Applying For Assistance — #GetWell2015 (01/10/15)

In brief: I advocate for public assistance; now I need it because of medical bills.

Note: I’m an activist/writer/media contributor full-time. If you can, consider supporting my work so I can do more of it by becoming a patron at PATREON or making a one-time donation through PAYPAL. Thank you!

Put this phrase off to the side as you’ll need it repeatedly during this post:


So yesterday I went to the dentist. Which doesn’t sound exciting. I wasn’t expecting exciting as I have pretty good dental insurance thanks to my lottery winning zip code. It’s really inexpensive (about $12.00/month) and covers cleanings, fillings, crowns, x-rays, exams and even one root canal a year in full. I was six months overdue for a cleaning and needed to have the bonding I chipped last year fixed, but I was pretty confident I was walking out of there with a clean mouth and maybe $30.00 in copays.

Turns out, not so much.

Head shake no

I have continued to grind my teeth well into adulthood. (I don’t have a partner to complain about it interrupting their sleep, so I didn’t know.) This hidden habit, which is exacerbated by the anxiety disorder, has caused some pretty substantial damage to previous dental work — none of which is visible without X-rays and dental instruments because of my small mouth (yeah, I know) and the troublesome locations, primarily on the back teeth. So I had no idea. And there isn’t really a way I could have prevented it. But it’s a crisis situation.

If I don’t have all of it fixed fast, I’m risking infection. Here’s the thing Americans (especially those who make medical and insurance policy) don’t get: your mouth is part of your body. It’s not an optional thing that you tend to it because problems don’t magically stay localized. Not only does the cost quadruple quickly if I don’t do it now, I risk very serious medical issues in the super near future.

My insurance is covering almost all of it. But I’m left with a $5,000 set of copays. Five Thousand Dollars.

angela mind blown

Now, my office manager was a saint. I have to leave out the details for reasons. She managed to get me financing which was some straight up wizardry. But I now have a $380 bill every month for the rest of 2015.

panic alladin

So over the past 24 hours I had to decide if I was a hypocrite. Turns out I’m not.

I have spent years advocating for social programs designed to get people on their feet and provide basic dignity and support in crisis. And I live in California where help is a real thing. I am now asking for help because that’s what’s real. If that makes people uncomfortable, well, maybe they should face some reality and swallow a bit of discomfort.

I actually just wrote and produced an activism segment for Best of the Left on reducing poverty, ending stigma, and shoring up the social safety net: ”Half In Ten via the Coalition on Human Needs — Best of the Left Activism” which makes the timing almost poetic. I have spent more of the past 20 years either straight-up food insecure or one paycheck/slow shift away from not eating. I’ve never applied and don’t know if I would have qualified because I always had to work two or three jobs to cover loans, debt, car payments, rent, etc. Which means my income was typically over the “threshold” even if I had to grocery shop at the Dollar Store.

(Insert your first WHY IS THIS A THING IN AMERICA? here if you haven’t used one yet.)

If I’m serious about discussing stigma and poverty and heath and access, I can’t really omit this current chapter of my life. Figuring out what I might qualify for and thus not wasting hours and days and weeks on something that wasn’t going to come through was a whole day and brainstorming sessions with multiple family members who have actual background in disability, food stamps, government applications and bureaucracy, etc. And that was after I was able to get out of bed.

Because here’s the thing: I’ve been here before. A whole bunch of times. I’ve worked 60, 70, 80, 90 hours a week at physical service industry jobs. Despite two degrees and a slate of professional skills, the combination of graduation date (don’t graduate right after 9/11, folks), the end of print media without online media to catch new writers, an immediate health issue, a misdiagnosed disorder, and situational depression to accompany what I now know is an underlying anxiety disorder and very extreme ADD, I was never able to stay at a “professional job” even if it paid enough money. Which, frankly, they never did anyway.

So I ignored my health and just worked. Hard. Continuously. Doing damage to my knees, back, hands, wrists, and basic overall health — not to mention the additional mental pressure that happens the longer you’re in crisis. After pulling myself up and over and around and through repeatedly, each time I land back here the despair is intensified. And because of time and age and physical health, my options are limited. And I know that next time they will be even more limited.

Despair is a bitch, folks. You wanna know why poor people are both unhealthy and less likely to tend to their health? First, they don’t have the time and money to tend to anything. Second, even if you have willpower and a survival instinct, part of you stops trying to make things better. Why are you bothering? Here you are — this place you’ve been many times. Loss of a job. Unexpected medical bills. Housing crisis. Sick parent. Sick kid. Hours reduced at work. Car repairs. Never breathing room, never hope, never the opportunity to just sit and not be panicked or planning to prevent panic.


