Hunger, and food insecurity disproportionately affect Americans who have communicative, mental, or physical disabilities. In fact, households that include persons with disabilities experience higher rates of food insecurity; nearly one‐third of food insecure households include a working‐age adult with a disability. People with disabilities face many barriers to economic success — low expectations, discrimination and a complex public support system that often limit employment opportunities and upward mobility. Millions of American adults with disabilities are caught in this endless poverty cycle.

According to Current and Prospective Scope of Hunger and Food Security in America: A Review of Current Research, individuals with disabilities often have higher health care expenses, reduced earnings, and higher prevalence of poverty related to having a disability. Moreover, individuals with disabilities may require care from other household members, which can limit labor force participation among household caregivers.

  • An estimated 2,537,000 people in New York have a disability, or 14.6% of the population age 5 and over.
  • The employment rate for people with disabilities in New York State is 31% compared with 75%for people without disabilities, a difference of 43%.
  • Over 25 % of people living with a disability fail to graduate high school by the time they turn 25.
  • The median yearly earnings of someone with a disability lags more than $25,000 behind.
  • People with disabilities are more dependent on public coverage than their non- disabled peers.
  • 28% of people (age 18-65) with disabilities are living in poverty-double the rate of non-disabled (18-65) people living in poverty.
  • Women with disabilities are significantly more likely to live in poverty.

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Today’s disability policies, which remain rooted in paternalism, create a “poverty trap” that recent reforms have not resolved. This discouraging situation will continue unless broad, systemic reforms promoting economic self-sufficiency are implemented, in line with more modern thinking about disability. Indeed, the implementation of such reforms may be the only way to protect people with disabilities from the probable loss of benefits if the federal government cuts funding for entitlement programs. This article suggests some principles to guide reforms and encourage debate and asks whether such comprehensive reforms can be successfully designed and implemented.