Being disabled and poor at any time during a normal year is difficult. Most things people take for granted, like clean laundry, access to food, and simple pleasures like a coffee at a cafe’ or getting a take out meal without much stress. Buying a book here or there. Being able to afford new shoes that won’t fall apart in a month. And especially, access to the internet.
Basic needs are a luxury
During a normal year, despite being disabled and poor, I can usually scrape the bottom of the barrel and make a lot of these things work. I don’t have Netflix. My shoes fall apart quickly from walking everywhere. I can usually do a couple loads of laundry a month if I’m frugal. I can get Taco Bell or a pizza a few times. I can get a coffee or two. I can buy a new book. And my internet bill keeps rising, but I can cover it. Often, I sacrifice groceries or food to have these things, and I just fast off and on for a week at the end of the month because I don’t get any more than $16 in food stamps, so my cupboards go bare.
Then the pandemic hit. I already knew a lot of things I struggled with were a given for others but a luxury for me, but now, I realize just how much basic necessities are a luxury for disabled and poor people in America.
I can’t drive, so I order delivery for groceries, which at the cheapest is $7.95 for delivery plus a $10 tip. I can only afford this twice a month, but often must make due with a shortage of online stock, and I have to either ration or ask for help at the end of the month to make up. Thankfully, I have extra food stamps through the pandemic otherwise I’d be starving. I get about $195 a month now in EBT — temporary to the pandemic until the aid runs out.
Stores are also making it hard to access things for delivery, like WalMart, when they have ‘pick up only’ or ‘in store deals only’ stipulations for many necessary household items, limiting me to whatever happens to be in stock for delivery I can grab, which has been a more expensive brand than I normally afford.
My internet bill has risen $10 since 2020, making my internet access alone $80 for decent speeds. I don’t even have cable TV. My phone is about $38 a month for the phone cards I buy.
I am lucky that my rent is based off of my income, and then I have to cover all non-food necessities with my own bank account. That means trying to find paper towels and toilet paper, dish soap, and other necessities that keep going out of stock or are limited to higher priced items I don’t normally buy. Basically, I grab whatever I can find at the lowest price, but it’s a toss up.
Add in laundry. I haven’t done it in months, save for washing things in my sink because the nearest laundromat is a joint bar, and people aren’t wearing masks and are drinking there. The smaller places are self-serve and unsanitary. Our washer downstairs, the only one, is wrecked because someone is destroying the laundry room. So by hand it is, as I’ve been doing. I wash a few things as I need them, so everything I own is dirty and it just has to stay that way for now.
I do find room for enjoyment. And again, it’s at the cost of food. If I didn’t make room for something to make myself smile, I don’t think I’d even be here right now. I might buy a few books or a new game. I might buy a much needed new pair of pants. And I feel anxiety any time I buy anything at all. It takes me forever to check out due to nerves.
The stimulus checks allowed me a bit of comfort. I got to see what it was like to not worry about food. I got to see what it was like to not struggle for a month. I remember feeling euphoria. “This is what people who live well feel like? This is great! I won’t run out of food!”
And that was just from my usual $785 disability check plus the first stimulus which was $1,200. I was euphoric over having $1,985 for a month. It was unreal.
Being disabled is a poverty trap
This is the America many of us live in. Disabled people who are on SSI like me who get the bare minimum struggle even when there isn’t a pandemic. It’s often a choice between sanity or food. ‘My pants have holes, but I need groceries at the end of the month’ is a real thought process. Get food or go hungry making yourself smile. There is even an entire blog out there dedicated to helping people on SSI and SSDI survive.
We can’t work. And it isn’t our fault. We didn’t choose to be disabled. We didn’t choose chronic illness, severe mental illness, or physical disabilities. We did not want this, yet, we have it and it’s out of our control.
If you have a chance to write to your government officials, please pester them about this. Disabled Americans deserve dignity. We shouldn’t have to be scared to accept cash gifts on a birthday or we’ll lose some of our benefits. We shouldn’t have to hide the fact that someone in our family bought us food, otherwise it will count against our benefits. We are not allowed to have any help on SSI, nor are we allowed to own any more than $2,000 at any given time, and that includes assets like a car (i.e; you can’t own a car worth more than $2k). If you save money for too long and it stays in your bank account, it starts counting against you. It’s a poverty trap.
This is my experience being disabled on SSI (Social Security Insurance). SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) is different and only available to those who have worked enough to qualify, so I can’t speak for that. But SSDI has its limits as well, and every disabled American on SSI or SSDI deserves dignity and enough to afford basic necessities. As SSI went up this year, $795 a month is not enough to have a home and all your necessities paid for unless you go through a subsidized housing plan, which there are often huge waiting lists for.
Getting help is difficult and convoluted
Help is complicated, convoluted, and often nearly impossible for some to access. Add in having to qualify for Medicaid or Medicare to afford medication and medical treatment, which thankfully SSI and SSDI recipients mostly qualify for, and then there is a general lack of accessible community resources to get help. There is a lack of mental health care. All of this is buckling under a system that under funds it.
