you’ve been at this for a decade or so. You have finally gotten a job outside poverty, a job with fantastic insurance, a job that is flexible for your doctor’s appointment, enough to put food on the table, to buy a home, gain true independence. Fantastic work there, johnnyjillian!
Now, it’s too bad for susanbob, y’know, her disability requires intensive care, her IQ shows an intellectual disability, and you couldn’t handle a regular job. Best you stay home and collect your benefits, hun, because goodwill is only gonna pay you 20 cents an hour.
(^Sarcasm. That is meant to be ableists speaking. I do not endorce dehumanizing and or unequal treatment of anyone regardless of disability (or race or sexuality or anything else really))