So let's give a shout out to the bureaucracy of government assistance!
Sorry...that's about all I can muster. I'm beyond frustrated. I have a feeling the woman on the other end of the phone is as frustrated if not more so...but she isn't exactly helpful either.
I seriously thought there wasn't another crack I could fall through.
Ding, Ding, Ding...
I don't have a reality check...I have a bell. It's similar to the one they ring during boxing matches when the losing contestent is laying knocked out and bleeding on the mat.
Can we just be real for a minute?
I am not the face of poverty you have in mind when you think "food stamps"
I am an educated mother of two children. I was married to one man who fathered both those children. Okay...well, when it comes to him, I'm probably the stereotype. If you met him, you'd probably wonder at my intelligence but let's just say I wasn't as smart then as I am now...and he's had a tough road too. Does that excuse him for being a "dead beat dad"? No. But there isn't anything I can do about it.
Oh...child support recovery. Sure, let's talk about this.
Apparently the number of dead beat parents in the state of Georgia overwhelms the underpaid, understaffed employees of the department dedicated to finding these parents and "forcing" them to pay child support. So, they honest to goodness don't have time to find out where your particular dead beat parent is working. Therefore, beliving you need to do every thing you can to provide for your children, you become some sort of sleuth detective and you learn the whereabouts of his/her workplace. Child Support Recovery sends them a letter telling them they are going to garnish wages if they do not pay what they owe. So they quit their job. Child Support Recovery sends them a letter telling them their license will be suspended. Since they obviously care about being lawful citizens, they drive anyway. Child Support Recovery sends them and you a letter demanding your presence in court. You go to your boss who rolls his eyes when you ask for a day off work to sit in court listenting to why the other parent can't or won't pay child support. The judge orders the parent to go to jail or pay...they go to jail. A few weeks later, they still haven't paid but the jail is incredibly overcrowded with "real" criminals so they order you and the parent back to court. You ask for another day off work, your boss's eyes roll further back in his head and you sit in court for another day. At the end, you agree to the other parent's release because what is the good of them being in jail anyway...and if you have to ask for yet another day off work to come back to court, you are afraid you may never see your boss's eyes again.
So you give up.
And you do the best you can. And you have a decent job and you have awesome kids so life is good. It can be hard sometimes but you are making it.
And then you lose your job.
I lose my job. It's important that you hear that. I realized I'm writing in second person...but I need you to see me. I need you to see me as a person. An individual with value and dignity who has done her best to raise her children to work hard, be good to others, love Jesus, make an impact in their community.
For a couple of days after losing my job, I'm paralyzed with the loss of...security, my passion, my value...and then I shake it off. I've got kids to feed, bills to pay.
So I go to the Department of Labor first. The process to sign up is actually easier than I expect. The staff much nicer than you'd think given the fact that it's incredibly busy in the office and the poor woman has to say the same thing over and over. She explains to me that I have to "claim" my unemployment on this day, that this day is the day I'll start getting benefits but it can actually take 15 days to get approved, etc.
Then I go to DFACS. The process is easy. The staff not quite as nice but not rude...just tired. They tell me since I have no job, my case is expedited so I can get an answer within seven days.
I go home, relieved. While I hate being on assistance, I'm grateful that it's there.
One week later, I've gotten a letter from DFACS approving me for food stamps and a letter from the DOL explaining I've been approved for unemployment and how much I'll get. I even have a prepaid debit card with a big peach on it that the governement will load my funds on so they don't have to mail me a check. Technology is a wonderful thing.
Two weeks later, I'm despereate. We are actually so broke that I have nothing to feed my kids for dinner ("nothing" is not an exaggeration) and when a friend tells me to come over and she'll give me some food, I break down crying because I don't have enough gas to get there. She and her husband have pizzas delivered to our house. Another friend gives me gas money.
I call the unemployment office to find out exactly when my first payment will be loaded onto my card. She tells me I haven't been approved yet. I'm confused. I explain to her that I got a letter, a letter telling me that I've been approved and how much I will recieve. She speaks slowly, either hearing the hysteria in my voice or thinking I'm un-intelligent. She explains that the letter only told me how much I'd been approved for if I was actually approved for unemployment. I tell her I have a card...I don't understand why they would send me a card if I wasn't approved. She says that the caseworker has 15 days to make a decision on my case. That's 15 business days so we have another week to go.
