Category Archives: General

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.


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.


Gradually then Suddenly

I remember this quote from Prozac Nation:

“There is a classic moment in
‘The Sun Also Rises’ when someone
asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt,
and all he can say in response is,
‘Gradually and then suddenly.’ When
someone asks how I lost my mind, that
is all I can say too.”
— Elizabeth Wurtzel

When I was sitting at the food pantry a few weeks ago and asking myself how my life had fallen apart, this was all I could tell myself. Gradually and then suddenly.  From a private university to welfare in the span of two months. That has to be a record.

I remember being a kid and my mom was on food stamps. Back when they were actual coupons that looked like fake money that you pulled out of a booklet. As a kid I would pick that time to find something else somewhere else to do. It was a humiliating experience that burned into my memory. When my daughter was born I found myself in the same situation. My experience being on welfare was traumatic enough that I chose the cold austerity of a shoestring budget over jumping through the government’s hoops of shame.  By the time my daughter was in school, I was enrolling in college which provided the scholarships and loans that allowed us to get by and make ends meet. Things were hard, but they worked.

Now it seems as if after graduation I’m right back where I started. I honestly feel as if I’m no better off than I was with a GED and dead end job.

Applying for food stamps required a workforce orientation where someone shows us how to apply for jobs. Apparently being financially strapped equates to being an idiot.

So as I was sitting in this lobby waiting to find out if I would have to take the same basic literacy and mathematics tests as the people without college degrees (it turns out that everyone has to take that stupid test and my blood is still boiling) I had an epiphany. I would use this time to be academically productive!

I remembered reading Nickled and Dimed and being incredibly annoyed.  In this book Barbara Ehrenreich attempts to experiment with poverty and write about it as if her experience was authentic. I remembered thinking that one cannot simply try on poverty. There’s a certain fear and desperation that is inherent with being broke. Something that Ehrenreich never was able to experience in her experiment.

So instead of lamenting my downturn in fortunes, I’ll make the most of the experience. I’ll see if the welfare system really can work and I’ll document my experience along the way.  With any luck this will be a very quick experiment and I’ll either be employed or be in grad school by January.

Gradually then suddenly everything fell apart. Maybe gradually and suddenly they’ll come back together.

A five minute pet

There is a running joke in my family that I am the underground railroad for stray animals. From dogs and cats to baby squirrels, they just seem to find me. It’s as if some signal goes out that I’m a sucker. I have rescued, fostered, adopted and loved more pets than most people I know.

Every day on my way to school I’m bombarded with the visual reality of San Antonio’s animal crisis. I count no less than 6 dogs roaming the streets from the minute I exit the highway to the time I walk through the campus gates.

There are just so many dogs.

Yesterday started like every other day. I exit the highway and make my way towards campus. I spot the first dog of my morning; a cute little black and tan weenie dog. He was walking behind a man and I was concerned that he was too close to heavy traffic to be walking without a leash. Silly me figured the dog had a person. Suddenly the man turned and kicked the dog so hard I gasped. Instantly my heart was racing and I was enraged. Everything inside me was screaming to go back. But I had a midterm and had to keep going. By the time I got to school I was a consumed with guilt. I should have gone back. I choked it down, went on with my day, failed my midterm and went home resigned to being just a little more disappointed in myself and humanity as a whole.

This morning started the same. I exited the highway and started mentally preparing for all the dogs I was about to see. Traffic hit a sudden slow spot and I figured it was a car stalled in the turning lane. When I got closer I saw that it was a dog. He had been hit by a car in the turning lane and all the other cars were trying to get around him.

My heart stopped.

I was trapped in my lane watching as he would lift his head and one paw when another car came close to hitting him again. It was almost human. As if it was a reflex to avoid being hit, or some attempt to beg for help. And no one was stopping. They all just drove around him like he wasn’t even there.

As I fought my way through traffic to get back to him, it felt almost like redemption for not going back for the dog that got kicked yesterday. When I finally got to him I saw his back was broken. He was a big white and tan pit bull mix. He was wearing a red collar with faded grey paw prints. He was too big for me to pick up and I couldn’t bring myself to drag him across three lanes of traffic. I went inside a staffing office and asked them to call someone. I asked if someone could help me and no one would. I asked a man walking buy if he could help me and he refused. Why were they all looking at me like I was crazy? How could all these people see this suffering dog and not do anything?

Finally a lady pulled up behind my car and came towards me. She said she had seen it happen and that she had to come back. She helped me pick him up and carry him across the street to the sidewalk. She talked about how she saw him trying to cross and saw the truck in front of her hit him and take off. I suppressed  the urge to verbally flog her for not stopping immediately. I was too focused on the dog to pay much attention to her.

