Senate’s proposed cuts would affect at least 2,395 aged, blind, disabled clients

State lawmakers in midst of budget negotiations

When Christina Pickett learned that state lawmakers have proposed cuts to the Aged, Blind or Disabled cash-assistance program she relies upon, she said, her anxiety levels spiked.

For the 45-year-old Rochester woman with degenerative disc disease, the $197 in ABD assistance she receives each month is appeasing her roommate, who graciously agreed to charge her only $100 a month for rent while she tries to secure federal disability benefits.

But that ABD benefit and other state safety-net programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, could be cut for thousands of Washingtonians if the two-year operating budget passed by the Senate becomes a reality.

The Senate’s budget relies on steep reductions to social services at a time when state lawmakers are working toward compromise on a budget that complies with a state Supreme Court order to fully fund basic education.

If the Senate’s proposal were to become law today, it would disqualify at least 2,395 people from ABD assistance, according to the Department of Social and Health Services. Specifically, it would limit the length of time a person can receive ABD benefits to 36 months for those awaiting federal Supplemental Security Income.

Left: Christina Pickett of Rochester says the $197 per month she receives has helped keep a roof over her head while she awaits federal disability benefits.

In fact, nearly 80 percent of ABD recipients are disabled or awaiting SSI through the federal Social Security Administration. They receive a small monthly cash grant and help with accessing federal disability benefits.

If an ABD recipients successfully transitions to SSI, the federal government reimburses the state for some of the ABD assistance that person received. More than half of the money the state spends on ABD recipients awaiting SSI comes back to the state in the form of federal reimbursements, according to DSHS.

‘Somewhere to lay my head’

Pickett injured herself on the job in 1996. She was working at a motel that had been damaged by a flood. A wet mattress that she and a coworker were trying to move fell on her.

She felt pain and a pop in her back, but at age 26, she didn’t think the injury was severe. She kept working while receiving physical therapy.

The injury slowly developed into degenerative disc disease, causing pain in her head, neck and back that intensified when Pickett experienced stress or worked under bright lights, she said. She had to stop working in 2006.

She spent a lot of time in bed and relied on others to help her.

Pickett owned a piece of property that kept her from qualifying for assistance, so she put the property on the market. It took almost two years to sell.

While Pickett waits for federal disability benefits, she worries that her roommate’s patience might be wearing thin.

She said she wants legislators to know how vital the program is to her and others.

“The $197 is small, but it does help out,” Pickett said. “Right now I have somewhere to lay my head.”

‘Don’t take the money away’

Pickett isn’t the only one living on the edge while waiting for federal disability benefits.

After being employed for more than 45 years, hard work and previous injuries caught up with Washington native Joel Waner.

He said his physical disability, which includes nerve pain and an inability to lift, bend or kneel, dealt a blow to his job prospects.

Unable to get work, he applied last fall for Social Security disability benefits, hoping that his savings would be enough to cover his living expenses and $600 monthly rent until those benefits were granted. Waner is estranged from his family, so their support wasn’t an option, he said.

The ABD program kicked in for Waner when he applied for Social Security benefits, providing him with $197 a month.

The money helped keep a roof over Waner’s head for a while, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. He lost his housing and is living in a men’s homeless shelter run by the Salvation Army.

“I had to move out of my place because I ran out of my own funds waiting on … disability,” Waner said. “I had to sleep out(side) two nights. It about killed me. … I need to have a big, thick mattress because of the nerve damage and everything else.”

Like Waner, one-third of ABD recipients are homeless, according to DSHS.

Speaking with one of Gov. Jay Inslee’s staff members in March, Waner explained that he had three more doctor’s appointments before he could get his federal disability benefits, which he hoped would happen in a month or two.

It’s hard to live on $197 a month and food stamps, Waner said. About $100 of the money pays for his storage unit and much of the leftover money is used for transportation, he said.

Waner said he is grateful for the help and would like lawmakers to expand the ABD program, not cut it.

Waner, who was raised by foster parents for much of his childhood, pointed out that his foster parents received about as much assistance from the state in the 1970s for fostering him as he’s receiving now through ABD.

“Don’t take the money away. If you’re going to do anything, add money to it, please,” he said.