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Report highlights struggles of people with disabilities in Conn.
The Day - 8/7/2022
Aug. 8—NEW LONDON — A new study shows three times as many people living with disabilities are struggling to afford basic commodities as what the state has reported.
The number of people with disabilities in Connecticut with income that doesn't meet the basic costs of housing, child care, health care, transportation and a smartphone plan is far higher than federal poverty data indicate, according to a new report from United Way of Connecticut and its research partner United For ALICE.
In 2019, while 16% of residents with disabilities were deemed in poverty, 32% were ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). ALICE households earn more than the Federal Poverty Level but less than what it costs to live and work in the modern economy, as defined by United for ALICE. Combined, 48% of Connecticut residents living with disabilities were below the ALICE threshold.
That number reaches 51% for the entire country. Wyoming reported the highest number at 63% while Utah's 39% was the lowest, according to the study.
"There has been — in spite of 20 years of flat funding and budget cuts — a perception in the state of Connecticut that while things have been bad, they aren't as bad here," said Kathleen Stauffer, CEO of The Arc Eastern Connecticut and a director on the Board of The Arc of the United States.
"And that has been really perplexing for those of us who are in the trenches because we know that people are struggling and we see it all the time," she added. "The need is really overwhelming."
The Arc Eastern Connecticut's mission is "to partner with people living with intellectual and developmental disability for equal participation and inclusion in the communities of eastern Connecticut." The organization lists 11 different services it provides, including group and individual supported employment, job development, assessments and career planning, transitional employment services, school-to-work transition services, individualized day programs and in-home supports.
"We're having a lot of conversations about transformation in the state," Stauffer said. What kinds of services do we have now? What kinds of services do people really want and really need? Versus what is being offered."
According to the new report, 82% of residents with disabilities below the ALICE threshold did not receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The program requires that recipients have income below the poverty level, be unable to work, have a "severe" impairment and have less than $2,000 in their bank accounts, or $3,000 if they are a married couple.
Stauffer explained how difficult this can become for someone with disabilities who works for a living. While they may be able to work, they may also need medical care for their condition. Once they earn a certain level of income, their SSI goes away along with their government-funded health care, leaving them in a predicament.
For those living with disabilities in Connecticut, 57% of people are living without health insurance and are under the ALICE threshold.
Stauffer said it's not always easy to have conversations with those who are struggling.
"A lot of the people that we serve, they don't really want to talk about their needs," Stauffer said. "A person with IDD really wants to be seen for their ability."
Other demographics were reported on in the study, with wide discrepancies across the board. For example, Black (62%) and Hispanic (74%) residents with disabilities experienced financial hardship compared to 40% of white people with disabilities. More than half of females (51%) with disabilities struggled more to afford the basics to 44% of males.
The state saw 38% of residents with disabilities below the ALICE Threshold spend 35% or more of their income on their mortgage, plus utilities, taxes and insurance.
"People have varying challenges," Stauffer explained. "The difference from one person to another, it's as dramatic as the difference between you and me."
Stauffer believes that the state is coming to terms with the the status quo and is beginning to transition to remedying the situation
"When you're trying to help a thousand people, each of whom are presenting with different challenges, and every one of those people can be helped to a more stable and independent life, it can be rather complicated," she said.
Overall, she has one belief, whether it be for those in need of services or those providing the services.
"What I'm hoping is that what this study does is prove to Connecticut that investing in human beings makes good economic sense," Stauffer said.
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