At least one third of Americans today have some sort of visible disability. Add in “invisible” disabilities like learning differences, the number goes to almost half. Many Americans with disabilities have problems securing gainful employment no matter how hard they try. So, they are left to depend on government entitlements like SSI & SSDI.
The question has been posed repeatedly about what would most benefit people with disabilities in America today. The answer, surprisingly, is redesign one of the major things that causes instability in our fiscal picture as a Republic: entitlements.
The particulars of reform are equally important to the messaging that accompanies it. That being said, two major changes need to be made. These changes would either drastically reduce or completely eliminate one of the single largest sections of federal spending, entitlements, thus leading to a more sound fiscal future.
The first change: Support for people with disabilities and others in need should be community initiated, funded and based, not managed and/or funded by the federal government. If churches, synagogues, faith based and civic organizations were properly performing their societal roles and functions, there would be no need for federal involvement. Those organizations and frameworks have allowed their function to be forfeited to the federal government for a variety of reasons, not the least of which include over taxation and over regulation. Reclaiming those functions would also shrink the size of the bloated federal government, thus lowering taxes or eliminating the need for new taxes. That money, in turn, could be redirected from the taxpayer’s pocket directly to the civic or faith based organization of their choice.
The second change: A complete overhaul of the existing system that would result in it functioning as a safety net rather than a hammock. Most people with disabilities do want to work. They need to be not only encouraged but also enabled to work rather than being penalized for doing so through faulty interpretations of existing laws. Existing laws need to be reviewed and proper measures taken to ensure that segments of the system are not operating at cross-purposes. For example: a person with a disability who wants to return to work has 9 months to prove that they can effectively hold a job commensurate with their education, skills and experience. The law should be clarified to explain that those 9 months are consecutive rather than randomly chosen from periods of past employment as is the current practice.
Reform is ineffective if it is misunderstood. Thus, the messaging has to also be considered in this process. Those who are affected by entitlements must understand that public servants care about them and want to empower rather than continue to enslave them as they are under the current system.
Messaging is story telling. Americans love a good story, especially that of a successful underdog. To highlight the need for policy change and create support for it, tell stories of individuals who have been hurt by existing bad policy or bad enforcement of reasonable policy. Then, explain how things can be corrected and follow through on those corrections through policy change and enforcement. Media campaigns are effective if properly designed but nothing trumps the personal human touch. In error, conservatives are often portrayed as callous and uncaring. Every effort must be undertaken to convey compassion, interest and a desire to promote individual freedom and empowerment rather than simply dealing in cold, impersonal data, including knowing people with disabilities and engaging with them in meaningful ways. This is the human touch that makes stories resonate in such a way as to create better policy and thus, a better America for everyone.
People can’t be confused with facts, but they can be persuaded and won with a little human compassion that makes sense. How do I know? It’s quite simple. The person whose work history was “cherry picked” to create a 9 month aggregate? Me. This is entitlement reform, from where I sit.
Written by Melissa Ortiz