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Senator Receives Disability, but Urges State Benefits Cuts

Posted on Apr 25, 2012

On April 5, 2012, the Seattle Times broke a disturbing story about Washington State Senator, Joseph Zarelli. According to the report, the Republican lawmaker, who receives $601 a month in disability benefits from the federal government, is a leader in efforts to get rid of state disability benefits. 

This dichotomy has Washington state residents in an uproar. Zarelli has received his disability benefit for years, ever since he served in the U.S. Navy and suffered a back injury in the 1980s. He reportedly is able to golf, hike and fish and maintain his six-acre property, while arguing that certain Washington state programs should be cut.

Specifically, Zarelli is targeting two disability programs, in an effort to save about $100 million. These programs, Medical Care Services and Housing and Essential Needs, serve people who are disabled and unable to work. 

The Medical Care Services program reports that about 60% of their participants suffer from mental illness, and 40% have physical problems. This Washington state program also reports that about 40% are homeless. State statistics report providing help last year to 1,000 pregnant women and 900 cancer victims. 

Zarelli argues that the recipients of these benefits are simply looking for “free money.” But Community Health Network of Washington director, Molly Firth, disagrees. She maintains that the help the two targeted programs provide is “designed to help stabilize medical or mental issues so that the participants can eventually get back to work.” 

Debate over the merits of helping those who are disabled and cannot work is likely to continue. Meanwhile, millions of disabled Americans hang in the balance.

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John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney of Keefe Disability Law