Published by Teen Vogue
In San Jose, California, 19-year-old Arabella G. helps care for her mother, who has fibromyalgia, along with other health issues. Arabella currently shares a two-bedroom apartment with her boyfriend and five-month-old, her sister, her sister’s boyfriend, and her mom. Throughout much of the pandemic, California provided rental assistance for low-income families. With that help, Arabella says her mom’s disability benefits were enough to just make ends meet each month. But once the state’s pandemic assistance program ended at the end of March 2022, the family struggled to cover the $3,000 monthly rent. So her mom tried to get a job to bring in some income. “I really don’t think she gets her disability [payments] anymore because she tried to start working,” says Arabella. “But the only reason why she tried to start working is because the disability wasn’t enough to cover rent.”
Fibromyalgia, which causes severe, widespread muscle and joint pain, as well as fatigue, makes consistent employment an uphill battle. Arabella remembers her mom once had a sudden flare-up on her second day of work. She lost that job immediately. On the day of her interview with Teen Vogue, Arabella’s mom missed work because she woke up in so much pain. Her inconsistent employment status makes health insurance coverage an additional complication.
“At the end of the day, if you’re on disability, it’s for a reason,” says Arabella. “You’re not capable of going to work because of a health concern that you have. It’s there to help you, but if you’re getting disability [benefits] and it’s not enough, then you’re struggling. But you also can’t work because then your disability is gonna stop. So it’s like, everything’s kind of against each other when they’re supposed to be helping.”