Harsh Rules of SSI Cause Client Hardship

By Luke Matthews

              I get a little over $400 a month because I am on Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  That has to go for rent, food, and all my living expenses.  I pay 30 percent of my income for my apartment.  Most people on SSI get about$500 per month.  If I were to start work and I made over $60 per month for a few months in a row, then I am convinced that they would cut me off.  If you are able to work at all then you are not eligible for SSI, and I wouldn’t have got on in the first place.

             I was making $10 every two weeks from a sheltered workshop that was trying to teach me maintenance and janitorial skills, and that counted against me as far as getting on SSI.  I first got SSI when I came down with pneumonia and nearly died.  I had tried to commit suicide on more than one occasion before that.  I refused to admit that I had a mental illness.  Also, I could not stand the medicine because of the nasty side effects.  It made me feel groggy all day long then I could not fall asleep at night.  I thought SSI was a scam but I got onto County assistance anyway in the late 1980s.

             They called me a “system abuser” because I was not taking my medicine, and receiving county funds in Kentucky.  They kicked me off, and my landlord realized that he was not going to get any money because I was no longer on SSI and told me to leave.  I hitchhiked to St. Louis where I developed pneumonia and was delirious and was sweaty and smelled real bad.  I was able o get on SSI.

             I went off SSI after a relative gave me an inheritance.  Fortunately, I was approved for SSI again early in 1993 in Cleveland, and then I was able to get in HUD housing.  The thing that was my saving grace was that I was living in an n apartment with no heat for a while and I was doing really bad emotionally.  When they called me to interview me about my mental illness, I did not know what day, or the month or the year.  I knew the street I lived on.  I just couldn’t pull it together.  I was so mentally ill even though I was taking my medication.  They had me diagnosed schizophrenic when I was really schizoeffective, which made my medication not as effective.  The main difference is that with schizoeffective you may become depressed along with paranoia.  It is the most complicated mental illness.

             As it goes, the system penalizes you for trying to work – no matter what kind of work it is.  Some people just shut themselves off from everyone else and just watch T.V. all day             

            In the past, I have had to give money back that my blood relatives have given me.  My parents who are senior citizens have money from working for he state.  They both have health problems, but they would send me money for holidays.  Social Security has a $20 allowance that you can keep in addition to your SSI.  Anything over $20 comes out of your check.  I got two U.S. Savings Bonds and made me pay that back, and they made me pay back more than the bonds were worth.  So they started taking 10 percent out of my check and that will go on for over 10 years.

             They called me “illegal,” even though I came in and volunteered this.  They said, “You have committed a crime.”  I said, “No, you would have never know this.  I did not commit a crime.” I am extremely scrupulous and honest.  If I find a dime at the store, I take it to the manager of the store.  I am extremely law abiding.  I believe that this made me stop recovering from my mental illness, and I got real bad because I had never been a criminal.  It destroyed me.  I started getting black outs from this time on.  It was making my life very difficult to be accused a criminal.

             This also caused me to lose my food stamps.  They said I got this income, and so I had to pay back the $00 in food stamps that I got for two months.  I went off of food stamps for good, because I didn’t want the hassle.  I tried to get help from the Ombudsman, but they couldn’t help, and my caseworker couldn’t help.  The worst thing was the contempt of the County workers in the Food Stamp office.

             Then I gave money to a political candidate, and one week later three different agencies called me up and wanted to audit me.  All three letters from the county, state, and federal governments sent me letters requesting an audit, and the letters all arrived on the same day.  It was such a frustrating thing.  I had to go to all these different financial audits alone.  And I haven’t been recovering as well since.

             Recently, my parents sent me a check for $400.  They usually send over $100 for Christmas, Easter, and my birthday.  I reported all this income because my nervous conditions its called scrupulosity.  It comes from being raised by a person who sees evil in almost everything.  The child then thinks that everything that they do as not good enough or evil.  Not the current month, but three months down the line during the winter.

             I have a lot of fear about this. I said, “I am not doing well emotionally about this.”  So they said I could go upstairs and complain to the U.S. Senator Mike Dewine.  I went in a room that was 9 foot by 4 foot with bulletproof glass and a heavy steel door and a couch.  The receptionist was behind the glass.  I stood for a while waiting for her.  She said, “You can write a letter to the Congressman,” and she gave me an address.  I told her, “I am in a lot of emotional pain.  I have done nothing wrong.”  She said, “You have already done something.”  I did get an appeal form in the mail, but I didn’t want to make waves.  I take what I can get. I don’t want to make enemies of the people who are giving me money.

            So, I saved up the money that I got from my parents so that I could pay the rent.  I have an extra $60 for that month, but I will have to pay the phone and long distance bill.  Basically, I have no money for the month, and my parents are giving gifts to the federal government.  I won’t have any money for food.  I do have $100 in the bank, which I am saving in case my father dies I can go back to his funeral.

            I believe that the Social Security workers are very patriotic and try to save the government money.  I believe that they are rewarded with promotions by how much money they can save the government by cracking down on people.  I think there is an incentive for saving money.  The workers think that the people on SSI are criminals or are ripping off the government.

 I think that their policies destroy the families.  When a blood relative gives you money, and have to say don’t give me money because the government takes it.  I am paying more in taxes then many suburban upper income families.  I am not ungrateful, but the workers make life very difficult.  They make it very difficult to stay on SSI.

  Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 30 October – November 1998