One of the most concerning proposal to change federal disability programs is under, “Test new approaches to increase labor force participation,” on page 114. The budget proposes the Social Security Administration find savings in SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance by the proposal including “mandatory participation” for all program beneficiaries by doing activities such as a “mandatory job search” before an application for SSI is considered, and “time limited benefits.” One glaringly noticeable line at the end of the proposal states, “An expert panel will identify specific changes to program rules that would increase LFP and reduce program participation, informed by successful demonstration results and other evidence.” Basically the President’s budget is admitting they want to implement time limits and work search requirements to kick some disabled people off of the program.
These proposals are very concerning to me as an autistic person because they mirror work search requirements in programs like like TANF, food stamps, and those being added to Medicaid. In all of these other programs, many Republicans emphasize how they’re saving programs like SSI, and Medicaid for the “most vulnerable.” Yet, here they are trying to turn Supplemental Security Income into a time limited workfare program for some disabled people. This is not the right approach to take for autistic and other developmentally disabled people for reasons I will explain below.
Supplemental Security Income is important because it gives monthly stipends for rent, food, utility and other living expenses. In most states, receiving SSI automatically qualifies an individual for Medicaid coverage. Medicaid coverage is important for developmentally disabled and autistic people because it provides coverage for things such as doctors visits, prescriptions drugs, and home and community services which keep autistic people in the community.
While I’m sure there are stereotypes about SSI fraud, Supplemental Security Income is actually a notoriously hard program to qualify for. Most applications for SSI are denied by Social Security, and although an appeal can go to a federal judge, it can take months or even years to get a hearing. On top of that, SSI has a $2,000 asset limit for disabled people. Any change of life circumstances, such as a pay raise at work or a marriage could leave a person at risk for losing everything.
As a person who is autistic, I love working. I worked for four years as a lot technician at Home Depot, and now I work as a cashier in a busy pharmacy. Social Security has a great voluntary program called Ticket to Work that can help disabled prepare for work and find a job using state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies and private employment networks. Having a job gives me extra income and practice with social interaction. If we’re going to encourage autistic people to work, more funding and advertising for the Ticket to Work program is needed to raise awareness about its benefits.