Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit. – Eli Khamarov

I was having a discussion with a friend the other day about politics and government policies – including, but not limited to, my idea that the electoral college needs abolished and about Social Security being an entitlement program. We often, but not always, tend to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but we are capable of having meaningful debates and discussions on topics that normally would lead to name calling in the general population.

While having this conversation, it occurred to me why so many people either call Social Security an entitlement program or staunchly oppose the idea of it being called such. According to the National Academy of Social Insurance there are approximately 61 million people receiving Social Security as of June 2017. This equals to about one in every five families in the country and encompasses all Social Security programs.

So what is the confusion? I mean, you’ve worked and paid into the system, right? So why do so many people consider Social Security an “entitlement” program?

We’ve all been there at some point in time or another. You just got paid and you’re staring at your paycheck wondering where that extra couple of hundred dollar or more went to from your income. Taxes, of course. One of those taxes that you pay is a Social Security tax. The current rate of Social Security tax is 6.2%, 12.4% if you’re self employed. The common misconception is that this money is put away – specifically for you – to use once you retire or become disabled. Sadly, this is not true. The current work force pays for the current retirees and disabled Americans. This is what is known as SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance). THIS is the program that is NOT typical “entitlement” program or welfare. In order to qualify for this program you MUST have sufficient work credits, be of retirement age, or have a disability that is so severe you are unable to find “gainful employment”.

The reason so many people believe Social Security is an “entitlement” or welfare program is because of the twin sister to SSDI called SSI (Supplemental Security Income). SSI is a “needs based” program for the elderly, blind, and disabled who would normally not qualify for SSDI due to age or lack of work history. In order to qualify for SSI you have to have income under a certain amount, have fewer than $2000 resources, be elderly, or disabled. This is, by general definition, a form of governmental welfare and this is the program that makes the lines of “entitlement” murky.

There is a common misconception that you can be extremely wealthy being disabled, but this could not be further from the truth. No matter how much you have paid into the system in a lifetime your maximum amount of SSDI payment as of 2018 is around $2788, but the average is only $1197 per month. Meanwhile, as of 2018 the maximum amount of SSI one person can receive is $750 per month. Can you imagine trying to survive on those amounts? I don’t have to. I live it.

As a disabled American I receive SSDI. My children, who are also disabled – with disabilities ranging from autism to developmental delay and speech and language empairment – receive SSI. Because my children are too young to work they are unable to gain any kind of work credits and as long as they are disabled will never have the opportunity to collect SSDI. However, once they turn 18 if they are still considered disabled they will receive benefits based on their fathers work history instead of their own as long as they remain unmarried. The misconception that people are making bank on this program – or any Social Security program is ridiculous.

The lives of those who are disabled are not much different than the average American with the exception that we usually have higher costs involving transportation and medical costs. If you are lucky, as we are, you live in a state that expanded Medicaid to include the disabled. We DO receive help with our medical bills via the Medicaid expansion, but if we didn’t? We would literally would have no way of paying for our medications. Case in point…take just me for instance. I have Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare is my primary insurance, I pay for a supplemental program through United Healthcare, and then Medicaid picks up the tab for any of my co-pays or procedures that Medicare traditionally will not cover but may be covered by Medicaid. What do my monthly expenses, not including prescriptions, come to? Thousands of dollars. Literally. Just for me.

A lot of people see my photography and automatically assume that I could return to work, sometimes even accusing me of “milking the system”. You know what? I WISH I could return to work. Do you know what working would mean? A break away from the house. A break from my children. A steady paycheck that would likely be more than I bring in per month on SSDI. However, I know the ramifications that would happen if I DID return to work – complete and total mental meltdown. You see, my PTSD is so severe that I cannot handle being around the general population for extended, long periods of time. I have a fight or flight mechanism that often leads to fight over flight. A simple touch that may seem harmless to the average person can send me into an utter panic. I wish I were kidding.

While its true that being behind a lens largely removes many of these typical symptoms and I find peace, this is also because I can do things on a limited basis and on my own schedule. I can pace my photography out to where I am cool, calm, and collected for my photo sessions or big events. Medication helps this as well, but I will never (according to my doctors) be able to fully take on a traditional job, and it isn’t worth my mental health to do so.

Am I poor because of this? Yes. Do I wish I could wave a magic wand and make me 100% better? Of course. I love photography. I miss doing it all the time. But I also remember what it was like trying to suffer through my symptoms and the downward spiral that put me on disability. It has taken me years to get behind a lens again, and now that it is a source of therapy and peace I’m not going to take one of my few coping skills away from myself. There is too much riding on my own mental health. Their names are Jakobe and Esmae.

 

 

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