A move from Indiana to Marquette, Michigan proved the change that Council member Aaron Andres needed to jump-start his activism. In 2012, Aaron, then 24 years old, didn’t see enough opportunities for people living with disabilities. So he packed up and move north. Said Andres, “In Indiana there were not a lot of opportunities for disabled individuals, so I need a change of pace.” One of his first stops once he arrived was to the Superior Alliance for Independent Living (SAIL), since, he said, “the people in that club were instrumental in getting me to move to Marquette.”
Once established in Marquette, Andres set out to find winter occupation since, he laughed, “you always want to find something to do in the winters up here since they last 6 months.” And although, he said, “At first, I just Intended to see which programs they had available,” he soon found more than enough to fill his time through the winter and beyond. “I was telling them how I moved up here and how I was dealing with the switchover from Indiana Medicaid to Michigan Medicaid. I asked, ‘what do you do, how do you do it, and how do you pay?’ Apparently those were really good questions, since I walked out with a position and a board application.”
Andres’s first board position was at the very same center, SAIL. Soon after, he was asked to join the statewide Barrier Free Design Board, which makes decisions on building design codes, zoning exemptions and ADA compliance. Andres served on that board from June 2013 to October 2015. Somewhere in there, he managed to find time to return to school. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration from Northern Michigan University in December 2016, and is currently working on a Master’s in the same field.
When he took the SILC appointment in November 2016, Andres knew what areas of disability advocacy he wanted to focus on already. He’s glad to be in the room with lawmakers, he said, because “most of the disabled community doesn’t have the voice that it should. It’s ironic,” he explained, “that if you include seniors, we are the largest community in Michigan, the people with disabilities. But despite that, we have the lowest representation.”
He is also committed to raising the asset limit for the Medicaid Supplemental Income program. The limit, Andres explained, hasn’t been raised since 1974. As it is now, the maximum assets allowable for people on Medicaid is $2,000; if that number were adjusted for inflation from 1974, it would now be more than $8,500.
It’s an uphill battle. Said Andres, “I know we have made several passes to help those with disabilities attempt to work, but with the same statutes in place, there’s no incentive to work. We work and lose our benefits, but we don’t work and keep our benefits. People then see us as second class citizens because they say we’re not working. We shouldn’t have to make that decision. It’s really hard to keep working when you’re having to sacrifice your benefits to do so.”
Despite the setbacks, Andres remains optimist about his prospects, and about his work with the council. “My biggest thing,” he said, “is I can do anything anybody else can do, I just need a little more help. Give me the opportunity and I can do it.”