State Representative Tina Kotek recently weighed in on the whole Social Security flap in the Oregonian. She set things straight with her comment about the General Assistance Program which was eliminated a few years back. Tina seems to have the right idea about much of what we need in our state.
Friday, August 08, 2008 The Oregonian
Like many readers, I was disturbed by The Oregonian's recent coverage of the ordeal thousands of people with disabilities must face to receive the Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits they need and deserve. Any bureaucratic process that is drawn out so long that people die before receiving help is just plain wrong and must be fixed.
While the backlogs and benefit delays must be solved by the federal government, it's important to examine what role state government can play in helping individuals waiting in limbo for their federal disability benefits. One of the things Oregon can do is make sure we have a strong vocational rehabilitation system. For people with disabilities who can work in some capacity, we must do everything we can to help them remain working or enter the work force whenever and wherever possible.
But we must also recognize that this path is not available to everyone with a disability. The state must do its best to bridge the gap between loss of employment and the eventual delivery of federal disability benefits.
Up until three years ago, Oregon had a state-funded program called General Assistance that provided a monthly stipend and health care benefits to very low-income SSI or SSDI applicants until they received federal benefits. The program was designed to help those without any other resources, the "neediest of the needy." When the federal benefits came through, they were awarded retroactively in a lump sum so the state could be reimbursed for much of the monetary support it had provided to Oregonians going through this process.
But the General Assistance program fell under the budget axe during the state's last recession. Consequently, many Oregonians with disabilities now suffer needlessly, unable to pay for their most basic needs. Applying for federal benefits, as The Oregonian's stories illustrated, is a lengthy and complicated process that requires documented medical opinions and trained lawyers for the appeals process. Many applicants give up; some become homeless.
The current cost to the state's crisis services -- emergency rooms, shelters, jails -- is undoubtedly more than what General Assistance cost taxpayers when it was operational.
One of the families profiled in the Sunday story was a mother and her son who are receiving cash assistance, health insurance and case management from the state through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, help that is now available because of changes to state welfare policy enacted in the 2007 Legislature.
The critical bridge support previously provided by the General Assistance program should now be extended to all adults with disabilities. It is the cost-effective and humane thing to do.
People with disabilities and our communities are looking to the state to step up. We should not let them down.
Tina Kotek is a Democrat representing Portland in the Oregon House of Representatives.