Editor’s Note: This story is courtesy of the Statewide Poverty Action Network’s Network News. It’s an interesting follow up to the presentation Dan Savage made at our recent luncheon about the It Gets Better Project. Dan promotes personal outreach as an antidote to bullying of LGBTQ youth by peers in schools, families, etc. Kytty’s story chronicles political engagement to counter the way budget cuts to Disability Lifeline would be a kind of state-sponsored bullying of marginalized people.
Kytty, a 24-year-old former Disability Lifeline (DL) recipient and new Poverty Action member, shared her story with lawmakers and spoke out against budget cuts. After years of childhood abuse, Kytty was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, making it nearly impossible for her to hold down a job. Stressful working conditions, such as angry customers, sometimes triggered flashbacks of her abuse. Left without a source of income, Kytty survived three episodes of homelessness before learning she was eligible for DL.
The DL program provides a small monthly cash grant and medical coverage to people with very low incomes when they’re temporarily unable to work due to a mental illness or physical disability. This program has endured a 40% reduction since 2009. Now, the Senate has proposed the total elimination of the DL cash grant and a $51 million cut to DL’s medical coverage. If adopted, these cuts will take away the only source of income for over 20,000 individuals and cause 6,000 people living with disabilities to lose access to health care.
Kytty, who is transgender, describes her experience of homelessness as extremely stressful because she feared her identity would cause her to be targeted on the streets. “People discriminated against me and treated me like a second class citizen.” Having aged out of other transitional housing and homeless prevention services, DL provided the necessary support for Kytty and her partner to move off the streets and into a rented room. “I literally used every single penny on rent.” DL’s medical benefits provided Kytty with insurance and enabled her to access medications and counseling services. Kytty is currently working through her PTSD and dreams of earning a college degree in music technology and becoming a professional musician.
Kytty met with her lawmakers for the first time last month in Olympia through Poverty Action’s Lobby Tuesday program. She said that she felt like she made a difference and that the trip was fun and productive, “I felt like Harvey Milk – like an activist!” Her advice to first-time activists who have never shared their stories before is to “research your lawmakers as much as you can beforehand and know their names, districts, and what issues they care about. Speak with confidence, even if you’re nervous.” Kytty encourages other current and former DL recipients to speak out: “There is a huge need for this program – it prevents homelessness.”
Washington State legislators continue to wrangle over the state budget. To let them know how you feel about Disability Lifeline or other issues, use this handy online tool.