We decided in our map that we would enjoy a yearlong celebration of the compassionate work our people do professionally. Circle of Hope is the people who make it, not an institution. We are all over the Philly Region doing good and showing the world what Jesus looks like.
“It’s pretty dire no matter how you look at it.” That’s how Andrew Yang, Social Security Disability Associate at Martin Law, describes the state of Social Security Disability in the United States.
Andrew is driven to do the work not by some lofty goal or ideology, but plainly, by the fact that sick people shouldn’t be left to perish in the street. That’s the fundamental belief of the Social Security system in the United States. “It’s pretty normal,” he says. “In order to keep people from dying, we give people some money.”
It takes a lot of work to get approved for a livable amount of money. Eighty-percent of people are denied coverage and they need to appeal, according to Andrew. Upon getting denied, it can take up to two years to see a judge! This is the case with the vast majority of people suffering with a disability applying for Social Security. Andrew, as an attorney, helps people apply and get on disability. He advises them. He argues people’s cases in front of judges and writes brief in support of their cases.
This sounds like basic morality, and Christian morality to boot. Jesus plainly states that we should care for the least of these in Matthew 25. But there are obstacles. There are myths that social security is full of fraud and people taking advantage of the system. But there is less than one percent fraud and cases are regularly reviewed. In fact, plenty of people are disabled who get thrown off often without adequate cause.
But our elected officials, and Andrew named Republicans and Donald Trump specifically, still try to play up the narrative that people will corrupt the system. He used the term Ronald Reagan popularized, “welfare queen,” as a stereotype that still hinders his work today. Politicians keep trying to make cuts to the program, too; the current administration is doing its best to gut the program, too.
As it stands today, Social Security is a slow system and underfunded. “It’s just generally a mess,” Andrew bluntly put it.
Andrew took a few turns on his path to get to this job. Born in Cleveland to Taiwanese parents, he grew up in the Lehigh Valley and moved to Temple to study English. He ended up at Circle of Hope, in large part, due to its focus on social justice, but first encountered Christians who cared for the poor at a college fellowship. In general, he noted that that the fellowship was probably more concerned with keeping kids from partying and making sure they didn’t get in trouble, but the weekly trips to Love Park to give sandwiches to homeless people forced Andrew to encounter poverty in a new way.
He thought his English degree and passion for social justice made law school a good choice. He got in at Temple, deferred for a year as he traveled in Taiwan. He came back, joined Circle of Hope, and pursued a law degree in order to serve the public interest.
He got into a clinical doing social security work—essentially practicing as an attorney under the supervision of a professor. He did face-to-face work that was meaningful to him and he developed his skillset and continues to serve in the same field today.
Andrew readily admits that his career could have taken many turns. He was, for example, particularly interested in intellectual property law.
“We do what we can, where we are,” he says. Where he is now isn’t the result of how great he is. He says it would be hard for his conscience to allow him to do something else. This is what’s been given to him. There is more that he could be doing, and more any of us could me, he says.
“Maybe I’ll get there some day, but today this is where I am.”