May 19, 2010

Save IDA!

This post brought to you by BFC legal clinic coordinator Eli Sevcik-Timberg.

Yesterday, advocates from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, So Others Might Eat (SOME) and Bread for the City joined a group of men and women who currently receive Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), and the group paid visits to the offices of six councilmembers.

Their goal: to save IDA.

We’ve been blogging about IDA here a lot recently, because it is one of the most heavily-cut items in Mayor Fenty's proposed budget. IDA is a city program that provides $270 per month to individuals waiting for Social Security disability benefits. It's fairly common for people to wait for years.

Like my client, Dexter, who came along on our visit to City Council. NPR actually profiled Dexter in a story about delays in Social Security; at the time, Dexter had been waiting for Social Security for almost three years. That was in early 2007.

In the meantime, Dexter subsists on $270 a month in IDA support. Hundreds of DC residents like Dexter (perhaps even more than 1,000) now face the prospect of life without Social Security or IDA.

So what does that $270/month mean to those who receive it? For many in DC, $270 is the price of a monthly pass at the yoga studio or a bar tab after a big night out.

$270 means something more to James, who had been addicted to drugs and homeless for years prior to receiving IDA (“All that society don’t want to see…I was that”). IDA benefits allowed James to pay the $81/month that his subsidized group-home charges for rent, and bus fare for his therapy appointments. It gave James enough stability to concentrate on kicking his addiction. James has been clean for over a year now, but when talking with city council members, he didn’t talk much about himself: “I’m worried about the people who aren’t able to get [IDA] now…they’re gonna be on the street for good.”

$270 means something more to Christina, who is able to buy toilet paper because CCNV, DC’s largest shelter, often runs out. She is able to buy her medication—only $1/prescription through Medicaid—but she has ten different medications to treat asthma, bi-polar disorder, and high blood pressure. In the past, she had to beg for change on the street to buy her medicine. Most importantly, she was able to buy a cell phone with a few minutes in order to receive calls from her doctor, social worker and the pro-bono attorney who was representing her in her Social Security hearing—calls that she can’t reliably get at a shelter.

And $270 means something more to Dexter. Bread for the City has represented him for three of his five years of waiting, as his application was kicked from office to office, from Social Security court to Appellate court and then back again to Social Security court. Joseph receives dialysis treatment three times a week but he missed Monday’s appointment to tell his story to councilmembers and their staffers. Dexter realizes that if it weren’t for IDA, he wouldn’t have been able to survive. “I’m 56 years-old and my liver doesn’t work. IDA gives me a place to live, and combined with foodstamps, I make it work. [IDA] might be small to other people, but it gives me a chance to survive.”

These are not unique stories. These are the stories of the approximately 1,500 people who won’t be receiving IDA next year if new revenue sources aren’t found. You can help save IDA by supporting the Save our Safety Net campaign. Call your Councilmembers. Let's save IDA.

—Eli Timberg

No comments: