Congress should pass a clean debt ceiling without putting more holes in the social safety net

May 25, 2023 6:15 am

In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 30 percent of Missourians 18 and older live with a disability (Russ Rohde/Getty Images).

Like many people with disabilities, I am living in fear as President Joe Biden, Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other Congressional leaders meet behind closed doors to discuss possible cuts to safety net programs on which I depend.

Unfortunately, these politicians do not honor a principle that has long been affirmed by disability rights advocates: “Not about us without us.”

The president and Congress would do well to remember that disability could happen to them someday or to someone they love. Perhaps they have enough savings to sustain them at such a time, but millions of us do not.

My life changed in 2003 when my car was rear-ended. A herniated disk pinched my spine, and I initially had constant migraine headaches and still have memory issues.

As I have aged, there has been additional spinal deterioration. I had to have cauterization of nerve endings recently to allow me to stand for more than five minutes. I am thankful for a rollator-style walker that I was able to obtain through Paraquad, the independent living center for the St. Louis region.

Yet with these kinds of physical challenges, I may soon find that I must apply for an exemption to avoid work-hour documentation rules if McCarthy and members of the radically conservative “House Freedom Caucus” have their way.

With my memory issues and frequent pain, working online is nearly impossible for me. Then there’s the issue that my email is not working properly, and I do not know how to fix it. Corresponding with social service agencies will not be simple if a lot of red tape is added to my life in connection to my Medicaid and SNAP (food stamp) benefits.

Medicaid and SNAP have made my life much more stable. It is not uncommon for me to see three specialists in a day, and I would not be able to afford the co-pays if I wasn’t on Medicaid. Both SNAP and food pantries help me stay nourished. My rent just went up by $100 per month, and I have not been able to find a subsidized apartment in the St. Louis region, so controlling my food and medical costs is absolutely essential if I am going to stay housed.

I am just one of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities in the St. Louis region. In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 30 percent of Missourians 18 and older live with a disability.

I trust that the staff of Paraquad will offer me some support if the federal government demands that I jump through additional hoops to secure the medical and food assistance that I desperately need, but I am sure that many people with disabilities will fall through the cracks and be harmed. After all, some do not know that independent living centers exist, and the capacity is not there to help all who need it.

According to data from Missouri Centers for Independent Living (MOCIL) each of Missouri’s 22 independent living centers is funded more than $300,000 below recommendations from a national study.

If I could be in that closed room with the president and speaker, here’s what I’d say: There are plenty of places to cut pork in future federal spending bills, and I’ll be glad to help you look for places to cut and places to increase revenue. But there are no advantages to society when vulnerable people are denied medicine or food. Pass a clean debt ceiling plan now.

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Robin Simmons
Robin Simmons

Robin Simmons has worked in home health and hospice care and is a widow living in St. Louis. She is a Medicaid Ambassador for Paraquad, helping the community understand the importance of this vital government health insurance program.