Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Dead Zone

The 2008 election campaigns have included rhetoric about tax breaks for middle income families, and media coverage has included stories about families who have children with disabilities. Left out of all the election rhetoric are the candidates' positions on and commitments to those babies with disabilities who grow into adults with disabilities who all-too-often survive on extremely low incomes (less than 30% of the median income). These extremely low incomes are often the fixed benefit amounts of SSI and Social Security.

So, how does Texas stack up? Not very well at all. Texas is currently ranked 48th out of 50 states and scores extremely low in both eligibility and scope of services (followed only by Mississippi and Idaho). Here are some highlights. The entire report can be viewed here.
  • Total Score: 335.5 out of 1000
    Rank: 48 out of 50
  • Placing in the bottom 10 in two categories, including the one with the heaviest weight, Texas ranks a poor 48th overall. In fact, it is the only state that places consistently at the bottom, all its category-specific ranks ranging within 10 ranks. Unlike other states that have made a policy decision to cover more persons for fewer services, or vice-versa, Texas ranks extremely low in both eligibility and scope of services.
  • With respect to eligibility, Texas tends to adhere closely to the minimum Federal Poverty Levels, for which it earns no points since the mandatory minimums leave many who cannot afford private health insurance without healthcare. This poor showing in eligibility in Texas means that large numbers of people are excluded from Medicaid just because of where they happen to live, and they would be covered in a state with more lenient eligibility criteria.
The most dangerous of the gaping holes in the Texas support network is shared by many states and is referenced in the first paragraph of today's post. It is about the dangerous and destructive dead zone for people with disabilities: age 21-65, the most productive years of all of our lives! During the time that they can be contributing to the world, they are marginalized, povertized and institutionalized. They are taken out of the economic mainstream and effectively left to beg for support. This is patently un-American. As a country we should be developing productive citizens at every opportunity.

In this election year, politicians constantly chatter about lower taxes, smaller government and putting everyone to work. Here in reality, I hear people complain all the time about the people who 'live off the government' and, to be fair, there are people who fit that profile. However, the majority of U.S. citizens want to be productive and contribute. They'd be happy to pay taxes if it affords them a quality of life that makes them feel like a whole American citizen. Many years ago, Martin Luther King called for people to be measured by "...the content of their character, not the color of their skin," it's now time for those civil rights to be extended to people with disabilities who want the chance to be full economic citizens, rather than be relegated to a place at the bottom of an economic ladder that they cannot currently climb. There are ways to help them up the ladder, one of which is the Community Choice Act. With the socioeconomic map of the United States shifting under the pressure of institutional failures, it is imperative that we create opportunity for all citizens. We cannot risk leaving anyone in the Dead Zone.

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