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Report: 50% of Marylanders with disabilities cannot afford basic living costs

Frederick News-Post - 7/30/2022

Jul. 30—Half of all people with disabilities in Maryland are living in financial hardship, and data show a disparity in the city of Frederick compared to the rest of the county, according to a United Way study.

The United Way of Central Maryland and its research partner, United For ALICE, announced the results of the report this week.

The study, which highlights data as of 2019, found that 50% of Marylanders are living below the ALICE threshold. ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) refers to households with income above the federal poverty level that are unable to afford the basic cost of living, according to the United Way.

Much of United Way's efforts focus on assisting ALICE households.

In the study, the term disability was subcategorized into ambulatory disability, cognitive disability, hearing disability, vision disability, independent living difficulty and self-care difficulty. Frederick County was broken into two geographic areas of study — Greater Frederick City and Frederick County excluding the city area.

The number of people with ambulatory disabilities living below the ALICE threshold stood in stark contrast inside the city compared to outside. In the city, 62% of people with ambulatory disabilities were living below the threshold in 2019, compared to 26% outside the city, according to the study.

"This kind of data is going to help inform policy and decisions throughout the community," said Ken Oldham, president and CEO of the United Way of Frederick County. "We can use the data to help steer our programming."

Oldham referenced Ride United, which provided more than 3,700 free or reduced-fare one-way rides to ALICE households between October and June through a partnership with Lyft.

"It makes us start thinking about what program is necessary," Oldham said of the study.

Some of the findings, such as the number of people with hearing disabilities who live outside the city, surprised him. The study identified a little more than 4,000 such people living outside the city, compared to about 2,700 in the city.

Of those with hearing disabilities, 28% were below the ALICE threshold in the city compared to 23% in the rest of the county. The number of people who are deaf and hard of hearing living below the ALICE threshold is higher in most other places in Maryland, according to the study.

Montgomery County north and west, Prince George's County south, and St. Mary's and Calvert counties were the only other regions in the study that had fewer than 28% of people with hearing disabilities living below the threshold.

Other Frederick County data showed the following groups of people with disabilities living below the ALICE threshold:

— Cognitive disability: 53% in the greater city of Frederick, 43% outside the city

— Vision disability: 63% in the city, 34% outside the city

— Self-care difficulty: 63% in the city, 62% outside the city

— Independent living difficulty: 48% in the city, 25% outside the city

In general, the United Way report showed that people with disabilities are more likely to fall below the ALICE threshold than people without disabilities.

"People with two or more disabilities were more likely to be below the ALICE Threshold (55%) than people with one disability (47%) and people without disabilities (34%)," the report said.

Members of The Arc of Frederick County, a nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities, found the data troubling.

"It is a very unfortunate reality that anyone lives in poverty. Even more so that people with developmental disabilities live at poverty levels in disproportionally high rates," Special Projects Director Aaron Stephens and Executive Director Shauna Mulcahy wrote in an emailed statement.

They attributed the disparity, in part, to the "outdated social services system" that puts income limits on public assistance.

Supplemental Security Income is available for people with disabilities — if their assets are less than $2,000 for an individual or less than $3,000 for a married couple.

Under this criteria, 15% of people with disabilities living below the ALICE threshold in Maryland received SSI payments in 2019, according to the United Way study. The other 85% — 281,017 people unable to afford the basic cost of living — did not receive such assistance, the study said.

Other barriers to resources identified in the study included: long wait lists for housing assistance, income caps for food assistance, access to technology and access to health insurance. The report also showed people of color with disabilities disproportionately fall under the ALICE threshold.

At the United Way of Frederick County, Oldham believes the data included in the report will shape the organization's actions.

"This is now my basis to understand where we are in our community," he said.

Follow Mary Grace Keller on Twitter: @MaryGraceKeller


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