By Justin Farley
Growing up, I received a weekly allowance from my parents for doing my weekly chores like every other kid I knew at the time, but unlike most kids I didn’t like spending my money. I remember from an early age having a piggy bank to stash all my money in. As I grew older, my parents opened up a savings account for me. By the age of thirteen I managed to save enough money to buy me a brand new computer with all the best hardware. Having my own computer at that age was awesome, I didn’t need to share it with my siblings and it had the added benefit of making my older brother jealous. Mid-way through high school, I started a very small vending machine company. It started as me selling sodas out of my fridge to the neighborhood kids and grew to owning three vending machines at the company where my father worked. By the end of high school, my savings account had accumulated around $5,000.
It wasn’t until I went college when my family decided for me to apply for social security. After all the necessary testing, we figured out that SSI had a $2000 cap limit. At that point, the money I saved since childhood was deemed as something, it was holding me back from getting on social security. In order to apply I had to get my funds below $2000. Being someone who hates spending their money frivolously, I ended up buying (or as I like to say, the government forced me to buy) a Tempurpedic mattress and a flat screen TV. Once everything was said and done, everyone we spoke to said I would be an ideal candidate for SSI, I applied only to be faced with a denial letter. The denial letter told me I wasn’t approved for SSI because my disability would eventually get better and there would not be any limitations in what job I could do. My first reaction was thankful the government thought this, but since they were clearly mistaken, my second reaction, and my only option, was to get a lawyer to help me get approved.
I am convinced it was easy money for my lawyer who received 10% of the money owed to me. Apparently, all he did was write three words (“This is nuts”) on my denial letter and sent it back to the Social Security Administrative office to successfully get me approved and receiving SSI.
Near the end of college, my grandfather passed away and left me with some inheritance. This again turned something good in to something bad given the $2000 cap limit. We had to hire another lawyer to give up my control of the money I received by putting into a trust controlled by my father. The inheritance put us into a little of a panic at first because it threatened all of my social security benefits, but at the end we managed to successfully get it safely into the trust.
In January, I moved to Berkeley, California, to attend UC Berkeley. Shortly after, I did all the necessary things in order to get registered in California. I went to the DMV to get a Californian ID and then went to the social security office to update the records and start receiving the California SSI benefits. It all seemed to be okay and I was even receiving the correct California amount until August, when I received a letter in the mail saying I would no longer receive benefits. It turns out they decided to count the money in the trust as a resource to put me over the $2000 cap. In the letter it said I had 15 days to appeal so my dad and I yet again, got another lawyer to help with the appeal process. After weeks and weeks of working with the lawyer, we found the possible mistakes in the trust document written up in Texas to cause this denial. SSA finally replied to the appeal saying through further investigation, the trust won’t be counted as a resource and therefore you are still entitled to SSI. Point being, hiring a lawyer was quite pointless, but we felt like we needed to.
Social security is great when you need it and have other supplements available to you such as when you are going to school, but after school it is nearly impossible to live independently on social security. It is normally a real good habit in life to save your money, but when on social security you are unable to do so. Also, it forces you to be independent without letting you be independent. I had to give up control of the money I received from my grandfather which was meant to assist me not hurt me. Luckily I had someone I trusted to gain control of my inheritance for me. And persistently, I learned you practically need a lawyer in your back pocket which can be quite costly. It is a catch-22 because you need a lawyer in order to keep your benefits that you depend on to live, but most people who live on social security cannot afford lawyers to keep the money they depend on. As it is right now SSI makes it nearly impossible to live independently.
Many people like Justin face challenges because of current Social Security disability benefits policies. You can support Justin and other young adults in similar situations by signing our CareerACCESS petition to reform current federal policies to allow young adults with disabilities to pursue their career goals and achieve independence. You can also follow CareerACCESS on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and share our updates and posts.