Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Work Harder!

Millions on welfare are depending on you! How many times have you heard that phrase? How about "Welfare recipients need to be drug tested before they can get MY money"? What about "I am sick of seeing welfare people using MY tax money to buy junk"? Etc etc.

I'm going to admit, in the past, I've wondered about the people using welfare benefits; too often what we hear from the media and from people who "know people" and "see these things" are that people on welfare are abusing the system, that they'd rather sit back and collect welfare benefits than work for a living, that these people are getting RICH off of OUR tax money.

As I've gotten older, of course, I've realized that one rotten apple does indeed spoil the whole bunch and this is true as far as welfare recipients go as well.

The last few months have been rough on our family; because of circumstances that were beyond our control, our income took a huge hit and we found ourselves struggling to pay the bills and keep food on the table; Gabe and SarahAnne were always fed and never went to bed hungry, but it was hard. I figured I would apply for food stamps to get us by while Geo looked for a new job since his start date as his new job got pushed further and further. Besides, everyone *knows* how easy it is to get food stamps, I mean, come on, roughly 30 million Americans benefit from them-should be easy, right?

Wrong. After nearly three months of submitting and resubmitting paperwork to our local office, I was sent a letter denying us any benefits. I literally called my caseworker twice a day for four weeks straight and left a message each time. I did not hear a word from her. I got to know her voice mail message by heart though, that was for sure.

After we moved to our apartment, we were in a new county, so I figured I'd start the whole process over and see about getting benefits because, again, it's easy, right? So what if the first time I applied it was a pain in the ass, that must have been a fluke, right?

I made four separate trips to an office in a bad part of an even worse town in six days. Each time I went to the office, I stood outside in a line in the snow and cold with 20-30 other people who'd been waiting 30-45 minutes before I'd gotten there. Many of those people didn't have the proper clothing to be out in the weather but stood there anyway. There were single moms with small children (brr), disabled people, people helping their disabled parents, and everyone in between. I even suspect there were a few people like me, fairly well educated, never applied for anything like this and completely and utterly humiliated. After being herded along like cattle, being told how to "behave" in a public office, and entering our "number" at the desk (where our names were NOT asked) you got to sit and wait in an office that clearly hadn't been cleaned or taken care of in the least bit. BUT it was warm and more people slept than I've ever seen in a public place.

I didn't end up getting an appointment with a caseworker, instead I ended up speaking to a man (who shall remain nameless) who spoke to me like I was a child; a child who perhaps didn't speak English or had hearing issues. I was literally in tears by the time my "meeting" with this man was over because I had been treated so awfully. Just because I didn't understand the process I was going through did NOT mean that I am stupid or should be treated as such; his job was to HELP me, not make me feel even worse for something that I didn't want to have to do but did to take care of my family. After three more trips and several hours of waiting in the crowded filthy waiting room, we were finally approved and received our benefits.

The first time I used the card, I felt like I was being judged based on what was in my cart. As a welfare person, I am not entitled to (based on what I've heard other people say time and time again) buying junk food nor am I entitled to buy anything remotely healthy either. No chips OR organic fruit. No hot dogs OR boneless chicken breasts. No fruit snacks OR bags of mixed veggies. Why not? Because "my tax dollars shouldn't be going for junk" or alternately "why should those people eat better than me? it's MY money buying THEIR organics"

Here's a little newsflash for those of you on your high horse about what people in MY position should or should NOT be buying. I've been paying into the system since I had my first job at 15 and my husband since he was 14. We've both been faithful tax payers for years and years and have NEVER taken anything from the government (our disabled child doesn't even receive social security benefits...) and I'd bet if you asked any random food stamp user if they were working, the answer would be "yes" with a "but" following it as in "yes, BUT my hours have been cut" or "yes, BUT my rent got raised" or "yes BUT I am in school full time and have children"

Am I saying that EVERY single person who uses food stamps is like this? Of course not, there are, of course, those people who are out to milk the system for everything they can get, there are people out there who'd rather go through the humiliation and long hours at the welfare office rather than work, and I'm sure there are people out there who really do NOT deserve the benefits who get them anyway.

Oldy moldies know that I try to find something positive out of every experience-even if it isn't particularly easy or very obvious at the time, but this one WAS easy to figure out. The positive side to all of this? I'm lucky enough that I had boots, gloves, a scarf and a hat when I was waiting outside. I'm lucky that I had a car to take me to and from the office (rather than a bus or walking) I'm lucky that my children didn't have to spend hours in a hot, dirty room with sixty or seventy other miserable people, and more than anything else, I've learned that no matter HOW bad I think I've got it, someone else has got it worse and maybe I ought to be a bit more forgiving when it comes to my judgement of how "those people" live their lives; because I am one of "those people" and I really hope that people will be gentle with ME when they encounter me and my food stamp card rather than rushing to judgement and spewing ignorance.


Anonymous said...

I help (REALLY HELP) people everyday who are on hard times. It is amazing to see the full spectrum; from I deserve this, to I'm just not going to work to geeze this is embarassing that I now longer have a job and have to be here. I believe, with my entire heart & soul, that each person should be treated as a PERSON, not a number. Being in my position is truly a humbling position. Thanks for sharing you experience!

Witkowski Family said...

As I told Geo, I think that there truly ARE people who want to help (as it turned out our caseworker WAS one of those people-she was kind and helpful) I just wish that every person in the system remembered that people ARE people, not numbers

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful. You should know that your experience was not isolated. Because of that, thank you for writing this. The road to financial independence is hard enough but to add dehumanization makes it damn near impossible.

Ivory said...

I'm a friend of Jen C.'s, and am so glad I clicked over to read this. While it is a hard place to be, I almost wish everyone had to have this experience sometime in their life (mine was as a kid, going to the free/low income clinic and waiting for hours and hours to be seen, as well as using food stamps, etc) because you do walk away from it humbled, and with a kinder heart towards "those people". There are no "those" people, there are only 6 billion other souls just trying to do the best with what we can scrape together. I hope your family comes out of this rough patch soon.

Shay said...

Amen Chrissi Amen! We went through similar situations this past year!


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