I sat on the sidewalk with him. His breathing was becoming more laboured. I put his head on my lap and stroked his big boxy head and held his paw. I kept talking to him; telling him how pretty he was, how he was such a good boy, but mostly apologizing for his circumstances. I was apologizing for the over-breeding of pit bulls, for the red collar that had wanted him when he was a puppy and lost interest when he grew up, for the person that hit him, for all the people that drove past him and refused to help.  I begged him to let go. I told him everything was going to be ok. I called him Buddy. He looked like a Buddy. He looked like a dog that loved to chase balls, and wanted nothing more than a boy to faithfully follow around. He looked like the kind of giant dog that would forever be in puppy mode. He may have lived like a stray, but for five long minutes he was able to die like a pet.

He died with his head in my lap and his paw in my hand. I just sat there. I hadn’t even noticed that the lady that had helped me had already left. As I was sitting there I felt something on my other hand. I looked down and a little chiuaua mix was sitting next to me licking my hand.

They just seem to find me.


Lather Rinse Repeat


Once again I am standing on the threshold of a new semester full of this crazy optimistic anxiety.  Every semester I go through the same resolutions: I will use my planner, I will do all my reading assignments, I won’t leave my papers till the last minute, I won’t be dependent on medication, I won’t let my bi-polar crap consume me, I’ll keep my environment organised, and I’ll strive to reclaim my identity as an honour student.  At the dawn of every semester I run through this list of goals with as much dedication as a junkie fresh out of rehab.


I’ve decided to go off my meds again. I can just imagine the eye rolls and exasperated sighs of some people that will read that statement. I’m sure that’s a common occurrence for people dealing with bi-polar people. We’re notorious for going on and off meds. I’m no exception. After a lot of thought I’ve decided that medication and therapy were useful in getting me through the crisis. But I don’t think I’m in crisis anymore. I think that’s why they became less effective. I think I just didn’t need them anymore. I think I’m ready to do this on my own. I made it through the whole summer break without them. That’s a huge accomplishment for me. Summer break is a dangerous minefield of downtime. Downtime is a poison dart to me. I beat summer break. Now I’m going to try to beat Fall 2011.


It’s the first night after my first day of class. I’ve diligently used my planner. I’ve colour coded and tabbed my economics books. I’ve finished one assignment. I’ve checked off the misc. stuff on my to-do list. So far I’m doing well. But now the fatigue is setting in. It’s already 11pm and instead of doing my  reading and my other economics assignment I’m blogging and considering going to sleep and doing it in the morning. Just like a junkie falling back on a needle, it’s effortless to fall back into my natural groove. After all it’s a groove that has 20 years of wear.


Boethius said “The worst misery is to have once been happy.”

I think that’s why I haven’t been able to get back to the academic standing I used to hold.  Back when I was an honour student, I was totally alone. I didn’t have friends, or love interests, or a social life.  I hadn’t tasted happiness yet.  Now that I have, the absence of it has been crushing.  I didn’t know how much the loneliness hurt back then so it was easy to just focus on school and make good grades. Now I’m so painfully aware of my loneliness, it makes focusing on school work difficult.


So here I am again. On the threshold of a new semester. But not just another new semester. This is the first semester of my senior year.  And with more dedication than a junkie fresh out of rehab, I think I’m finally ready to let go. I’m not just letting go of those months of happiness that were followed by those years of heartache. No, I think I’m finally ready to let go of all the pain, resentment, animosity, guilt, bitterness, and fear that’s been holding me hostage for most of my life.



No, I don’t think I will.

Red Pill Blue Pill

There was an article about a father whose daughter had Down’s. He was a scientist and a mathematician and upon accepting his daughter’s diagnosis, he dedicated his life to studying the condition. After years of research he’s entering into clinical trials for drugs that will help treat adults with Down’s to improve memory functioning.

This leads me to the grand question. If someone developed a cure for Down’s, a little pill that would delete the extra 21st chromosome, would I give that pill to my daughter?

When you have a kid with Down’s you inevitably run into two or three groups of parents. The ones that the Down’s is a total blessing (the crusaders), the ones that think it’s a total nightmare and the ones that don’t have an opinion one way or the other.  I tend to jump back and forth between the last two.  I’ve never thought of this as a blessing. Not once. It’s always felt like a barrier that’s kept my daughter and I from really connecting. It doesn’t keep me from loving her, it has nothing to do with that. I think that’s an important distinction to make. It has nothing to do with how I feel about my daughter, but it has everything to do with how I relate to my daughter.  When I found out Jess had Down’s it wasn’t me I was sad for, it wasn’t my own loss that I was grieving. It was hers. I was so heartbroken over every possibility that had been taken away from her. And as open minded and optimistic as the crusaders want to be, the diagnosis of Down’s comes with instantaneous limitations.

But that extra chromosome comes with more than just certain physical characteristics like those curved  pinkie fingers, and those characteristic flat eyes.  It comes with little personality traits that are unique to kid’s with Down’s.  She’s unfailingly kind, trusting, and forgiving.  She has her bad days, just like any other kid, she can be a total pain in the ass, but unlike kids without Down’s, Jess doesn’t know how to hold a grudge. She has no concept of shame, or inhibition.  In Jessica’s world everything is happy and fun. There’s no such thing as anxiety, Santa is always real, and it doesn’t matter what label is on her jeans.

