Advocates and Allies
by Rev. Justin Hancock
Hi friends. Just wanted to come to you today with a brief reflection on what the last month has been for my wife and I in terms of dealing with my disability. Out of the blue, on a Saturday morning in late April, I got an email saying that my Texas State Medicaid benefits were going to be terminated as of June 1st. This came as a great shock to my wife and I, given that we sent our yearly renewal paperwork in February and although nothing had changed from the past few years, we had not heard anything for close to three months. Thanks to a case manager who is on top of things and Lisa being on the phone for four hours with Medicaid, we discovered it was an error in the local office.
My cerebral palsy is classified as a long term disability. Medicaid filed me as temporarily disabled, therefore causing me to lose my benefits. We have now had to file the proper paperwork twice, because even after doing it immediately after discovering the source of the problem, the Dallas area Medicaid office claimed to have lost or never received the paperwork. Thanks to diligence, hard work, and the support of a great case manager, we now appear to be on the road to getting the situation resolved.
What does all of this have to do with the church? Well, the last nearly month and a half have caused me to reflect how isolating and lonely making the social services process can be. If I lose Medicaid, I run the risk of losing everything. From healthcare, to attendant services that allow me to live an active and vital daily existence. Although I have a good case manager right now, this is not the first time I have almost lost my benefits and I have not always had good advocacy on the state’s side.
So what does it mean for churches and religious organizations to hire their own advocates? Who not only advocate for the poor and disenfranchised through direct routes, like food pantries and shelters, but also know the social service system well enough to be able to walk with somebody like my wife and I through the process in a particularly Christian and/or religious way. Even if churches can’t hire somebody with the legal or counseling expertise to know the social service system, we have to create an environment that those without do not just come to receive help, but are also gifted with companionship and understanding.
We are living in a world where the rhetoric around disability continues to get sharpened. When politicians find their Facebook pages filled with comments about euthanizing the disabled, whether politicians put those comments up or not, we have to ask ourselves, “if this is what the world is saying to people with disabilities, what is the church saying instead?”
I encourage you to encourage your churches to hire advocates and allies. And I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open for how/when you can be an ally yourself. Maybe the gospel starts by creating a little less loneliness in the world.