High cost of living difficult for people with disabilities

Everyone knows that making a living in La Plata County can be a challenge.

The cost of living is high; housing is still expensive, even in the current economic conditions; transportation within the county is limited; and jobs are less available than in larger metropolitan areas. Yet as everyone who lives in La Plata County also knows, the rewards of living in La Plata County outweigh the potential struggles.

For some people living in our community, the struggles are harder than others. People with intellectual or developmental disabilities grow up in Durango and the surrounding areas, live here as adults or move into the area to follow friends and family. Though they encounter the same cost of living, often their resources are more limited.

The current Supplemental Security Income standard is $698 per month, and this is the usual income for a person with an intellectual disability who isnít working. If they live independently, this must cover their housing, utilities, food, household supplies and all personal needs (clothes, hygiene items, etc.).

Considering that average rental prices are more than $600, most of that income could easily be used just for housing. There are public-housing options and rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but the waiting lists are generally miles long. Food stamps also can help supplement (with an average of $150 per month for a single adult), and the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program can help with heating costs during the winter months.

When adults with intellectual disabilities are enrolled in state-funded residential programs, the state of Colorado sets rates for housing and personal needs. In 2012, $630 of the $698 covers housing, utilities, food and some transportation while $68 is left to cover all personal needs for the month. It is the responsibility of the nonprofit company providing the residential services (in Southwest Colorado, itís Community Connections) to make the housing rate cover all costs or to supplement what is needed out of its own coffers. This residential rate is the same whether the person lives in Denver or Aspen or La Junta or Durango.

While the cost of housing is lower outside Durango city limits, the availability of transportation also is limited. For residents who have private vehicles and can drive, this isnít a problem (except when the gas prices are mounting Ė ouch). For people with intellectual disabilities, many of whom cannot drive, living in the rural areas of our county can mean social isolation and the inability to access work or community settings (such as the grocery store).

La Plata County takes pride in its diversity, the welcoming atmosphere of our community and our commitment to our neighbors. As part of our planning for the future, we must consider the needs of people with disabilities and our seniors, who face many of the same barriers. Our employment opportunities, housing, transportation and health-care providers must consider the needs of all our residents.

For information about how to contribute to supporting the needs of people with intellectual disabilities, call Community Connections Inc. at 259-2464.

Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.