Three Hots and A Cot Future of Medicaid & SSI

by, Renee wood
Sometimes I think things that I can’t say because it would seem as if I were against people with disabilities receiving necessary services to live life to their fullest potential. Of course, I am not against services to help individuals reach their potential. Yet sometimes there’s a reality that needs to be addressed, or people with disabilities could lose everything and go back to the days of “three hots and a cot, and showering with the masses under a fire hose” according to Allen Bergman who spoke at Disability Rights Ohio’s (DRO) Budget Briefing yesterday. So if what’s in this article gets on your nerves, blame it on Mr. Bergman for inspiring me to write this “inconvenient truth”!

All the services and supports including; SSI, Medicaid, housing, food stamps, job rehabilitation, etc., just for people with disabilities alone, is 13% of the Federal Budget – for those who don’t get it – that’s a huge portion of the budget and keeps growing every year with little return on investment! I can hear people say as they read these words, “But the government has to care for the disabled”! “SSI and Medicaid will always be there because the government can’t….”. When I was 20 years old I remember saying these words to my boyfriend who was trying to convince me that the government was not obligated to give me a check that I did not pay into. I just couldn’t fathom that a government could be so cruel – I remember being really upset with him. Over the years, as I got smarter (hopefully), I realized my boyfriend wasn’t trying to say that the government “shouldn’t”, but all he was trying to convey was, “don’t become so accustomed to these nice things the government provides, because they can be written out anytime”, and now in 2017 that time could be closing in.

Individuals with disabilities, parents, providers of disability services, and anyone who cares about people with disabilities and the frail elderly living a life in the community with the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers, heed my words, if you don’t take action right now, Medicaid as we know it, could change forever if the Americans Healthcare Act passes. This Act combines the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA = Obamacare) with block-granting Medicaid to the States. In my opinion they should have never put Block-granting Medicaid in the same Bill as repealing the ACA. Block-granting Medicaid puts a per capita cap on Federal money to each State for Medicaid and leaves it to the States to dole it out as they see fit. The ones whose care cost the most, will probably be harmed the most by Block-granting Medicaid.

The House of Representatives was supposed to vote on this today, March 23, 2017, but we got a reprieve by the House that refused to vote on the Americans Healthcare Act. Unfortunately this refusal to vote was not because they wanted to protect the elderly and disabled from undue harm, but because some conservatives feel the Bill doesn’t go far enough in repealing the ACA. Everyone who values necessary services to people with disabilities and the frail elderly, need to call your representative and say how Medicaid improved your life – avoid pity stories, but say why Medicaid has helped you be a success!

Inconvenient Truth

If the Americans Healthcare Act doesn’t pass this time, and Medicaid, as we know it, stays intact, we need to face some hard facts and make some changes ourselves. The taxpayers and the government are not going to keep increasing funding to programs that are supposed to help people with disabilities become more empowered and less reliant on government money when there’s little evidence of that. As an example, Mr. Bergman witnessed an adult woman with Down Syndrome (DS) with no apparent health issues, going to an employment person who assist people with disabilities in gaining employment. It sounded from Bergman’s description that the counselor and woman with DS was having a good conversation about what jobs she might want to do, when her mother said, “Oh no, we are not going to have any job that cuts into SSI – she deserves SSI”. This was a middle class family. These programs are meant to get those who are able, become gainfully employed. But if parents want their child to live in abject poverty on SSI their whole life, then we should discontinue these employment programs because it is a waste of time, money and resources, if all parents want is for their child to pretend to work and collect SSI.

The issue is, although government is paying billions in support of disability related programs, and private enterprise is making huge profits, most people with disabilities remain impoverished, under/unemployed, dis-empowered and enslaved for life. How can this be? The numbers have not shown any real improvement in employment or reliance on government benefits in the past 40 years. One could conclude that the evidence tends to show people with disabilities really can’t improve their situation no matter how much money we throw at them, so the government/taxpayers are eventually going to decide, “Just give them three hots and a cot to sustain them”. I happened to think we can do better if people with disabilities who are capable, look at benefits as a tool to something better rather than something that the government owes them. There is a percentage of people with disabilities who absolutely need lifelong benefits, so let us who are more able raise ourselves using these benefits to become as self-sufficient as possible, and leave the lifelong SSI and other benefits to the most significantly disabled.