It is really fucking hard to even keep track of your bootstraps when you’re so busy trying to make things work, fit something in, reduce something, add something, apply for something, hunt for something. Something something something.

This isn’t living.

I’ve never been comfortable just surviving. I’ve never worn that like a badge of honor and I have always been looking for a way to get and be and stay well. (That is, after all, the point of this blog series.) And just when I thought I’d gotten on track — starting the first month of 2015 with four doctor’s visits, three therapy appointments, a dentist appointment and an unexpected cat who rescued herself into our backyard that’s bringing my anxiety WAY down, the typical thing happens. A new monster bill I can’t avoid and couldn’t have prevented and can’t get mad at anybody about except to scream,


Why does anyone have to make the basics of getting to well a full time job? Because that’s what this is. Dealing with insurance (even with the ACA), scheduling and getting to doctors and dentist appointments, waiting for results and then going back to the doctor, trying meds and not being able to take your doc’s advice to “get enough sleep” and “get healthy” because of money. Why are so many people terrified that tomorrow a phone call could disrupt their whole lives? We have so many folks living on the edge, that we built housing there. We give each other knowing looks at the grocery store and in doctors’ waiting rooms, on the bus and walking past each other with cocktail waitress aprons as we head to work.


And many in our legislatures say we have it too easy. They say people “take advantage” of government programs and are kicking back enjoying the free money.

Side eye with armor

I don’t have to ask because I know none of them have ever applied for a government program.

California is easier than federal. And faster. And requires less. I just spent 30 minutes tracking down the right place to apply and then an hour going through the well designed, user-friendly, but lengthy application and uploading about 15 documents. My application will get processed quickly because I’m obsessively organized, know where all my docs are, and have access to tech that allows me to quickly turn that all into digital form and upload them.

Not everybody has that.

Not everybody has enough to eat even if they work to the point of physical destruction and not even everybody has resources to access the help that is available.


We’re getting ready for an election, folks. And the GOP is going to talk all about uteri without end. They’re already doing it. I have a couple pieces coming out for the Roe anniversary that include discussion of the first order of business in Congress: a 20-week abortion ban. And the four additional bills introduced on day 2. They care about what’s inside my uterus, but not about whether or not there’s anything inside my stomach. Pro-life, my ass.

So. I’m super uncomfortable sharing all of this because I know it’s going to affect my personal relationships and even possibly relationships with potential employers and contractors. I have privilege to hide behind. When people look at me they have never thought “poor” or “hungry” or “she probably uses government aid, *sniff*” — they use words like “survivor!” and phrases like “she always lands on her feet!” It is because I can hide, that I must not.

I need help to get well. This is my reality. I want so much to live — really LIVE — that I’m going to take the help I know is available with gratitude and a slightly modified, but on track plan to get well over the course of 2015. I have work I want to do in this world. Real work to help real people. And I can’t do that if I’m patched together like the character from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

sally nightmare christmas

I just need to keep the stitching together this year; let’s hope the State of California brand thread is sturdy and as available as its reputation suggests.

This post is an entry in my year-long project documenting all the messiness and inconvenience and stigma of trying to get well in our culture. You can subscribe, follow, and join in the journey at #GetWell2015 here and on Twitter.

If you found this post informative, entertaining, helpful, etc. you can click SUPPORT to keep me speaking and follow me on Facebook and twitter. Thanks!

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6 replies

  1. I was actually fairly fortunate in my applications for disability – first SDI through the state of CA, which you can get for one year, and then you transition to SSDI from the federal government. I’d heard the nightmares about how most people get denied right away and you have to get a lawyer and appeal for months…but I was blessed to avoid all of that. My application for SDI was approved right away, and then when I went to apply for SSDI after the one-year period, that also went through right away. I suppose because my health situation, as detailed by my doctor, was at the time incredibly perilous, and it was clear that I was not able to work at all. But whatever the reasons, I am incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to battle the government to get assistance.

