Why My Mom Needed Social Security Disability
When I was 18 months old, I nearly died from pneumonia. I don’t remember it, but I do still live with asthma that I was diagnosed with during that prolonged hospital stay. My parents took turns staying with me in the hospital; one would go to work while the other slept with me, then they would reverse shifts.
Growing up with asthma, I stayed home a fair amount of days as a sick child. I don’t remember my Mom being the person to stay home with me, but I do remember my Dad doing so. When my Dad couldn’t take the time, my Grandmother came over and kept watch over me, introducing me to “The Price is Right” and coffee.
My Mom never stayed home with me, because work was important. As a woman in the emerging telecommunications field, I think she often felt the pressure not to bring typical “woman’s” problems into the office, unless absolutely necessary. She cared about her work and her job, having been employed by what was then called Southwestern Bell, now AT&T, since she was a telephone operator at 16. It was that job that gave her the freedom to leave an abusive husband with her first child, so maintaining that independence was always incredibly important to her.
Decades after first becoming a telephone operator, she retired from the Southwestern Bell as it was making the switch to AT&T and began to teach other people all across the country how to work a 5ESS machine. Tropical Storm Allison’s devastating affects on my Grandmother, my Mom’s mother, the same one that gave me my first cup of coffee, cut this career path short. My Mom, trapped in Boston as Houston was deluged with water, realized very quickly she didn’t want to travel as much as her job demanded.
She took a job with a B2B company, one of those emerging companies that came through once the telecommunications industry was deregulated. In short order she went from being highly regarded in her field, to being laid off, a casualty of a rapidly changing field moving to Voice over IP and cellular technologies.
It was a shock to her system. She was in her 50s and had never been unemployed. I spent days with my Mom helping her get her resume out online — all a change from someone requesting she provide them with her resume because they were attempting to recruit her for another position. We sat and applied for every job possible, but most jobs in her field required cellular experience and she refused to apply to those, even with her incredible work history where she easily learned new machine technologies.
Her mood was grave by the time she applied to the Post Office. She got through every step of the recruitment process, until the physical. She could not pass the physical.
Despite a willing attitude to work, my mother has always suffered from pain. One time, she called me from work to pick up a pain prescription, saying she would just lay down for a bit on the cold floor in the bathroom and continue with her shift at the phone company. When she grew even more uncomfortable, my Dad finally took her to the hospital, only to discover that she had three kidney stones.
By the time she was interviewing with the post office, her fingers were already showing the ravages of arthritis. She has had neck and back pain for as long as I can remember. In retrospect, it is amazing she was able to work for so long.
Knowing the pride and independence my Mom attached with having a job, my Dad approached her cautiously about applying for Social Security Disability. She was already reeling, emotionally, from rejection letters and not hearing back from positions she was more than qualified for, but the post office rejection was another insult entirely. As they talked about it, my Dad stressed the fact that she had been paying into the Social Security system since she was 16, she’d never taken any benefits from it, and she earned the money.
His encouragement helped her move forward with filing for her benefits, but it wasn’t an easy process to undertake. Initially, her request was denied because one of her doctors didn’t send a letter that her application required. We were lucky that we had the means to hire an attorney to fight for her full benefits on appeal, a difference that meant she was finally approved, whereas others languish in the system for years through the entire process.
When I look back at how important having a job was to her, I was always thankful that she was forced out of the workforce in such a way. It gave her many years of enjoyment I think she would have missed otherwise. As I write this, she now receives standard Social Security as a person over age 65 should.
Yesterday, I found out the Trump Administration’s budget plans to cut $25 Billion from Social Security, most of it from the disability program. I’m always astonished how people consider this to be an entitlement program. It’s a program that people have paid into and those are their benefits, and for those that are receiving benefits that haven’t paid into the system, they are receiving the bare minimum of support — around $800 to live off of per month.
Social Security Disability was a difficult step for my Mom to take, but it was a necessary one. I cannot imagine how our family would have struggled without this program for her to fall back on, even with 401K accounts. Worse, that it’s being considered for elimination to pay for another tax cut for the billionaire class is upsetting.
If Mahatma Ghandi is right and “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members,” the United States of America is in more trouble than we can imagine.