(Cross-posted at the Blog of the Century)
My wife is preparing for her brother Vincent’s birthday party tonight. He’s invited maybe fifteen of his friends to a local restaurant. She’s making cupcakes, buying party stuff. Before we are done, the whole thing will cost about $300. It’s a minor indulgence. To tell you the truth, I haven’t given the event or its cost a lot of thought.
Pretty much every guest at this party is an intellectually disabled adult receiving SSI or Social Security assistance. Many receive Food Stamps, too, which are signed over to their group homes. They get three square meals per day, a clean and safe living environment, humane supervision from the staff, occasional recreational activities. They are entitled to keep $50 per month of their cash aid for incidentals. That covers everything from prescription co-pays to a pair of pants, a movie, Sports Illustrated, or a trip to McDonald’s.That’s not an issue for Vincent. Like many other middle-class people, we’ve set up a special needs trust and can otherwise cover a simple birthday party.
Many of his friends, however, have outlived their primary caregivers. Others have just outlived these family relationships. For them, $50/month is all they have. They can’t spend six months of their available cash on cupcakes and a buffet dinner. As a society, we spend a lot of money providing for these men and women in many ways. They still live a Spartan existence. There’s much talk about how states need to do some belt-tightening in their services to the physically and mentally disabled. It’s more than talk. Many states have already cut Medicaid and other services, sometimes absurdly so.
That’s not right. When a guy can’t afford a birthday party, his belt is already pretty tight.