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California's Budget Cuts Hurt Those on Disability the Most

New America Media, Commentary, Richard Babcock Posted: Oct 06, 2009

To a lot of people, the budget cuts affect their bank accounts, but to people living on disability, supplemental security income (SSI), it is about our daily needs to survive.

I am bipolar. I was also originally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and have been on disability for the past 25 years. I feel very fortunate to be on disability. It is much better than living on the street or in a mental hospital. I spent five years of my young adulthood going in and out of the mental hospital and trying to live on my own, paying my bills as a cook and going to college. When I finally received disability, it made a big difference in my life. No longer did the pressure of work or school affect my income directly. After about six months of being on disability, I returned to school and finished a degree in art photography.

Photography has been very therapeutic for me. I've only had brief stays in the mental hospital since completing my degree. The longest was three days and most other stays were just over night. Due to new medications, I'm doing the best I've done mentally since before my illness began. I haven't had any visits to the mental hospital since 2003. I'm also volunteering at a community center teaching photography.

My disability check this year has gone from $930 to $870 a month, and life on the edge has gotten even more precarious. The first time it was lowered by $30 when the budget was eventually signed after the long hold out. The second time, there was another $30 cut after that budget directors reported that tax revenue was less than projected. To some, $60 may not seem like a lot of money, but considering rent and the increasing cost of living, it makes a huge difference for me. I already had a budget-friendly diet, but now I am limited to basically only eating staple foods oatmeal, potatoes, rice, and the like.

I am not a vegetarian, but cannot afford meat. This year, they also cut all optical and dental benefits. I had to find a way to pay for my last set of glasses, and had to run up my credit cards and debt to do so. I have a chipped tooth, and dont know how I am going to be able to get it fixed.

And for those who may think life on disability is easy, let me make it clear -- people on disability are not having a great time not working. Dealing with delusions and hearing voices is a mental hell when your symptoms act up, and even when the symptoms are not apparent, it still dictates every action and decision. Money doesn't relieve these problems directly, but helps make a difficult life bearable, and allows us to be contributing community members. A couple of my friends on disability also have had to make very difficult personal decisions due to the budget cuts giving up their pets. Pets are very therapeutic for the disabled and I'm sure a comfort for what can sometimes be a very solitary life.

What California decision-makers should know when they cut the benefits of the disabled is that we have fewer resources or options to supplement our income than the average working person who might look for another job or get food stamps (one cannot get food stamps if on SSI.) California's budget balancing should be more proportionate to the ability of the person to bear the burden, rather than to their political voice. Unfortunately, for those who are not heard, can't speak, they end up carrying the heaviest load.

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