I call DFACS to find out why I haven't recieved a food stamp card. I'm told they have 10-15 days to send out the card. I'm confused (I'm getting used to this state of being). So there is a way to expedite the decision, but not the card? I ask her if there is a way to see what day the card was mailed. She too hears the hysteria in my voice but is a little more emphathetic (how many times in a day does she hear this?) She looks at my case and then tells me my case was denied. Ummm...no. I have a letter saying that we were approved. She tells me I failed to send in requested information by the deadline. I disagree stating the letter I had told me to send the information in by the 30th. She tells me I had until the 17th...I start to argue and she tells me that I have to call Carroll County DFACS to speak to my caseworker. I ask why my case worker is in Carroll County when I live in Coweta County. Because of the work load...too few case workers, too many cases. So I call Carroll County. I explain about the letters, etc. The lady and I are talking when suddenly I realize that today is the 17th! So I haven't actually missed the deadline! Hoorah! I pay $4 at Staples to fax the requested documents.
And I wait. And wait. I call three more times to find out about the card. Finally someone I talk to gives me a number to call. And I find the card has never been mailed because it was never requested. And we will have to wait 10-15 more days.
On the 14th day of the 15 days allowed, the Department of Labor calls me for my interview. I don't understand...Wellspring Living wasn't even contesting the claim...why did I have to feel this bad. At one point, she said something and I immediately began defending myself, unable to believe that anyone at Wellspring Living would claim such a thing and she barks at me. And a few minutes later has to admit that she was looking at the wrong form. I want to be able to sympathize with what her day must be like, the amount of files on her desk...but I feel so hurt and broken. At the end of the interview, I go into the bathroom and take a long hard look at myself. I say, out loud "You are a good person. You have done nothing wrong." I have to say it three times before I believe it.
Every day for four weeks I wake up and wonder how or what we are going to eat...how this bill is going to be paid...how this is going to happen. And God and friends take care of us but to wake up every day unsure starts to take it's toll on me. I'm struggling with depression. And anxiety causes my chest to feel tight so that it's hard to breath.
And then, the unemployment comes in and the food stamps come in and my kids and I are literally doing the happy dance in the living room. And there's a part of me that feels ashamed. I've read posts about people on food stamps that debate whether or not they should be allowed to buy sodas and the comments are hateful and I realize that those people would tear me and my kids apart if they saw us this happy about being on welfare. But I decide not to care because I'd rather be on welfare than watch my kids go hungry.
Today I checked the mail. There is a letter, dated the 25th of June, suppossedly mailed the same day. It asks for more information and says if I don't get the information to them by July 5th, our case will be denied. It's the 8th. I call the office, explain. She tells me to fax it today. I ask what will happen with our food stamps, she tells me she's not sure. I ask her if she can let the caseworker know what happened, she tells me no. I feel the impact as we fall through another crack and hear the "ding, ding, ding" of reality reminding me we are not as safe as I thought we were.
I'm disheartened. If I'm going through this...how many others in the state of Georgia are bruised and hurting from being a part of a system that repeatedly refuses them dignity as they are dropped in one crack after another. Despite claims by those who love to live in ignorance that the majority of food stamps recipeients are eating steaks and driving luxury vehicles, studies show that the vast majority of those on welfare desperately need it and would not make it without it. It's not like they can just get tired of being treated this way and go find another solution. Their only other solution is hunger. Our only other solution at this point is hunger. I know I'll find another job and hopefully soon...but I've got to be honest, this is an incredibly hard season. I can't imagine what it's like when this is the only long term solution people have. No wonder they begin to feel like the system is the enemy. (But a gentle reminder...because I've overheard conversations...the person on the other side of the counter or the phone is not)
And, before it sounds like I've forgotten, the staff on the other end...who hear the hysteria on the phone but can only feel weary because they hear it so much and they can only do so much and their hands are enmeshed in the bureaucracy and paperwork. For those who have done it so much their moods and character have been permanately impacted by it. For those who are doing their best just to help. And for those who just have to have a job...I recognize it has to be hard. But please, please...remember I'm not just a case number.
And to the general public, remember the humanity of both.