Tag Archives: welfare

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.


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.