Bradley Ledgerwood, 36, is a proud Republican and an enthusiastic fan of President Trump.
He’s also on a fast track to becoming one of Trump’s fabled Forgotten Men.
Ledgerwood has been enamored with politics all his life. An active member of the Craighead County Republican Committee and the Northeast Arkansas Political Animals lunch club, he serves as an alderman for 342-person Cash, Ark.
Profoundly physically disabled, Ledgerwood participates in these activities only through the help of two government-funded programs that are now on the chopping block: Medicaid and legal aid.
You’ve no doubt heard lots about threats to the first of these, given Republican efforts to wring $800 billion from the federal low-income health insurance program. So let’s focus on the second, which has received almost no attention, despite facing an existential threat from both the president and House Republicans.
At 2, Ledgerwood was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which left him unable to walk, stand, bathe himself, eat or use the bathroom without assistance.
“My mom and dad are basically my hands and feet,” he told me by phone Friday.
His mother, in fact, cares for him full time and has done so for many years. She was able to quit her job and provide round-the-clock care as a result of a special Medicaid program designed to help people with serious disabilities avoid institutionalization. The program pays for hours worked by in-home caregivers, which can include family members.
In Ledgerwood’s case, the state has consistently determined that he qualifies for 56 hours of care, the maximum.
At least, it did until last year.
That’s when the Arkansas Department of Human Services abruptly cut Ledgerwood’s weekly hours nearly in half, despite the fact that his medical needs had not changed. With minimal explanation, officials claimed that a new computer algorithm determined that he did not need so much care. Other families experienced similar cuts in caregiving hours.
This cut would devastate the family’s precarious finances. His mother contemplated returning to work and sending Ledgerwood to a nursing home.
“That would destroy my life,” he says in no uncertain terms. Fiscally minded voter that he is, he adds that institutionalization would also cost the state multiple times more money than family-provided home care.
Alongside six other plaintiffs with disabilities, Ledgerwood sued the state — and won. The case is currently on appeal.
How was Ledgerwood able to secure legal representation? Not through a lucrative GoFundMe campaign, or lottery windfall, or some long-lost rich uncle.
It was through Legal Aid of Arkansas, one of 133 programs that receive grants from the Legal Services Corporation, a congressionally established nonprofit that funds civil legal services for about 2 million low-income people each year.
And low-income families, whether in red-state America or blue, turn out to need a lot of legal help.
In the past year, 7 in 10 low-income families experienced at least one civil legal problem, according to a recent University of Chicago NORC survey done for the Legal Services Corporation. Such problems include foreclosures, domestic violence (getting a restraining order, for example), custody disputes, debt repayment or neglectful landlords. The elderly, rural residents and veterans — all core components of the Republican base — are especially well-represented in this population.
A Navy veteran I spoke with over the weekend, 47-year-old Mario Figueroa of Daytona Beach, Fla., credited his local legal aid program with saving his life. He had fought on his own for two decades to convince the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide medical treatment and disability benefits for his service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder. He was successful only after seeking representation from Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, another Legal Services Corporation grantee.
“People like to say they support veterans and stand behind veterans,” he said, complaining that a congressman he met recently was more interested in a photo op than learning how to preserve veterans’ access to civil justice. “That’s just an empty phrase.”
In the “ skinny budget” released in March, Trump proposed eliminating the Legal Services Corporation entirely. At the time, this produced bipartisan pleas for “robust funding” for the organization. Nonetheless, last week a House appropriations subcommittee passed a bill that would slash the organization ’s funding by roughly a quarter, from $385 million to $300 million. If enacted, such cuts would inevitably leave many families such as Ledgerwood’s and Figueroa’s to fend for themselves.
For now, Ledgerwood still supports Trump (“He reminds me a lot of Ronald Reagan”) and remains confident that his president and his party will have his back.
But, he says, “If I lose my lawyer and my services, I may feel a little differently.”