Kicked out after falling ill

March 10, 2009

ON THE day following the Obama administration's announcement of a foreclosure prevention program, the convergence of the need for a moratorium on house foreclosures and universal health care came to the doorstep of a western suburb of Cincinnati.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) organized a press conference to demand a six-month moratorium on all foreclosures at the home of Debi Weber. Debi and her daughter Tricia are the latest victims of broken mortgage system and health care system that profits off of the misery of others.

Debi's daughter suffers from epilepsy and needed the help of a service dog. After fund raising $10,000 to purchase the dog to assist in notifying others if Tricia had a seizure, they outgrew the size of their small apartment.

Debi, who had worked at insurance giant Humana since 2000, bought her first home in January 2004. In 2005, Debi decided to refinance her home as a means of repairing things around the house. She chose Guardian Savings Bank, which she said "gave her what looked like a good deal at 5.25 percent interest." Even after her loan reset and increased her monthly payment, she was able to keep up with the payment.

However, in 2007, things turned for the worse. Debi began suffering from a debilitating neurological disease as well as a mixed connective tissue condition that affects her ability to go up stairs. In August of 2007, she filed for short-term disability benefits with Humana. She was to receive 26 weeks of benefits, but in January of 2008, Humana notified her that her benefits were being cut off and that she needed to return to work.

Debi's doctors told her that she was not fit to return to work, but Humana refused the doctor's diagnosis and maintained that Debi was refusing to return to work, thus cutting off her only income to support her family.

From January until June of 2008, the Webers "got by with the help of friends and family," Debi said, "but now they're hurting too." During this time, she received no disability, but began the long and tedious process of getting assistance from the state of Ohio. Hamilton County Ohio Jobs and Family Services determined Debi and daughter were to receive $115 per month in assistance as well as $130 per month in food stamps.

This is not only ridiculous--that someone should be able to make support themselves on $115 per month--it's criminal that this what is considered "assistance." "We're gonna help the banks out but why can't I get any help?" asked Debi. "This isn't living, I've got two medications that I need that I can't even afford."

After applying for Social Security benefits at the end of 2007, Debi received her first check in February of 2008, over a year later. While Debi foresaw an inability to continue paying her home loan and continued efforts to contact her mortgage broker, she has yet to hear from Guardian Savings. "I've called them, e-mailed them, faxed them and haven't heard anything. Just like Humana. I e-mailed the CEO to tell them about my claim and got no replies," Debi said.

Debi's story, like millions of working class people in the U.S., is endemic of a system that has failed to meet the needs of its population. As the housing crisis has deepened, stories like Debi's have become common. While Obama's plan is a step in the right direction, we will need to fight to determine the course of the struggle.

The demands for both a free universal health care plan that serves everyone in the U.S. and a moratorium on foreclosures are integral steps in building a society that puts people before profits.
Shane Johnson, Cincinnati

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