Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My BRIEF experience with the public assistance system.

I am of the belief that experience is the best teacher, and one of the goals of this blog is to share of my experiences with anyone who is willing to read the words. I feel that things are much easier to articulate to others when you've gone through them yourself and made it out the other side.

It is oftentimes very easy for someone to dismiss your beliefs based on the notion that you have never lived through something and therefore have no right to comment. This is compounded by the fact that on such media as Twitter and Facebook, your thoughts and feelings are reduced to mere characters.

Well, a little bit of background for me here...

A couple years ago, just a few months after I had my son, I decided to move to Texas in order to be closer to my mother and other family members. I was having a hard time adjusting to new motherhood and figured that being close to my family would give me a good support base. A few months prior to moving my husband and I began applying for jobs in Texas, but got no call backs. I was apprehensive about this but decided to move anyway, confident that we would find a job soon after arrival. Well, that did not happen.

About three weeks into living in Texas, I still got no callbacks. By me not working we were losing thousands of dollars and things got hard to manage. My husband managed to land a job but it paid virtually nothing compared to what we had been making before the move. With a 4 month old baby you can imagine the stress. My mother helped as much as possible, but I really didn't want to place that burden on her.

My mother suggested that I apply for assistance. That suggestion left a very bad taste in my mouth, but convinced me to apply by reminding me that I'd been paying into this system since I was about 16 and that it was there for this reason.

One day my husband, my son and myself went to the public assistance office to apply for assistance. There were a few men filling out forms but it was mostly women. In the hour we sat waiting to be seen, I filled out forms. We were sitting next to a Latina who looked like she couldn't be more than 33 years old with about four children around her, the oldest couldn't have been more than about 8. I noticed that just about all of them had silver capped teeth, yet about two of them were running to the vending machine to buy junk. I was willing to bet that she'd get a whole hell of a lot more in assistance than we would despite never having worked nearly as much and contributed to society nearly as much as I had. I looked at my husband, burning with anger and embarrassment, and said, "NEVER AGAIN".

When we were finally seen by the case worker, she reviewed our paperwork and asked us some questions. I explained our prior financial situation and our current issues. I explained to her that I was the primary breadwinner in the family, and that by me not working, we were losing about $60,000 a year. To my surprise, I found that that actually worked against our favor, because we were denied TANF, citing that too much money had been earned. I kept saying, I made that amount BEFORE, but I don't have that NOW. I need help NOW. To add even further insult to injury, I was essentially penalized for being married and having a man in the family. We were only given food stamps and medical coverage for myself and the baby. My husband was left out of EVERYTHING. We were given $435 a month in food stamps, which was barely enough to feed all of us. I'm thanking my lucky stars that I was still breast feeding, which helped stretched the formula and baby food for longer.

Every day I burned with shame, wondering how I'd gotten to this point, and wondering why someone with my military and work history could not find a job. I am convinced that the hiring managers were too lazy to see how my skills could be used to their advantage. I refused to believe that I couldn't even qualify for a secretary position. Perhaps they rejected my resume because they felt I was overqualified and they couldn't afford me. Even if such was the case, it wasn't helping me much at all.

I attended all the ridiculous instructional seminars for public assistance and how to apply for jobs. I was required to apply for so many jobs a week. I attended one job fair when I first got to Texas, but almost ALL of the recruiters asked if I was willing to move to Arizona or BACK to DC. I declined, stating that I had only just moved to Texas and was looking to give it a go here. The only call back I got for a job in Texas for for an insurance company with an office very close to where I lived. However, when they offered the interview, the location was switched from that office to clear across the city, which would have been nearly impossible since we only had one car at the time and my husband needed it to get to work.

Needless to say this arrangement only lasted for about four months, as the lifestyle became unbearable. We had to make the decision to move back to DC so we could have a chance at living again. Our credit had already completely tanked due to being unable to pay all our previous bills due to the huge decrease in income. And ironically enough, around the same time we'd left was the time my son had gotten full medical coverage.

Upon returning to DC, I refused to ever apply for any more benefits. I vowed I'd dance on tables for money before I allowed myself to be in that position again. I felt angry and betrayed. A system I'd paid into for at least a good 12 years couldn't give me more than $435 a month to care for 3 people, yet I see people making a lifestyle of it, and hard working people like myself who want nothing more than to earn their keep and keep what they are not even able to get a miniscule portion of the pot into which we paid.

So, when I speak out about some things, it's not because I'm on the outside looking in and can't even begin to understand what it's like. I may not have lived long on this earth compared to some, but I've had a heck of a lot of experiences in that short period of time.


  1. Great entry! Experience always speaks louder.

    I can actually speak from the lifestyle standpoint.

    I'm hearing impaired and actually lost my hearing completely for a period of 2 years. At the time I was working as a bartender and trainer for a local brewery. Needless to say, i could not work in that capacity, least not effectively. So I went on assistance.

    Massachusetts has some phenomenal programs for deaf people. It's a mixture of social security and welfare, etc. In the end I started getting about $1200 month. That was MORE than enough as i moved in with a couple deaf friends and was only paying $300 a month in rent.

    I lived like that for almost two years. What made me "see the light" was during that time I did nothing. I played video games, went to pubs, and got very politically active (as a democrat).

    I came to see that with that "assistance" i was never going to be incouraged to improve myself. All of us in that apt were college dropouts.

    Long story short, I was a able to get into see a great doctor who put me on some very powerful steroids and slowly my hearing returned, albeit, im still deaf in my right ear and my left is considerably weaker. This caused me to lose my benefits, but in the end it pushed me go further than I've ever dreamed.

    Im now a business owner.

    Im not saying deaf people are lazy, but what i am saying is we've created a situation where there is no incentive for the individual to achieve.

    The safely net has indeed become a hammock.

  2. I have worked with those trying to get public assistance or prevent the closing of their case for over 20 years. I have truly seen it all. I do what I can to encourage them to get "off" the system but for some it's so ingrained and NO ONE is around them telling them "yes you can". I abhor single men who jump through all the hoops to get about $450 month (plus food stamps) to live on. Really? I mean really can't they do better? I am not talking about those with dependency issues that's a whole 'nother subject. When did able-bodied men lose their shame and have no problem accepting welfare. Now the females.....I won't go there....