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].