Senate Candidate Pilgrim-Hunter Responds to Disability Questions

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Note to Readers: This is an extremely long post that I'm breaking into two parts. Before the jump, is a summary of the controversy involving senate candidate Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter's (pictured, right) disability benefits and some answers to the questions that have been raised. After the jump is the full story.

Last week, BoogieDowner, a local blog based in Bedford Park, raised questions about State Senate candidate (33rd District) Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter’s work history, which mostly consists of a short stint as a welfare-to-work counselor and then several years working for Avon, most recently in 2000 as a regional sales manager. It then goes into how, after a work-related injury, Pilgrim-Hunter has been receiving Social Security disability payments since 2006 and continues to while campaigning.

BoogieDowner wrote:

“This is the height of contradiction; on the one hand Ms. Pilgrim-Hunter is attempting to convince the voters of the 33rd district that she is able and capable of working hard for them in the state senate, but on the other hand, she has convinced the federal government that she is incapable of working (and she continually confirms this incapacity to work when she cashes her disability check every month).”

I spoke with Pilgrim-Hunter about this on Wednesday morning and later discussed the situation with a Social Security representative and two disability law experts. Here are the highlights:

  • Pilgrim-Hunter said she will give up her disability benefits if she’s elected. But she did not say this last week when her campaign first responded to an inquiry by the BoogieDowner. (Legally, she could keep her benefits while “testing” out any job, including elected office, for nine months while continuing to receive benefits. But Pilgrim-Hunter says being a state senator is “not something you test out” and that she has committed to rescinding her benefits immediately upon assuming office.)
  • “The definition of disability is in the law,” says Social Security representative Jane Zanca. Not only Pilgrim-Hunter's doctors, but also the state's doctors have determined she is incapable of working and that, because she has paid into Social Security through income taxes, she is entitled to receive disability benefits.
  • Just because someone is legally considered disabled does not mean they can't work. In fact, Zanca said, it's encouraged. Whether they can secure a job or find one that allows them to work around their disability, is another question.

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