What $2,000 gets you

Tan and Tamara Nguyen

Tan and Tamara Nguyen

At the PHO’ndraiser, I had the opportunity to talk to many of the people who came out, and a sentiment I heard over and over again was how shocked many of you were to find out just how financially limited a person and their family are when receiving any type of social supplemental income. For those of you just coming in on this discussion, a little while back I wrote a post about the ABLE Act, a bill currently proposing a 529-like account that wouldn’t harm the benefits and medical coverage of working people with disabilities. As the law currently stands, persons with a disability who receive some type of  supplemental income are restricted to how much they can earn in a living wage per month. This law also limits them to only being allowed to hold a savings of $2,000. If either of these limits are exceeded, the individual’s supplemental income and medical benefits are reduced and, in many cases, even removed. In Tan’s case, these limits are applied not only to him but also to me because we are married.

In my earlier post I discussed a little about just how financially limited we are because of the current laws, but as I talked to many of you at the PHO’ndraiser the same questions kept coming up, “But, how do you live on just $2,000 a month” and “How are you supposed to afford anything?”  For some the question that came out was “How are you supposed to ever get off welfare?”

As I spoke with you at the PHO’ndraiser and ruminated about my earlier post and what it’s like to live on our restricted finances I thought, “I’m really getting through to them; they really understand what we’re going through…”

…and then last week I spoke with a vendor who sells auto-adaptive equipment (fancy title for someone who sells and installs all those fun driving gadgets for people with a disability to be able to drive) and it all came crashing down around my ears. This is someone who works in the industry and he couldn’t understand. See, vendors act as your very own conversion van car dealership. You can buy a van that has been converted for wheelchair access from them, a third party person who acts as the middle man between you and BraunAbility (or some other similar company) who does the conversion. The vendor’s specialty is that they offer long-term financing options (up to 10 years) and lower interest rates than conventional lending institutions would offer. This is especially important to persons with a disability, who often have little to no credit to offer and live on a such a restricted income that financing for the regular five years would make monthly payments too expensive.  But here’s the reality, a $40,000 car spread out into payments (not including interest) over the course of 10 years is still $333 per month.

Sounds reasonable, right? I mean, lots of people pay more than $333 (not including interest) a month on a car payment all the time, right?

But here’s Tan’s financial reality, and mine too when you get down to it. MIT worked with Poverty in America to create a Living Wage Calculator.  Those super smart brainiacs got together and figured out what a person needed to earn to sustain living. Here’s a snippet of that calculator specific to living in Bay County, Florida, our home town, for a two person adult household:

Living Wage Calculator

Living Wage Calculator for Bay County, Florida by MIT and Poverty in America.

Now, if you’re scratching your head because of this little niggling feeling that there’s something not quite right here, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, here’s what it is. Remember back when I told you that a person receiving some form of supplemental income isn’t allowed to hold more than $2,000, and that this amount includes both Tan and my income combined because we are married. Now, if you’ve done the math in your head, you’ve figure out that $2,000 adds up to $24,000 annually.

Have you found the problem yet? Take a good look. That calculator above has calculated the lowest necessary wage earned in order to pay for the cost of living–in other words, those numbers above are poverty. According to that calculator, the household income of a two person adult family necessary to live at poverty in Bay County, Florida, is an annual income of $29,983.

So what does $2,000 get you? Well, it gets you less than the cost of living. Bottom line is, Tan and I live below poverty.  How do you explain this to people when someone who works in the industry doesn’t even understand that extended financing doesn’t somehow magically grow money! Take a moment today and search “wheelchair van” on GoFundMe. You’ll find there are quite literally 1,000s of people raising money for their own cause. They come from all walks of life, all with different needs and aspirations. All of them living under restrictions like the ones I talked about here. This is reality. This is Tan’s reality.


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