United Way’s latest report, detailing the financial struggles of people with disabilities in Frederick and Maryland in general, was disheartening, but not particularly surprising.
If people consider the lives of our neighbors with disabilities, they probably realize that disability comes with financial challenges.
The survey showed that half of all people with disabilities in Maryland live in financial hardship. Here in Frederick, more city residents with disabilities are struggling than the rest of the county.
The report also showed that disabled people of color are disproportionately affected.
The study measures the financial conditions of people who have incomes above the federal poverty level, but cannot afford the basic cost of living.
These are not people deep in poverty, for whom most government programs are created. These are people who work in low-wage jobs and find it difficult to get out of them.
United Way refers to these families as ALICE households: Limited Assets, Limited Income, Employed. Most of the agency’s efforts in recent years have focused on helping these people. United Way of Central Maryland and its research partner, United For ALICE, produced the report.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the study is the finding that it is based on data from 2019. This means that this rather dismal report does not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that began the following year. Knowing how the pandemic has affected lower-income families, we can only imagine how bad things have been over the past two years for people with disabilities.
The study divided people with disabilities into six categories: ambulatory disability, cognitive disability, hearing disability, visual disability, difficulty with independent living, and difficulty with self-care. In Frederick, the two geographic areas studied were greater Frederick City and the rest of the county.
There were strong contrasts between the groups in some areas. For example, in the city, the number of people with ambulatory disabilities living below the ALICE threshold was a staggering 62 percent, compared to 26 percent outside the city, the study found.
It showed the following groups of disabled people living below the ALICE threshold:
Cognitive disability: 53% in Greater Frederick, 43% outside the city
Visual impairment: 63% in the city, 34% outside the city
Self-care difficulty: 63% in the city, 62% outside the city
Difficulty of independent living: 48% in the city, 25% outside the city
Members of The Arc of Frederick County, a nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities, told News-Post reporter Mary Grace Keller that the data is troubling.
In an emailed statement to our reporter, Special Projects Director Aaron Stephens and Executive Director Shauna Mulcahy wrote that the disparity could be attributed in part to the “outdated social services system” that places income limits on the ‘public assistance.
For example, Supplemental Security Income is only available to people with disabilities if their assets are less than $2,000 for an individual or less than $3,000 for a married couple. As a result, only 15 percent of people with disabilities living below the ALICE threshold in Maryland received SSI payments in 2019, the study found.
United Way is doing a commendable job of tailoring its services to ALICE homes, whether people are disabled or not.
But the study should inform the thinking of county and state officials as they weigh what kinds of assistance should be extended to lower-income people, especially for housing, the food, transport, health and access to technology.
These are our neighbors in need, and this is a community that is always ready to lend a hand.