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Between the Cracks

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Treatment is only the first thing you'll worry about Treatment is only the first thing you'll worry about

Sure, you'll get better. But how will you live until treatments are over?

Suzanne was diagnosed with cancer after what she thought was a cold lasted several months. Nellie found lumps in her breast. And our own Dustin (see his story on page 39) injured his shoulder playing weekend football. All three have health insurance. And all three are, at least temporarily, disabled and cannot work. No unemployment. No workman’s compensation. No paycheck coming in each week. And in addition, no substantial savings to fall back on. The share of their medical bills not covered by insurance are the least of their worries as they try to figure out how to pay the rent, the electric bill, and the month’s groceries while going through treatment that will, hopefully, allow them to live long and productive lives.

Although many people believe Social Security, in the form of either Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will step into the breach, these programs are only available to those whose disability is expected to last at least one year, or result in imminent death. If your disability period is expected to run less than that—say, for the span of chemo treatments or physical therapy—Social Security will not come to the rescue. Even if your disability is expected to last at least a year (or even if your doctor is willing to state it will), Social Security reports that 60 percent of initial applications are denied, and it can take up to five months before payments start coming in. And those payments are rarely more than $1,000 a month.

Less than 20 percent of Americans have disability insurance to cover expenses should they be unable to work. Yet almost every American who owns a home has homeowner’s insurance. What are the odds you’ll file a claim on your home? One in 88. What are the odds you’ll be disabled for 90 days or longer? One in eight. In fact, the Senate Finance Committee found that between the ages of 35 and 65, seven out of ten people will become disabled for three months or longer.

Even if you have disability insurance, most plans only replace 66 percent to 70 percent of your income prior to the disability, and this at a time when your regular expenses are increasing.

How many people can go ten months without income from working? How many people can go even two? According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal savings rates for Americans have been hovering right around zero, sometimes even registering in negative amounts due to borrowing to finance regular expenditures. As a whole, Americans do not have savings adequate to replace their income for any time at all.

So what’s out there to help? Not a lot, especially if you don’t have children still living at home.

The greatest support comes through your area’s Community Action Partnership, a program begun in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Funding is provided through federal, state and local grants, as well as private foundations, corporate and individual donations. These organizations are private non-profits. Different support programs offered through CAP have different income level requirements, ranging from 125 percent to 160 percent of the federal poverty level.

Emergency food assistance provides commodities as they’re available. Energy assistance in paying your utility bill, or even for buying firewood, is available from November through March, though the funding is limited. CAPs also provide assistance with weatherizing your house year-round to help decrease energy expenses, and this help is available whether you own your home or rent. They can also provide up to $13.50 a month to help pay for basic telephone service.

It’s possible to receive food stamps through the state departments of Health and Welfare, for those who meet the income and asset guidelines. That information is posted on the Internet through your state’s Health and Welfare website.

Local food banks are another resource and one that’s being hit heavily during these current economic times. Alice Wallace, director of the Bonner Community Food Center, has said she is giving out more food baskets than at any other time in her 12 years of working there.

Other energy assistance is available through area utility providers—call them directly to see if there’s a way in which they can help if you find yourself in this type of situation.

Many private, not-for-profit groups in the area have been established to provide limited help for people in these types of situations. In Sandpoint, Community Cancer Services is a resource for many. Groups like the Angels Over Sandpoint, and Sanders County’s Friends of Cathy not only help with meals and travel expenses for those with short-term disabilities, but in some cases can provide limited financial assistance as well. Veterans or their spouses can talk to area organizations like the DAV and the VVA, both of which provide substantial support to needy vets.

One thing many people with short-term disabilities forget to do is to contact their lenders—not just the mortgage company, but the credit cards, the company that holds your car payment, your student loans. Many businesses are willing to work with those with a short-term disability, sometimes deferring payments or lowering interest rates.

Family, friends and churches round out the remainder of resources available to those in this situation. Yet all too often, that’s simply not enough. According to the US Housing and Finance Agency, 48 percent of all home foreclosures are the result of a disability. (Those statistics, of course, were compiled prior to this year’s foreclosure jamboree.)

As with health, prevention is the best option for dealing with short-term disability, as there’s not much to be done once a disability occurs; after the fact, discuss your situation with your employer, and try to discover ways in which you can work at some level, allowing for at least some income.

And if you’re not in this position? Investigate your options regarding disability insurance to replace the income you’ll need if for some reason you can’t go to work. And remember, now is also the time to give. The lifelines of our community, from churches to organizations to food banks, need your help now more than ever.

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Landon Otis

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health, insurance, disability

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