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  • Posted July 15, 2019

Let’s Get Real About Public Benefits

I struggle to bite my tongue and mind my words sometimes, especially when listening to people rant about how public assistance gives people “too much”. Sadly it’s not just strangers, my own family has gone on tirades about how the “system is broken” and “it’s not fair”. Ironically (or maybe not) in every case where I’ve found myself defending the system it’s been against those who have never had need of public benefits; but they’ve “heard” about what someone else received, or something similar.

Here’s what I know, from personal experience with my son and from helping countless families since making it my personal mission in 2012 – no one is getting rich from food stamps, housing vouchers and social security. Are there people “gaming” the system? Yes, there probably are – but these are the minority; and no matter what is done there will always be a small population who would rather use their time to find loopholes and take advantage of benefits. But this isn’t just true for public benefits – it’s everywhere, and I would argue don’t punish the majority for the actions of the minority.

In my experience individuals with disabilities want many of the same things those without disabilities want – to be treated with respect and have a life worth living. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), if one qualifies for the full amount, is $771/mth and it’s expected it will be used to pay for food and lodging. In fact, if other sources of funding are used to help pay for food and lodging the SSI will be reduced (including SNAP/food stamps). I live in the DC metro area, $771 doesn’t cover 1/3 of rent in many places.

What about those who file for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), aren’t they “gaming” the system? To receive SSDI you have to either pay into social security or have a disability as a child that will never get better. When someone files for SSDI they are receiving benefits based on what THEY contributed – so why anyone else cares about how much they are, or are not, receiving is beyond me. When they reach their full retirement age their benefit doesn’t change amounts, it’s just recharacterized (labeled differently) to social security retirement.

The condition “must significantly limit your ability to do basic work such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering – for at least 12 months” to qualify for social security disability (Source: Social Security). This is an extremely high bar, and as I understand it over 2/3’s of those who apply have their claims denied the first time around.

I understand this most likely won’t change anyone’s opinion, but I hope it gets people to think and ask more questions. Families, like mine, would rather have an individual without disabilities who can find gainful employment than be dependent on the State and Federal government for assistance. Do your own fact checking if/when someone tells you how well off a beneficiary of public benefits is – and if they are feel free to rub my nose in it (with the supporting facts).