An Open Letter to the Congress and Senate

To whom it should concern,

My name is Alexandra Tomlinson. I am a 22 year old, disabled adult living in the great state of South Carolina. Over the last few weeks, you and your colleagues have been actively debating back and forth the terms for a stimulus bill to address the hardships caused by COVID-19.

Initial versions of the bill were criticized heavily by the disabled community. Concerns regarding eligibility for Social Security recipients – whether retired, disabled, or receiving SSI – were raised. Would there be a way for individuals who didn’t file taxes because their income was solely non-taxable to receive assistance? Would the proposed $1200 for each individual count against our benefits eligibility, or end up penalizing SSI recipients?

There were talks about increasing Social Security by $200 to account for cost of living adjustments that has been ignored over the years, putting the poorest within society closer to earning minimum wage.

The final bill that has been approved, seems to accomplish quite a lot and will provide substantial relief for millions of Americans between increased unemployment benefits and stimulus checks.

Except, there’s a critical area that you have overlooked.

Families with dependents will be receiving $500 for dependents under the age of 17. If you have been claimed on someone else’s taxes as their dependent, you are ineligible to receive a stimulus check.

Millions of college students and disabled individuals between the age of 18 and 24 will receive no financial assistance due to these terms.

Rather than make compelling arguments towards people who don’t believe students who are dependents actually need any sort of financial assistance, I’m simply going to lay out examples of my own personal experience to demonstrate why this is so wrong.

When I was 18 years old, I was still a senior in high school living at home with my retired parents. Under this circumstance, my family would not have been eligible to receive $500 in assistance, on my behalf.

When I was 19 years old, I was a college student, living in a dorm, who had a work-study position on campus. I was a dependent, but I still covered many of my own expenses. Under this circumstance, my work-study position would not be considered an essential job so I would lose my income. My dorm would be closed and I would be sent home for the semester. My parents had already paid for my dorm (approximately $1400 a month) and my meal plan for the semester. Colleges are not reimbursing students for these expenses. However, I would have to return home where I would need to eat. My food expenses have now been doubled, since the food I would have been consuming has already been paid for.

When I was 20 years old, I was still a college student, but I had my own apartment. I worked full time, at on off campus company. I paid approximately half of my living expenses. I was still a dependent. My job would not have been considered essential. To collect unemployment, I would have had to have worked in Wisconsin for 18 months, I had not. I was also still a resident of South Carolina, as I was a student, making things more complicated. I would not be eligible to receive a stimulus check, meaning I would not have been able to afford to feed myself.

When I was 21 years old, I was recently disabled, not yet approved for SSDI. I was living at home with my parents who were already having a hard time making ends meet to cover my expenses, as again, they are retired. My family would not have received a stimulus check for me being their dependent.

At 22 years old, I live on my own. I am disabled and receive SSDI. Up until this month, my parents assisted with rent as living at home was not feasible. This month I now cover my own rent because due to the COVID-19 virus, and being a High-Risk individual I was unable to move across the country with them. I was moving across the country with them to retain my health insurance – which is something extremely important for a disabled individual with complex chronic illnesses. I am medically dependent on my parents. I now have roughly $2000 worth of expenses every month while receiving $739 in Social Security Disability payments.

I am not eligible for rent reductions or payment plans, because I don’t have a demonstrated loss of income. My situation is incredibly unique, but in the grand scheme of situations there’s millions of us being allowed to slip through the cracks.

I can not tell you when this virus will let up and allow for me to safely move, so I could be looking at 6 months of these insanely high expenses. If it lasts longer, I also will lose my health insurance. I cannot go into a grocery store to get supplies, meaning I have to pay for delivery of everything, and many services – like Instacart – inflate prices. This cost alone would be covered by the mere $500 check that dependents under the age of 17 receive.

But I am 22 years old.

My parents are not able to assist me, which is what must be the assumption for excluding dependents over the age of 17. My parents are financially strained due to the stock market crashing and their 401K being vastly reduced.

Throughout every year of my life since turning 18, excluding my situation from financial assistance simply makes no sense. And these situations of mine, represent millions of people across the country right now.

You’re telling me, students across the nation, and young, disabled adults that regardless of the reason we are a “dependent” neither us, nor our families deserve extra funding during this global pandemic.

You’re telling the college students who go home, that their kid brother will be covered and have extra funding to feed him, but they will not.

You’re telling the disabled individuals who have never been able to work, who live at home, who are the most impoverished in our society, that they don’t get to eat. These are the same people who have asset caps and don’t have the funds to stock up on supplies.

We are being erased from society. We are being told that we have no value. The disabled community is no stranger to this. Just earlier this week our government was advocating for our deaths to save the good old American dollar.

I will not be erased.

I am not some overly privileged adult, living off of my wealthy parents as many who have argued those being excluded are. Had I already moved, I personally would have donated much of my check to other people who needed it more. But, that is not the reality of the current situation. And it does not change the need for millions of adults to receive assistance because of COVID-19.

Senators. Congressmen. Mr. President.

Whomever is reading this.

I’m demanding you reconsider the eligibility for stimulus checks. Consider removing the age cap for dependency. Consider implementing the $200 increase in Social Security payments to address the economic inequality. Consider the parents with college age children who don’t know how they will cover the cost of feeding them. Consider us all.

A.

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