UBI for the Disabled

Did you know that, in the USA, the primary benchmark for government disability is ‘can you get a job’? Not what your disability is, not how it truly impacts you or your family, not if you have good days and bad days, but “Could you have paid employment? Why not? Prove it!”.

And they mean any paid employment, anywhere. If you used to be a trapeze artist, and a spinal injury means you can’t do the thing you trained your whole life for… but you can sit at desk now, well, then, you’ll have to sit at a desk job, because you’re not really disabled. Even if some days you can only sit for an hour at a time, or you get erratic migraines, or you can’t control when you have flashbacks to falling.

All the system cares about is the usefulness of your body and mind as a resource for others. All it wants to know is if you can participate in Paid Employment, so they don’t have to support you in any way.  And, by the way, disability services doesn’t just mean a monthly check. For many of the disabled, it can mean housing, personal care support & staff, and medical services. But ALL of those things go away, if you aren’t eligible for disability.

Now, many people I know who are disabled do want some sort of paid employment- but they are stuck in a catch 22; if they get paid employment, and then make over X amount, or have $2000 in savings, they lose their disability benefits. And that paid employment, if they find something that can accommodate their disability, is very often not enough to cover all the things they were receiving as a benefit.

What the message underlying “Yes, I would love to be able to have a job!” is, is “I would like financial security, and to be engaged in activities I enjoy, to the limits of my disability, without regularly running the risk of damaging that financial security.”

Enter Universal Basic Income.  A well-run UBI would allow us to provide that financial stability, AND eliminate our discriminatory, exclusionary ‘finance-based eligibility’ disability services system we have now. We could provide vital supports to the disabled based on their disability needs- not on “Oh, I guess we have to feed and house you because you can’t get paid employment.”

It would allow the disabled to participate in society in the way they choose, to the level they chose; If they want to own a small cottage industry, and work when their disability allows them too, they can.  If they want to have a part-time job at an employer who allows them flexibility and accommodations, they can; all without putting their disability support services at risk.

It would allow us to better accept special needs youth into society, because we wouldn’t need to focus on ‘get a job’ as the goal of adult integration. We could see them as people, with their own dreams and choices -not as a disposable, abstract part of the labor pool, which is what we literally train our disabled youth to be, right now.

And, fundamentally, it would provide the disabled with dignity, worth and pride by making them part of the whole; not an excluded class of people, living on the begrudgingly disbursed largesse they have to jump through hoops to get and keep.