May 18, 2010

Interim Disability Assistance: Loans of hope, now in danger

Last week we told you about the budget cuts facing Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), a program that many of our clients depend on while they are applying for the federal Social Security disability programs (SSI and SSDI).

Since these people are unable to work, IDA provides them critical assistance of up to $270 a month, which helps them subsist while they wait for their Social Security to be approved.

I want to tell you more about Mr. S., a client whose life was practically saved by IDA.

Mr. S. originally came to us after his Social Security judge recommended he find a lawyer to help him in his case. Mr. S's life is made increasingly difficult because of his disabilities: he suffers from HIV, Hepatitis C, chronic pain in his knees, difficulty grasping small objects, diabetes, pain and numbness in his feet, chronic and severe depression, asthma, and difficulties walking. Despite treatment with an ongoing psychiatrist, small group therapy, and social worker, Mr. S’s depression continues to cause him to be unable to work.

Carrying these heavy disabilities each day on the long road towards obtaining Social Security caused Mr. S a profound sense of hopelessness and self-doubt. He struggled to piece his life together, to end his homelessness, and to extract even a morsel of hope so that he could simply continue with his life.

Since Mr. S knows that his health will probably not improve and that his suffering will probably continue, receiving IDA was that morsel of hope that he needed desperately. In his own words, he says that “IDA gave me an opportunity to get up on my feet, knowing that I had an income.”

Once on his feet, he secured housing and is no longer homeless. Mr. S used his IDA each month to pay his bills, including his rent, phone bill, and toiletries. Paired with his food stamps, he was able to afford food.

Eventually, with Bread for the City’s representation, Mr. S was approved for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI). He was also approved for all of his SSI back-payments, totaling thousands of dollars. Not only that: the District was then repaid by the federal government for the money IDA had provided him each month.

I like to think of IDA benefits as a “loan of hope” that the City gave Mr. S. Now with his SSI, he has repaid that loan -- and the City also has one less person in desperate condition, relying on the far more expensive shelter system.

In the history of the IDA program, the number of participants typically hovered around 2,400 -- except in hard times, when it would shoot up to 2,900. But over the past couple of years, during some of the hardest times we've seen, IDA has seen its budget cut and its rolls capped at 1,500. This means there's about 900 District residents in situations like Mr. S's, waiting on a waiting list for a program that helps people who are already waiting for help.

It's an example of a safety net that should so clearly be saved -- so I hope that our Councilmembers stand with us tomorrow morning (8:30 AM) at City Hall when we call upon them to be heroes.

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