Over 130,000 Philadelphians receive disability assistance through Social Security every month — an estimated one in 12. These beneficiaries receive funds through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This money accounts for hundreds of millions of federal dollars in our city’s economy every year and is currently being threatened by the Trump administration. Proposed changes to the process will make it harder for many to apply for and keep their benefits, many of whom rely on them as their sole source of income.
I absolutely owe my life to these payments. They helped me first move out of my parents’ house, find a job, and meet my wife, who is now the mother of my 2-year-old daughter. I used disability benefit money to help pay for my apartment, for food, and for medical equipment. Most of the time having a disability means that the barriers I face are much more daunting, but I could rely on these payments to make life easier until I had enough income from my job that I did not need it. I was thankfully able to save up before moving out on my own and supplement my benefit payment with a part-time job — I could not have lived solely off of these payments for any extended time.
Disability payments are very low. SSDI payments are an average of $1,122 a month, or $13,464 a year, which is small considering the program limits other significant income. However, the majority of disability recipients in Philadelphia receive SSI, whose average payment is $566 a month, or $6,792 per year. There is an income limit at which benefits are cut of $771 per month, or $9,252 per year — though the poverty level for a single-adult household is $12,760.
Even with these small payments, the Trump administration is seeking to kick more people off of the program. In what feels like Reagan-era propaganda, disability recipients are being vilified as greedy do-nothings, and additional barriers are being put in our way to discourage participation. These proposed changes are the embodiment of the antiquated “boot-straps” narrative, where benefit recipients are written off as money-grabbing leeches who will do anything but work and become self-sufficient.
Under these changes, thousands of Philadelphians may be forced to reverify the fact they are disabled to the already-worn-thin Social Security Administration every two years by physically showing up at the SSA office. Not only does the current system not have the capacity to administer that many visits, but since these visits themselves cost money, these changes will not save the government nearly as much as some must assume. Also, it can be impossible to get around our city in a wheelchair, with many inaccessible SEPTA stations, a totally inaccessible trolley line, and poor sidewalk conditions (especially when it snows).
Seeing those of us with disabilities as lazy and not worthy of trust is a dangerous and totally inappropriate way to look at the disability community. Many of us are not able to work full-time jobs to “lift ourselves out of poverty,” and our worth to society ought not to be equal to the work we can put in. Regardless, it is hard to imagine anyone choosing to live in deep poverty if they have the choice not to.
Unjustified obstacles are being put in place that purposefully burdens applicants, recipients, and the system itself. Much like the voter ID debate or the citizenship question on the census (thankfully shot down), this administration seems to propose these changes more to selectively discourage participation than to actually combat fraud.
If you read this by the end of the day Friday, Jan. 31: Please take the time to submit a comment about the proposed changes, before the window to do so closes.