I was a committed, Limbaugh-Reagan Republican. I was elected twice to precinct committeeperson positions, (three times maybe, I forget) endorsed by the conservative faction of the party in Kansas, the KRA (Kansas Republican Assembly).
I was making nearly six figures as an electrical engineer for Bell Labs, flew around the country to important meetings and stuff, and had medical insurance for me, my wife who stayed home and was raising our six insured children. I had a master’s degree in electrical engineering. We were tithing about $700/month to church. I had a modest mortgage payment of around $600/month P&I, and property taxes were around $2800/year. No problems, right?
Until I got sick on June 8, 2001. Then my life changed. I lost my career because of it; I was supposedly “incurably” psychotic. I continued to be a conservative Republican, but suddenly I had no resources. I foolishly had put my 401k into company stock not too long before they went down that same year (turns out I had been becoming manic and that motivated the move because I “believed” in my company “Lucent,” because it means “Light”), so the stock price went from $80/share to 80 cent per share. So my 401k, instead of being $50,000, was worth $5,000, which sustained us for about a month including making COBRA payments.
Then it was begging time. Unable to work, and lots of bills. With me totally disabled, and such a handful that my wife had to tend to me full time 24/7, we found out what it’s REALLY like in the trenches. We got to sit for three hours in a crowded, smelly waiting room and make it to the front of the line, fill out a detailed application, then they can’t take it because we don’t have the right proof of income (I made $40/week playing for church) and something else. We had to zero out our 401(k), which we needed anyway, and reduce our bank accounts below like $500 or something before they would even talk to us. Then we got to wait another few hours in a crowded, smelly waiting room and finally found a person who gave a damn and got us hooked up for about $200 cash assistance (TANF=welfare) and about $600 food stamps. Food stamps were cool because we didn’t pay tax. A relative blessed us by paying our mortgage; otherwise we would literally have been homeless. But she had to pay it directly because if she gave us the money our benefits would be reduced by the same amount. The kids and wife got Medicaid, which is a big PITA and it’s hard to find doctors that take it because it’s a huge hassle and they don’t pay worth squat. But at least we had medical.
Finally when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to work, I applied for disability. It took almost 3 years to get the disability, so it was welfare that got us through until then, and a relative that was giving us some undocumented cash to help make ends meet. Finally I got the disability, which brought us up to about the poverty level, and totally disqualified us for Medicaid or TANF or food stamps. So now we’re living near poverty level based on disability, plus $40/week from Church, plus some help from relatives, but now since I’m the one disabled I get Medicare but since we’re “too rich” because of that income, my wife and children lost all their insurance.
Finally, I startled the doctors by being healed (by the Holy Spirit – nothing is impossible with God ;)) but so far my doctor has ordered me not to find work that will jeopardize my disability. See, if I make a certain amount, then by definition I’m no longer disabled, and I lose my disability and will not be able to get it back. So basically I’m trapped. First of all, getting a “real job” with actual benefits is pretty tough for a 53 year old engineer who has been out on medical disability for 12 years and does not know anything about the current software tools engineers use for designs. And if I did get such a job, it had better last me until retirement because I have no savings. So you can tell me I’m a coward, but until you’ve gone and pawned a power tool worth $70 for $15 to buy milk for the kids’ breakfast tomorrow and gas to get them to school – then the next day starting all over finding a way to make it one more day – then don’t even bother laying some kind of guilt trip on me.
Now of course, disability is part of social security and technically isn’t an entitlement, but for one thing it can take 2-3 years to get it and what do you do in the meanwhile if your savings run out? Sure some conservatives would point me to the “ant and the grasshopper” and I would tell them to go straight to hell with that line of reasoning.
(continued in next post)