A 54-year-old woman spends most of her time at home. She lives in a second-floor apartment, and because of her multiple sclerosis she can’t go down the stairs on her own. The situation is likely all too familiar to many Georgia residents struggling with the same disease.

The woman was an accounts-payable secretary until 1997. She learned that she had MS in 1991 and worked as long as she could. She lives with her 34-year-old son, who is unemployed, and lives off of her Social Security disability benefits and alimony from an ex-husband. Her total income is $2,047 each month; rent is $1,326.

Even though Medicare covers part of the cost of her medications, she was struggling to make ends meet. When she was in danger of falling behind on her bills, she contacted a local charity, which gave her $450 to help pay utility bills and fill a prescription.

She will be eligible for Medicaid once her alimony runs out next year. She is hoping to move out of her apartment, which she can’t leave unless a neighbor helps her down the stairs. Although it can take up to 30 minutes, she can go up the stairs using her upper body strength.

She has to use an electric scooter most of the time, but the woman tries to walk as often as she can. She moves her legs with one arm while using the other to stay upright. To do so, she needs assistance from objects, such as counters or walls. She tries to do as much for herself as she can.

But while she tries to remain self-sufficient, she needs the social safety net to keep a roof over her head and food on the table. Lawmakers who are looking for ways to trim the federal budget would be wise to consider stories such as this when they think of cutting disability benefits.

Source: The New York Times, “Living With Multiple Sclerosis, and Separated From the World by a Stairway,” Mathew R. Warren, Dec. 20, 2011