May 9, 2015

Keeping Jenny Weast Employed May Take a Village

Jenny Weast’s predicament appears to be a perfect example of how today’s “system” encourages dependency instead of independence among people with disabilities — and increases the barriers to work rather than reducing them!   Jenny is a popular and energetic high school teacher in California who is quadriplegic.  She needs personal care attendants to help her with her activities of daily living, but Medicaid has decided she doesn’t qualify for coverage — because she earns too much money.    According to Jenny’s Facebook page, Medicaid says her “fair share” of these services would be $2400+ dollars per month, which would leave her with 26% of her paycheck to live on.   There is NO CHARITY and NO FOUNDATION in this country (as far as I know – and I have searched) who sees it as their mission to help people with disabilities STAY EMPLOYED.  Karen Cage who has taken up Jenny’s cause has created a crowd-funding opportunity to help defray the expenses of Jenny’s personal care attendants.  I did make a contribution to help Jenny stay employed – because if the government and existing charities won’t help people in her situation – who will?    It’s NOW that her job is in jeopardy.  Jenny will be on SSDI by the time that Congress acts and/or a foundation’s new initiative gets funded and underway.

Many people with disabilities don’t need personal care attendants – they have much more modest expenses, but can’t afford to pay for them because they earn an even-more-modest-than-that  salary.   Small things often make ALL of the difference.    As the centuries old proverb says:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

From what I read, Jenny is not alone by any means.  MIT economist Professor David Autor wrote in his report The Unsustainable Rise of the Disability Rolls in the United States: Causes, Consequences and Policy Options:  “In its current incarnation, the SSDI program spends too few societal resources helping individuals with disabilities to remain employed and too many resources supporting the long-term dependency of individuals who could be self-sufficient with the appropriate accommodation and supports.”

Perhaps the charity of individuals will support Jenny’s caregivers while we encourage Congress to figure out a way to help ALL people who ARE EARNING A LIVING despite significant disabilities to get help with the EXTRA EXPENSES that make it possible for them to work!   Or maybe, one of the big foundations will notice this opportunity to make a big positive difference and step in.  Obviously, the kinds of impairments that warrant extra services and the definition of services that are covered have to be precise enough to actually accomplish the purpose while avoiding wholesale abuse, but …… doesn’t this just plain old make sense?

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