Category Archives: Rants

Adventures in Welfare

Dear Texas.

Go fuck yourself.

Yea I had to get that out of my system.

When I was studying working poverty in school a lot of the material came from case studies. It was a common theme in these case studies that the application process for government assistance was a complicated labyrinth of paperwork leading to a lengthy wait for approval. Many people could go from barely getting by to homeless in the time it took for a food stamp application to be approved.

When I was in the hospital for the first surgery I applied for emergency medicaid. I was denied because my income was too high. At the time I was an unemployed student and my only income was my daughter’s child support and social security.  Apparently the state of Texas thought a monthly income of less than $800 was sufficient to finance a $30,000 hospital bill.

So imagine my shock when I was approved for TANF and medicaid.

[cut to back story]

When I applied for the food stamps I checked the TANF box just as a “they’re going to deny me anyways, but what the hell” sort of thing. Later in the process of applying for food stamps (technically it’s called SNAP, but I’m about sick of acronyms) I learned that if a person received cash benefits (TANF) then the state will recoup those funds from the absent parent.  In other words, if I accepted TANF then I was agreeing to forfeit the child support. Given that I’m getting $360 a month in child support, it made no sense to give that up in order to get less than that in TANF.

At this point I asked if I could just cancel the TANF application and keep my child support. Surely the state would be well up for not paying out cash benefits right? I was informed at the workforce orientation that withdrawing the application for TANF would also withdraw the application for food stamps and I’d have to start all over again. So I agreed to just go through the motions figuring they would deny me anyways. A week later I got a call from the welfare office and voiced my concern about the child support issue. The man contradicted what the workforce office said (these are two entities that really need better communication skills) and told me that TANF had nothing to do with food stamps. He said that I could withdraw my TANF application and keep the food stamps and my child support. He would mail me a form, I’d mail it back and bob’s your uncle. Problem solved.

No.

Somewhere in the span of three days my application for TANF was approved! Now I have talked with a lot of women in worse situations than mine who couldn’t get approved for TANF because their non existent income was too high. It’s common knowledge that it’s virtually impossible to get cash benefits in the state of Texas. It completely defies precedent that I was not only approved, but approved so quickly.

Time for some number crunching. Currently I get $360 a month in child support and $268 a month in Social Security. The state had already approved me for $300 a month in food stamps. With the TANF approval the state was giving me $110 a month in cash assistance and $200 a month in food stamps. I was losing $360 just to get $110!!

I called the welfare office and tried to get them to cancel the application (the form hadn’t had time to arrive in the post)  and take back the benefits but alas there was no hope. The best they could do was deny the benefits for September, but August was a done deal. Immediately that knot was in my stomach as I freaked out about how we’d survive August if we lost that much money.

I ended up filing a formal complaint. Apparently this formal complaint was against the man that worked up my case. I thought it was just going to be against the office in general. So he called me pretty pissed off that I was filing a complaint and trying to talk me out of it.

Surprisingly I got a child support check for the beginning of August. My guess is that the payment was processed before the child support office was made aware of my TANF approval. So I was fortunate to be able to pay everything that needed to be paid and have a few dollars left to put gas in the car.

The moral of the story is that the myth of the welfare queen is bullshit. There are no women sitting back raking in piles of taxpayer cash. No one is doing so well on welfare that they can choose it over working. Welfare is temporary. There are time limits on how long people can receive benefits, so the myth that women are spending their whole lives on welfare is bollocks! There are caps on how many children will be considered when approving the benefit amount, so the myth that women are just having more kids to get more money is also bullshit. The fact is that sometimes bad shit happens and people (mostly women) need a little help to get through it.  I didn’t apply for this because I was a lazy cow that doesn’t want to work. I applied for this because I had gotten to the point where my daughter was only getting one meal and a snack during the day and there was no where else in the budget left to cut.

This is only temporary. When I start getting really depressed about this situation I have to remind myself that this is only temporary. That a year from now this will just be one more experience that I look back on wondering how I ever made it.  Just like the broken relationships, the surgeries, the insanely hard semesters at school, this is just another hurdle that I will eventually get over.

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2+2 = cat.

When I started at St. Mary’s, I had plans to get a math degree and be a high school math teacher.  I had become appalled at the state of the education system which focuses more on warehousing kids instead of teaching them to think.  At the time, I considered mathematics to be the foundation of teaching students critical thinking and problem solving skills.  If a student has a firm grasp of mathematical concepts, they will normally have a better time understanding other disciplines.  That’s not to say that every mathematician can write a novel or paint a masterpiece, but the fact remains that the majority of the great thinkers and artists had an underlying understanding and appreciation for mathematics and logic.

