SSDI fails woman who’s now living on the streets

Amanda is disabled and now homeless

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, funded by workers’ payroll taxes, in which the SSDI would provide a monthly income and other benefits for those who are disabled and unable to work, but for Amanda Richer, that system has failed her.

Richer, who’s disabled and is living on the streets in Seattle, Washington. She walks to her appointments, which average 1-4 medical appointments in most weeks.

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Richer suffers from traumatic brain injury or TBI, which lists a number behavioral dysfunction ranges from emotionally labile (mood swings), depression, and hyperactivity to aggression, sexual inappropriateness, and elopement (running away). Even lack of activity, or initation, can be a behavioral problem.

A non-profit organization, Invisible People, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the way we think about people experiencing homelessness said of her condition, “Manda is an amazing woman. She is disabled from severe brain trauma, yet because she is high functioning, she falls through the gaps in the safety net. I have been working with her trying to help find a path out of homelessness, but the walls bureaucracy is impossible to break through.”

In November, the Washington Times profiled the problems with the government system where the disabled are trapped in a bureaucratic backlog and forcing sidelined workers to wait years for benefits.

Helena Berger, president, CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities wrote in the Washington Times:

Economic opportunity for all is the cornerstone of the American dream. There are many individuals, however, who face obstacles in reaching this opportunity because of their disability. These individuals have just as strong a desire to be self-sufficient as individuals without disabilities, but desire alone is not enough; the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities is just over 20 percent, compared to nearly 70 percent for people without disabilities.

One avenue for self-empowerment is the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. Funded by workers’ payroll taxes, SSDI provides monthly income and other benefits, including health care insurance, when an illness or injury stops someone from working for 12 months or longer. SSDI allows individuals to maintain their independence and focus on recovery, with the hope of being able to re-enter the work force. Unfortunately, former workers with disabilities face bureaucratic barriers to getting these benefits.

One barrier is particularly concerning: a massive backlog of nearly 1.1 million people waiting for a Social Security Disability Insurance hearing. After up to a year in the initial processes, applicants for disability benefits have to wait an average of 596 days for a hearing decision from an administrative law judge to learn if they will receive SSDI benefits. This backlog is hurting families and making it extremely difficult for recently disabled former workers to stabilize their lives and, if possible, return to work.

While waiting for a SSDI hearing, which could be as long as three years, a former worker could lose their house, health insurance, savings and retirement funds. While this is happening, is it really likely that this individual can focus on recovery and getting back to work?

As for Richer, she continues to wait but holds positive on what will happen in the future.

“For all the people that believe homeless people are lazy, I wish they could just spend an hour in Manda’s shoes, “Invisible People said. “She works hard to keep her tent camp clean. She works hard getting to treatment and therapy. She works hard every single day trying to survive. And she works extremely hard to stay positive while facing the madness of homelessness each and every day!”

A GoFundMe account has been set up for Amanda here.

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