    So for me it was unusually easy to access….but hot damn, whenever conservatives rant about people living large on the government dole, I’m like DO YOU EVEN KNOW HOW IT WORKS YOU MENDACIOUS ASSBAGS. Because yeah, I got on the rolls easily enough, but that doesn’t mean my *life* has been easy since then. I had to move back in with my parents and have been sharing an apartment with them for four years now. I love them, but shit, I’m 34 years old – I didn’t leave my life and independence and move in with them because I just wanted to be roomies with Mom and Dad again. The amount I get per month wouldn’t even cover rent around here, let alone bills and such, if I were on my own. I’m endlessly grateful that I *can* get it, but anyone who thinks of it as largess is living in a fucking fantasy world.

    Oh, and this year, I got a whopping 1.6% increase. WOOHOO GONNA GO GET MAH CADILLAC NOW. Or not.

  2. I lost my job on Sept. 3, 2014. I had insurance through that month, and didn’t bother looking into the Marketplace for coverage because I assumed I’d be able to get a job within a few weeks. Not so much. I’m still unemployed.
    In November, I went to the Marketplace website to check out insurance available to me. I have lupus, which requires seven daily medications just to keep me alive and able to work. Before I was diagnosed, I was having daily TIAs. Those are what are commonly called “mini-strokes”. Very frightening, to say the least.
    So anyway, I discovered that because I am now receiving a whopping $1100 monthly from unemployment insurance, I would have to pay over $400 monthly for a policy with a $5000 deductible! That monthly premium is the CHEAPEST one available, and would cost me nearly HALF of my monthly income. I’m single, and have to pay rent, a car payment, car insurance, and maybe buy some food once in awhile. This makes for an impossible situation, so I “passed” on the insurance.
    Now I’m sick…….I caught this horrible influenza A, and there’s a good chance I have pneumonia. I’m having difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. But I absolutely cannot afford a visit to a doctor. I’m truly panicked: people have died with this influenza from respiratory complications, and having an auto-immune disease elevates my risk enormously.
    And speaking of “buying food once in awhile”……..I finally swallowed my pride and applied for food assistance a couple of months ago. I was raised by far-right conservatives, and in spite of my own progressive views, there was still that little voice in the back of my mind calling me a “slacker”…….. So, I’m eligible for food assistance only because I’m over 55 years old. I get $18.00 monthly. Thank you. Thank you very much.
    Please know that I have worked full-time all my life, since I was divorced in 1988, in spite of having a chronic illness. Is it REALLY too much to ask that this country step up and help us? It’s unimaginable to me that there is really NO HELP available. I’m not asking for a “free ride”. I’m asking for a temporary life boat, to literally keep me alive, so that I may return to the work force as soon as possible.

    • Oh, Carlene. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I wish you didn’t need a winning zip code lottery ticket to get any help at all. Thank you for sharing your story — I know that voice, that “yeah, but do you *really* need the help? Shouldn’t you do it on your own?” When you’re an empathetic progressive (as you are), you also get the added “But I know there are people who need it more than I do” voice. Even when your situation is as fraught as yours.

  3. To get food stamps, I used to have to fax 30 pages of info to the DHS every 6 mos. I learned to keep my bills, stubs, etc. organized. The application itself was like 12 pages alone, but they wanted a long list of documents as well: 90 days of pay stubs, utility bills, lease agreement, copies of our driver’s licenses and SS cards, etc. I had to run it all through the printer to print my case number on every single page in big, bold font, and then I would hang on to the whole thing until my approval came through, so I could fax it again if they tried to say something was missing. All that, for about $200 or so per month in food stamps that my family of 4 would use up in about 2 weeks.

    They make it hard to apply, easy to be dropped, and barely worth the effort, then talk about how poor people are “lazy” and just want a hand-out. When I got a minimum wage job, I lost the food stamps but gained about $1200/mo that I could spend on ANYTHING I NEED/WANT, not just food. I don’t know anyone, poor or not, who would prefer $200 in food stamps over a paycheck. The constant roadblocks and hoops to jump and shaming doled out to people just for even asking for help is ridiculous. The idea that poor people are just lazy and don’t want to earn money? They might as well say that poor people aren’t human because that’s the general idea. Wanting to take care of yourself & improve your life is human nature. Hell, not even human nature, since animals take care of themselves, too. It’s… absurd and disgusting.

    • Thank you for sharing. I’m lucky that so much is automated and feels slightly less humiliating and intrusive where I live. That is not the experience for everyone and it certainly not the experience for other kinds of assistance.
      It’s easier to see us as “steerage” and not quite human. Otherwise, how would the billionaires advocating for cuts to SNAP, etc live with themselves? We are going to have to put ourselves out there — those of us who safely can — to end the stigma and the stereotypes. Thank you so much for doing that here and on social media.


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