This appreciation for mathematics has depreciated over time.  The first round of blame goes to parents.  When parents fear hate math, they teach their children to fear hate math as well.  The second round of blame goes to educators that fail to introduce higher mathematics in a way that facilitates the interest of students.  I felt compelled to be a math teacher because I believed that a student’s first introduction to advanced mathematics sets the precedent for the attitudes those students have about math.

Over my academic career I have had the opportunity to study not only my core subject, but also the application that I was anticipating.  What I uncovered about the education system made me turn full circle, pick up an extra major in Economics and abandon any idea of jumping on that sinking ship.

The truth is that this country no longer values education. This country values money, and the quicker we can get these kids out of schools and into jobs, the better.  It’s disgusting and insulting to think that a student can get a high school diploma without being able to read at grade level or understand the algorithms of arithmetic (barring of course those with learning disabilities).   Related to this advancement of inadequacy, are the consequences of raising a generation of students with an instant gratification/entitlement complex.  It seems that there exists a generation of parents that (in memory of their own adolescent angst) view educators as adversaries.  When students do something wrong, the parents don’t react with repercussion to the student, they instead lobby blame at the teachers and absolve their delinquent offspring of any liability.

Teachers however have been saddled with the burden of raising classrooms full of children.  Teachers are having to act as trusted adult counselors for students from dysfunctional backgrounds, and educators of basic living skills on top of the responsibility of a bare bones basic education in their discipline.  Teachers are spending their own money buying school supplies for low income students, they are spending hours every day outside of school hours planning lessons, grading work and attending workshops.  As if those weren’t enough extraneous anxieties, teachers must also contend with the absolute power that students wield with reckless abandon.  In these days of instant information, all it takes is one disgruntled student to make one accusation and a teacher’s personal and professional  name is permanently scarred.  Teachers go to work never knowing when some drunk/high/mentally unstable student is going to flip out and attack.  The world is always worried about the safety of students, but who stops to worry about the safety of teachers?  And on top of everything, there’s the standardized testing beast to face.  Teachers carry 98% of the weight in these exams with the administration stepping in to account for maybe 1.5% and the last .5% is shared by the students, the parents and the government. [Disclaimer: This is not to be taken as an accurate, fully researched statistic. This is simply meant for illustrative purposes and dramatic effect.] The job of the educator is not really the easy ride that it’s long been made out to be.

The system has removed incentives for students.  I’ve been a student. I’ve taken those exams, and I know that the minute they told me that exam didn’t count as a grade I filled in random bubbles on the answer sheet, got my juice box and spent the rest of the time doodling some boys name on my book cover till it was over.  I’ve made this argument before and people tell me that this isn’t the norm.  But if it can happen even once than it cannot be used as tool of measurement.  It becomes completely invalid.  The idea that a teacher’s salary and career hinges on the arbitrary nature of children is ridiculous! There are some kids that will do really well, and there are some that just won’t care.  Motivation comes from within and no matter how skilled a teacher is, there are some students that will never self actualize enough to produce measurable results.  An answer on an exam says one thing. That the answer provided is not the correct answer.  Everything else is correlation.

I had an Algebra professor once that said two things that changed my life.

1. 2+2 = cat.

2. This is rocket science and people do die.

When no instructions are provided 2+2 = cat is a perfectly valid answer.  It is only from providing the parameters taught in basic mathematics that the sum of the quantity 2+2 will equal the integer 4.  When we fail to instill the foundations of mathematical logic we set our kids up to thinking 2+2 =cat.

This leads to the second statement.  The small mistakes can leads to disastrous results.  A mistake in arithmetic causes a spaceship to explode, a building to fall, or a machine to dispense too much/little medication and people die.  Ask any mathematician and he or she will tell you that the most common mistakes made in higher mathematics are not related to the Calculus or the Algebra, they are related to the basics of arithmetic.

It’s the small things that matter. It’s the small things that make a difference.

A final exam at the end of a semester tells you more about the student and the teacher than the massive state exams every other year.

Galileo said that “Mathematics if the language that God used to write the universe.” If we teach our kids to appreciate, respect, and admire mathematics we bestow upon them the tools they will use to write their own universe.