People with disabilities face specific financial challenges

By Meg Wallace

Supplemental Security Income recipients are getting a 5.9% raise in 2022!

That sounds like a hefty increase until you realize that in 2021 the maximum SSI benefit was $794. 

Almost nine out of 10 apartments in Waco rent for more than $700 a month, and rents are rising rapidly.

So how do our neighbors with disabilities get by?

Some barely do. Many do not receive SSI benefits, and those who do are hemmed in tightly by rules about income and assets. Income received from work or other sources besides SSI triggers a reduction in benefits, and money carefully saved — to buy a car to drive children to school, for example — can exceed the asset limit, endangering Medicaid benefits, as well as SSI.

No amount of budgeting savvy is going to squeeze more blood out of this onion.

So what can we do when we or someone we care about has a disability and is repeatedly coming up short financially?

The first thing is to be understanding. People who receive or are eligible to receive SSI benefits have a disability that makes it difficult to sustain steady employment, and their financial options are severely limited by Social Security rules. Repeated financial crises are pretty much inevitable when there is so little wiggle-room in a person’s budget.

Second: learn about the options.

What are the options?

Advice on money management can be good, but it is rarely enough when there is nearly always more month than money.

Referring someone to receive assistance with utilities or other expenses is great, but there are limits to how many times people can receive help from these assistance programs.

Giving money from your own pocket when asked is commendable, but it can complicate relationships, putting the beneficiary in the position of supplicant all too often and possibly leading to resentment and lack of trust.

The most lasting options get at the root of the problem: reducing expenses while increasing access to funds.

In the Amberley Collaborative’s Financial Instruments for People with Disabilities online workshops, four experts walk participants through these more lasting options:

As the lived-experience expert, I speak about my own family’s journey with disability and related financial challenges.

Karisa Garner, of Heart of Texas Region MHMR’s PATH program, talks about SSI and SSDI — who can apply for benefits and how to apply.

Tory Schafer, a local insurance agent, discusses access to medical benefits and health insurance to lower or eliminate the cost of health care.

And Jeremy Mocek, of Academy Capital Management, guides us through ABLE accounts and special needs trusts, so people can receive income and other support and can save money without endangering their benefits.

Our next workshop is at 3 p.m. Tuesday, November 2. You can register here. We keep our workshops small enough for questions and discussion, so if you don’t land a spot in the Nov. 2 workshop, do sign up for the waiting list, and we will let you know when the next workshop is offered.

Because Amberley Collaborative’s mission is to help regular folks help one another, our workshops are acronym-free zones, accessible, and easy to understand for beneficiaries, their loved ones, and local professionals. And our presenters make themselves available for free consultations after each workshop to help you take next steps.

Please consider joining us.

Meg Wallace (MA, LMSW) is organizer and director of Amberley Collaborative, a Waco nonprofit that strengthens natural support systems for people facing challenging and isolating life circumstances.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Mental Health in Congregations: A continuing ed course from Amberley Collaborative

By Meg Wallace

The first appearance of a mental illness can be terrifying, whether you are the one experiencing it or someone you care about is falling ill. Your mind is muddled, a crisis is gathering steam, and you know you need help — but where to begin? Who will help you find your way?

Chronic depression or anxiety can be isolating. You drop out of your usual activities because it hurts too much to start your day, or you fear you’ll have a panic attack in public. So you stop getting together with friends, and you miss one more Sunday at church. You retreat gradually, and no one notices you’re gone. You’re alone.

Amberley Collaborative has created a continuing education course called Mental Health in Congregations, offered through McLennan Community College Continuing Education beginning Tuesday, Jan 19.

Of course, professional help can make an enormous difference in your life. Medication can reduce your symptoms, and a therapist can help you sort things out. But living with a mental illness can be a day-to-day struggle, or bouts of worsening symptoms may disrupt a period of recovery. It can be a hard road, so hard to walk alone.

In many communities of faith, people commit to walking together. But walking with someone struggling with chronic depression or anxiety can challenge our empathy. We want our friend to snap out of their distress, and when they don’t, we’re unsure how to share time with them. A youth attempts suicide, or a member has a manic episode. They are receiving professional help, and we know we shouldn’t leave them to walk alone between therapy appointments. But the situation feels scary and confusing. What do we do?

Decades of research indicates that people in distress often turn to faith communities for support. When the congregation’s response is healthy, it can be a key aspect of recovery for people living with mental illness. But when the response is negative or unhelpful, congregations can do harm. Continuing education can help faith communities respond helpfully — accompanying people living with mental illness and supporting their recovery.

Amberley Collaborative is a new Waco nonprofit that aims to strengthen community support for people with disabilities and other challenges. In our Mental Health in Congregations initiative, we started by talking to leaders at 23 Waco-area congregations to learn how they’re walking alongside people who are struggling and how they’re helping them access professional services. We also wanted to know how these leaders take care of themselves while they care for others, and we asked what kind of support Amberley Collaborative could provide.

The leaders told us they want help figuring out how to organize care in their congregations so needs come to light and people are supported. They need to know more about mental health services and how to access them. They want to learn about various types of mental health challenges and what kinds of responses are helpful, and they want training on what to do in a crisis. They talked about needing to care well for themselves as they care for others. They want to increase the caring capacity of their faith communities by equipping Sunday school teachers and small group leaders to foster wellness in the groups they lead.

With guidance from these faith leaders, Amberley Collaborative has created a continuing education course called Mental Health in Congregations, offered through McLennan Community College Continuing Education beginning Tuesday, Jan 19. The presenters are mental health professionals, pastors, and people with lived experience of mental illness, and each of the six 90-minute sessions is interactive, with plenty of time for dialogue. Our goal is not just to deliver information, but to create a community of care that will last long after the course is over, and to connect participants with mental health professionals who will continue to support their good work in the future.

Please join us. You can learn more about the class on the Amberley Collaborative website. To register go to the MCC website.

Meg Wallace, MA, LMSW, is a 2018 graduate of Baylor’s Garland School of Social Work. She founded the nonprofit Amberley Collaborative to cultivate the kind of community care her own family has needed while grappling with disability. She continues to work as a freelance editor and book indexer while developing the nonprofit.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].