There are hidden costs to being disabled that aren’t being accounted for.
As more and more Americans receive their government-issued stimulus checks to combat the economic fallout of the deadly coronavirus, the disability community is raising concerns about the amount — or lack thereof — they’ll get.
One of the greatest ironies of social supports like these is that disabled people often need more money to survive as a result of disability-related costs, and yet these are rarely accounted for.
According to the IRS information page on the economic impact payment, the standard amount that eligible individuals will receive is $1,200.
This one-time payment is meant to help with unexpected medical bills and daily living costs, as well as supplement the rising numbers of employees who are out of work, either temporarily or permanently.
For a lot of individuals, a one-time payment of $1,200 is not even enough to cover the cost of rent, let alone paying for utilities, food, and other necessities. And the country is seeing a lot of outrage because of this — protests, angry tweets, millions of people screaming, “This is not enough.”
But this is the reality that thousands of disabled people live with every single month.
In March 2020, the calculated average of monthly disability benefit payments is only just over $1,200. But many disabled people get a much lower payment, especially if they try to supplement their income by working when they can. The lower average caps disability benefits at closer to $800 monthly.
There are also specific rules and confusing legal labyrinths to navigate when you are disabled and/or on disability. For example, if you receive disability benefits, you cannot have over $2,000 in assets at any one time (or $3,000 for couples). If you go over the allotted $2,000, your benefits could be reduced or even revoked.
The truth is that disabled people statistically struggle more with paying standard living expenses, and they have more substantial financial responsibilities with lower incomes.
So, what exactly are these extra costs that abled-bodied people do not have? And where are disabled people spending most of their money?
1. Medical bills
If you have a disability, this means that you usually need more medical attention — not only for symptomatic treatment but preventive care, too.
There are endless costs for specialist appointments, surgeries, hospital stays, counseling and therapy copays, medications, medical equipment, and so much more.
During the current pandemic, disabled people are at an even higher risk for having medical complications. This can be because they’re not able to access the normal standard of care they typically have and/or because they have certain conditions that make them susceptible to illness.
Being at a higher risk for illness comes with a higher price tag for treatment: longer stays in hospitals, costly medications, and virtual appointments that are not covered by insurance.
Some disabled people have even noticed a significant increase in the costs of their normal medical equipment costs due to higher supply and demand — like masks and gloves, just as a basic example.
The constant conflict that disabled people have to push against is whether or not to save money for shelter, food, and debt payments or to get the medical attention they need.
We’re left to choose between wealth or health.
Though a standard $1,200 stimulus check can help, disabled people should receive a higher amount to cover past medical debt, current medical costs, and to provide some cushion for unforeseeable future complications.
Similarly, disabled people have to pay more each month because they need care. A lot of disabled people need nurses or caretakers at home, and sometimes the cost of this care has to be out of pocket.
Additionally, some disabled people have to pay for services like housecleaning, chore helpers, yard maintenance, etc.
Remember, these are not luxuries — they’re necessities. Having a safe, clean environment is a basic human right, as is accessing food, water, shelter, and medical attention.
But when these things come with a high cost, it makes it harder for disabled people to actually get the care they need.
If care costs were taken into consideration, the stimulus check that disabled people received would have to be higher to ensure that everyone is healthy, safe, and financially secure during this crisis.
Accommodations and adaptations are also necessary for disabled people to find independence and function healthily.
For disabled people who are unable to leave the house during this time (or in general), accommodations might look like:
- using protective gear
- outside meal preparation or food delivery
- at-home treatment (IV hookups, virtual counseling, phone consultations with doctors, etc.)
- adaptive technology
Also, for disabled students and workers who need to work remotely, reliable Wi-Fi, technology, and ways of communication are essential adaptations.
This also means that disabled people should be able to access the internet without putting themselves in a risky environment. They should also have telephone access to emergency numbers and medical attention when necessary.
Independence looks different for everybody with a disability, but might include:
- grocery and household supplies delivery
- medication delivery
- laundry service
- household care
- upkeep for mobility devices
All of these things have something in common: They cost money. And probably more than what a stimulus check can cover.
This last one is maybe the least expected but most important: Disabled people should have some room in their budgets to spend on nonessential, nonmedical things.
Having some extra cash to rent a movie, buy a bottle of wine, pay for that streaming service, and get treats for your cats is not a radical suggestion. Disabled people shouldn’t have to put every penny toward medical costs.
Some might suggest that disabled people cut down costs by eliminating all “nonessential” spending.
Wouldn’t that solve everything we just discussed? What if that disabled person you saw at Walmart put down the art supplies? Does the disabled person you saw tweeting about Animal Crossing really need a gaming system?
Unfortunately, disability doesn’t stop us from being human.
We need to have hobbies, distractions, and safe social interactions just like anyone else. In fact, we might need these even more.
See, a lot of what able-bodied people are experiencing for the first time during this pandemic (social or physical distancing, missing events, losing out on job opportunities) are all things that disabled and chronically ill people have been experiencing our whole lives.
Not only do we constantly have to try to find jobs that will accommodate our bodies, but we have to work to fit ourselves into a society that is not made for us. Disabled people do not make nearly as much, on average, as nondisabled people, and yet, the cost of living is so much higher.
When we sacrifice our “nonessential” budget for medical bills and care costs and accommodations, it means that we’re sacrificing our right to be human — to enjoy life and not just get through it. The things we need to live happier, healthier lives aren’t always tied to our disabled bodies.
We can’t scroll for the latest news on when this will end or when our own bodies’ restrictions will be lifted. We can’t simply live off of a one-time payment of $1,200 because our medical crises are not one-time events.
This is a time when disabled people are at more of a risk for dangerous health consequences as well as financial downfall. This is a time when disabled people need financial accommodation more than ever.
Aryanna Falkner is a disabled writer from Buffalo, New York. She’s an MFA-candidate in fiction at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she lives with her fiance and their fluffy black cat. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Blanket Sea and Tule Review. Find her and pictures of her cat on Twitter.