Before I arrived to where I am now, I was homeless as many end up due to a lack of resources or available shelter space. It’s disappointing how few studies have been done about homelessness and mental illness or disabilities together, and it was difficult to find anything as of 2019, but I found some data from the BBR Foundation that was extremely concerning, and that’s an understatement.
As posted on the BBR Foundation’s website:
According to a 2015 assessment by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. At a minimum, 140,000 or 25 percent of these people were seriously mentally ill, and 250,000 or 45 percent had any mental illness. By comparison, a 2016 study found that 4.2 percent of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness.Brain and Behavior Research Foundation
That paints a grim picture. Not only because studies like these are not done often enough, but nothing is done with them. As it goes in America, the rich get richer, and the poor are looked down on like leeches. But how much of our taxes are actually used for food stamps and other programs for disabled people and those in poverty?
From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Safety net programs: About 8 percent of the federal budget in 2019, or $361 billion, supported programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship. Safety net programs include: the refundable portions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which assist low- and moderate-income working families; programs that provide cash payments to eligible individuals or households, including Supplemental Security Income for the elderly or disabled poor and unemployment insurance; various forms of in-kind assistance for low-income people, including SNAP (food stamps), school meals, low-income housing assistance, child care assistance, and help meeting home energy bills; and various other programs such as those that aid abused or neglected children.Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
A measly 8%. Eight. Percent.
The real problem: Greed
The problem in America has nothing to do with those who are disabled, in poverty, or otherwise those who use safety net programs. The problem is greed and hoarding wealth, and it starts at the core of our government. Just within the last month alone, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are arguing over whether Americans should get $1,000 or $1,400 for one month. Meanwhile, they make leaps and bounds more than your average person, and they return to their lavish homes and make plans for cocktail parties.
As mentioned in Business Insider recently about further stimulus checks:
Biden and other senior White House officials have said they are open to negotiating the income thresholds for direct payments. “Further targeting means not the size of the check, it means the income level of people who receive the check,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Wednesday. “That’s something that is under discussion.”Business Insider
Our lawmakers have been sitting at the table and negotiating when it’s convenient for them, and the negotiations are stretching too long. They duke it out to allow everyone an opinion on what they think poverty is and what they feel we deserve or can live on at the minimum. And help has been at a minimum — if that.
It’s time to stop negotiating and pull up statistics. Pull up the research. Face the actual data. Americans cannot keep living like this. Even long after the pandemic is over.
To put this huge gap in perspective, according to the House of Representatives Press Gallery;
That’s roughly $14,000 a month at the lowest tier of salary. And when it comes time to negotiate the well-being of Americans who are starving, dying, and living on the streets and in their cars, lawmakers aren’t seeing the reality. They aren’t driving around to these poor communities or testing for themselves if what little they give is livable. And with figures like the above, you can see how out of touch they are.
They are living in nice homes with good healthcare, and they have access to groceries and don’t have to worry about going hungry. They can sip a martini on their back deck and take in the sun after negotiating on a $600 stimulus that was the last poor excuse for aid.
I have no problem with people being paid large amounts of money to do an important job. I have no issue with anyone who built up their career and have earned a large salary through hard work. What I do take issue with is their skewed thinking that comes from an entitled life. They give us breadcrumbs while they take a few fresh loaves out of the oven for themselves.
The argument for universal basic income
To close this, I fear this problem will never be addressed properly. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a start, but again, it’s the bare minimum. Even considering a universal basic income like Andrew Yang proposed, which would ensure all Americans at least $1,000 a month, would solve a slew of issues. Redirect the money flowing into food stamps, SSI, SSDI, unemployment, TANF, and other monetary aids into one universal basic income, and America would start to thrive. It would not only help the economy, but take away one major cause of depression that causes people to not want to work. That causes people to ultimately destroy themselves because they have nothing and can’t get their head above water, and there is often no safety net if they fail.
With a basic safety net, not only would disabled people have what they need to thrive, those who are able to work will still work to make even more money. When people are happy and safe, they can do amazing things, and our economy would be booming again. But that’s my utopia dream. I’m not a businessman, mathematician, or even good with numbers. I’ve never been in government work. I just know what I’ve heard from Andrew Yang and what I’ve seen in the studies from Finland, which did a test run of UBI distributed to 2,000 citizens while having a larger control group of 5,000 others on unemployment benefits:
There was no difference between the two groups in terms of the number of days in employment in 2017 – both groups worked on average 49 days. The UBI trial group only earned €21 less on average than the control group during 2017. The surveys also showed that the UBI group perceived their health and stress levels to be significantly better than in the control group.New Scientist
America is in a scary place right now, but there are ideas and wonderful theories that could pull us out of this dangerous road we’re going down. Equity, equality, and basic dignity are not too much to ask for. When it comes to money in America, there’s a lot of redistributing and shuffling around of papers that needs to be done.
Now, we just need our government to care as much about us as they do themselves.
©2021 Shane Blackheart