None Call It Cleansing

Defending the success of the Iraq War a defiant Bush bragged “[there are] more cell phones in the hands of Iraqis than before.” And guess what some sod has been laid in a Najaf soccer field.

That is no consolation to Maggie Dee, a significantly disabled woman living in Northern California who worked through most of her adulthood as a disabled woman and has fought for disability rights for years. Now, unable to work, she survives only on her Social Security disability check, a meager $812 per month.

Economic insecurity has gotten worse for the average American as earnings fail to keep up with inflation or jobs get shipped overseas. The exception, of course, is the richest whom the Bush administration has bestowed unbridled wealth. Before the congress is a $70 billion package that would include an extension of Bush’s 2001 tax cut for stock dividends and capital gains.

But for disabled people economic insecurity has gotten really bad.

“All the things we have to cope with,” says Maggie Dee “take so much out of people. They cannot keep chipping away at people.”

“One can only take so much oppression without wanting to just give up,” she added.

A fellow advocate in Marin County had recently committed suicide because he just found his life overwhelming with the lack of support for his life as a quadriplegic. He had lost several attendants who had come in each day to assist him with daily tasks and was having a hard time finding and keeping a stable situation. He wrote in a note to his family that he loved them so much and he knew it would hurt them but he just could not stand the stress of being so poor and the lack of a sufficient support system to keep him afloat. And he is not alone. Reports have come in from Tennessee where Governor Bredesen severed about 191,000 poor people from TennCare – the state’s version of Medicaid.

Journalist John Spragens reported from Tennessee on the TennCare cuts. One story he told was about a 48 year old man who had a bipolar condition and thought he would be cut from TennCare and unable to get his meds.

“Bob wrote a note to his family and a poem for his sister. I know what a burden I’m going to be, and I don’t want to put you all through it, he wrote. He went to the local cemetery, called 911 and told the dispatcher that they could find him on his mother’s tombstone. Then, he pulled out a gun and shot himself,” wrote Spragens.

If I traveled the country and visited states where Medicaid has been cut back like Missouri, Mississippi, and Minnesota I certainly would find more stories of similar life and death distress.

Maggie’s benefit amount would have been increased by $48 starting January 1, 2006 were it not for Republican Governor Schwartzenegger and the Democrat-dominated California legislature that made a budget compromise in which disabled people who rely upon Supplemental Security Income (SSI) would be denied both their federal and state cost of living increases for 2006.

SSI cost of living increases are small but greatly needed. This year the increase due is 4.1%. Twenty-four dollars are due those on SSI from the state and twenty-four from the federal government but they won’t see that forty-eight dollars at all. They may get twenty-four dollars in April if the state keeps its word. So in April Maggie may have $836 to survive on each month while the state pockets the federal twenty-four dollars pretty much for good.

Meanwhile, the California legislators who are the highest paid in the country will see a 12% increase in their salaries bringing their salaries up to a whopping $110,880 per year. That is their cost of living increase! (California lawmakers also receive $153 a day in expense money when they are in session.)

Says Maggie; “they are taking our SSI money and giving it to themselves.”

There is no deficit in California this year. Is that any consolation to anyone with any sense of social or economic justice? Look at how the state has done it. The disparity is so great that there are no words for these wrongful acts.

What is happening to poor disabled persons at the state level is happening at the federal.

The squeeze on poor disabled people goes deeper. Section 8 voucher formulas have changed. Once disabled people paid one third of their income for rent while the federal government paid the rest (up to the established federal rent rate for the area). Now Public Housing Authorities are taking a greater share of people’s income. In one case an individual’s share went from $246 to $330 per month. On an income of $812 that leaves $482 to pay for food, utilities, transportation, postage, clothing, and other necessities.

Add to this the fact that many of these individuals are on both Medicare and Medicaid and MUST sign onto a Medicare Part D drug plan by Jan. 1. They will go from having no co-pays to paying $2-5 per prescription. While that may not sound like much, think about what $40 might do to one’s food budget when there is too little to begin with.

It is a humiliating, debasing, demeaning life this nation condemns on poor disabled persons.

There is more to come. House and Senate Republican leaders have edged closer (at the time of this writing) toward an agreement to cut as much as $45 billion over the next five years from domestic programs like Medicaid, food stamps, student loans and child-support enforcement.

Big money in control of government cuts taxes for the wealthy and corporations at the expense of the rest of us.

So neoliberalism continues to worm it’s way through our social fabric, wreaking havoc while the Neocons advance their death march to “democracy” in the Middle East at a cost of $225,076,331,348 to this minute 2:46 p.m. PST on December 8, 2005 (the National Priorities Project.)

They say the Neocons don’t have a domestic agenda.

While the Bush administration is killing Americans abroad in an illegal war largely financed by the Chinese continuing to buy US bonds, the Neocon foreign agenda is killing Americans at home by starving the nation of funds for taking care of our own.

Disabled people are going first. That is how it always happens.

None call it cleansing. The euphemism is benign neglect or balancing the budget — but it is criminal neglect and just as murderous as the state-sponsored death penalty.

While Bush is pushing cell phones in Iraq we must recognize and stop this gross infraction of human rights under our noses.

Marta Russell is the author of “Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract” (Common Courage Press) http://www.martarussell.com

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