If there was a pill that could delete the extra 21st chromosome in those 3/10 affected cells, would it annihilate those lovely traits in exchange for giving her the ability to read, write, do mathematics and function at age level? If it did, would it be worth the trade off?

And what about Jess? What would Jess want?

I see how frustrated she gets when she doesn’t understand. I see how sad she gets when she longs to be included with the other kids. She knows she’s different, but she doesn’t understand how she’s different. It breaks my heart to see her struggle so hard with things that seem so basic. Simple addition and subtraction seems so monumental to her, spelling and reading are so hit and miss. I don’t even know if it would be possible to find out what Jess would want. Would she want to change? How would we even begin to find out? It’s barely possible to communicate effectively with her on anything of an abstract nature.

I would be exchanging my Jessica for another version of Jessica. Who’s to say the other version of Jessica would be better, and who’s to say my Jess would like being the other version of Jess more? It’s an ethical mine field. This isn’t a cut and dry “if there was a cure would you give if to Jess?” question.

But when all is said and done, I love my daughter, and I more than anything I want her to have the best chance at life possible. Unfortunately, being mentally disadvantaged isn’t the best chance possible, and so if someone had a cure I think it would be wrong of me to deny Jess a chance at a life free of this disorder.  And while there would be things I would miss (and even writing this blog, and thinking of theoretical possibilities is bringing tears to my eyes) about my darling perpetually youthful little girl, she would deserve an opportunity to really grow up and live her life.

And so I will continue to support Down’s research in hopes that one day they will develop treatments and therapies to help increase functionality. I doubt there will be a cure for chromosomal mutations, but if there’s a possibility that an Alzheimer’s drug can help my daughter learn to read, write, and do math on grade level…it’s a step in the right direction.

The Strays

I like the stray cats on campus. Just watching them roaming around, hanging out, observing…waiting.

Waiting on what?

A scrap of food, a scratch on the head, a kind word?

Waiting to be noticed?
Waiting to be wanted?
Waiting to be loved?

I relate to them. I always have. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always been drawn to strays. They used to call me the underground railroad for strays. I was always coming home with some poor furry soul that needed a home.

I think I’m a stray. Can there be stray people? I feel like I’m just like these stray cats on campus.

Alone and for the most part invisible. Just silently observing the world pass me by. Waiting for someone to notice me, want me, take me home and love me.

Perhaps I’m waiting for my turn to wear the shiny collar that says I belong somewhere, I’m a real person, I’m special to someone and I’m loved.

When you think about it an engagement/wedding ring is like a collar. A symbol that tells the world you have a place, you have a home in someone’s heart and there is someone that loves you enough to look for you and find  you if you happen to lose your way.

I’m just like a stray with no collar. The men in my life are like these people on campus.

They notice me for a minute, a temporary display of affection and wanting.

But in the end they all leave, they all go back to their lives.

“What a beautiful and awesome cat.” he will say. “I love spending time petting her, but I can’t take her home. I can’t keep her cause there’s just no room in my life for the commitment of having a pet. So I’ll pet her when I see her and tell her she’s great and that I’m sorry I can’t be more than a tourist in her life. And I’ll walk away hoping she’s not too sad – believing she’s so great someone will surely take her home someday, cause she deserves better than this.”

And he’ll leave. It’s no loss to him, his life will go on undisturbed. But oh how the heart of that cat will ache. For that cat, every scratch on the head heralds in the question…”Is he just going to pet me and leave or is this the one that’s going to love me enough to take me with him?”

Ever noticed a stray that wants to come and take what you’re offering, but they stand back and hesitate, not sure what they should do? Wanting so much for this to be it, but remembering all the times that it’s gone wrong.

It takes a lot of risk for a stray to go out on the limb and let someone get close. I’m sure it takes all she has to cast away the fear of rejection, and open up.

So when he leaves, another little piece of her will wither and wilt. Eventually she’ll become one of those cats that’s content to observe but will run and hide the minute someone new reaches down to touch her.

I’m a stray in life wondering around just trying to find a place in someone’s heart to belong.

Nights like these

Once upon a time there was a girl. Wrapped in a sheet, she laid in bed watching him scroll through her music library. She had just given him everything her heart, mind and body had to offer.  He was indeed a beautiful man: the personification of childhood wishes on far away stars. In this moment the world seemed to reach an equilibrium, where all the pain of the past was finally balanced by the happiness of the present.

Turning to her, he broke the comfortable silence that had settled over the room and told her she was incredible. She smiled, her heart skipped a beat and she wondered if this would be that moment. After a contemplative pause he told her one day she was going to meet someone that would love her the way she deserved.

Shattered, she whispered that she thought she already had.