Freedom to Work Program Creates Employment Possibilities

Donna Powers, Freedom to Work memberDonna Powers’ workday starts early. Her personal care attendant arrives at 3:45 a.m. to help her shower, dress and prepare for her day so she can catch the bus on time.  As a STAT advocate at the Arizona Center for Disability Law, Powers uses her training, background and personal experience with disability rights advocacy to help others learn to be their own advocates.

Then, she catches the bus home where another member of her attendant team assists her with meal preparation and other household chores while she rounds out her day.

While this sounds like a typical routine for many of us, Powers accomplishes this with limited mobility, the help of a power wheelchair, and the AHCCCS Freedom to Work program.

“The Freedom to Work program creates the possibility of earning disposable income so we can move up and eventually out of the program entirely.”

Since a car accident 28 years ago, Powers has become an advocate for disability employment rights. As part of a core group of advocates, she helped draft the original idea of the Freedom to Work program, which Governor Hull added to the state’s Medicaid program. “For those of us with significant disabilities, we have significant needs. The Freedom to Work program creates the possibility of earning disposable income so we can move up and eventually out of the program entirely,” she said. “That’s really what the program was intended to do – provide a path to gainful employment.”

Durable medical equipment, not typically covered by employer insurance, is one such need. Her power wheelchair alone can cost as much as $20,000. Add to that upkeep and regular repairs, in addition to specialized therapies, lift devices, and vehicle modifications, and it’s easy to see how having a disability can stretch a budget.

Freedom to Work provides health care coverage for working Arizonans with disabilities who are not otherwise eligible for AHCCCS coverage as a result of their income. Members pay a monthly premium up to $35 per month, based upon their countable earned income. Powers makes the point that because of program she does not collect Social Security or Medicare benefits.

“People with disabilities are valuable and have determination. They want to be out there. They want to participate in the community, whether it’s working, volunteering or just doing the things they like to do. It’s that  independent living that Medicaid provides.”

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