In brief: Food Assistance & Medication Update! #GetWell2015 Meets the ZIP Code Lottery and I nail the right-wing “takers” trope to the damn wall.
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Oh hey! It’s been a minute. Which wasn’t my intent with this project. But I got the chance to visit with family and see my oldest niece on her third birthday because my family of choice is super generous and made it possible to fly home. And then the two nieces I live with and care for have been sick. So trying to be well, stay well, get well, help kids get well — that’s been a bit of a thing the past couple weeks.
Update! The state of California didn’t just see fit to expedite and approve my application for food assistance. They followed up with the expected letter on musts and dos and don’ts — a letter I had been dreading that turned out to be full of good news.
I had been worried about being so close to the technical qualifying line that I wouldn’t be able to meet other goals this year. It won’t shock anyone following this series to hear that I need to file bankruptcy to discharge years of debt from underemployment. (More on that in a later entry.) What if I wrote enough to meet those goals so I can end 2015 at a very satisfying, sturdy “zero,” but that extra work and income cost me the ability to eat in the meantime? I’m not the first person to have to weigh and balance this exact catch 22.
Every day, all over the country, people have to decide whether or not to stay home with their kids and accept assistance, or go to work and spend half that money on childcare while barely being able to feed their kids. Living on the line is an anxiety-ridden, constantly frustrating experience. All programs create this group living on a bubble. That’s the nature of an income qualifier. The balancing act is awful and it’s made worse by people born on their feet with a solid family safety net calling those who make the tough choices about finding a second job or staying home “moochers” and “takers.” The stigma is intense for the “capable poor.”
I’ve been making it work on my own, somehow, despite pretty debilitating physical and mental issues for two decades now. I couldn’t do it any longer because your options for service industry work decrease with age and eventually your body revolts against a 90 hour, physical work week. So I found myself on the bubble.
Or so I thought.
Luckily, I live in a winning ZIP code. California sees fit to recognize my self-employment as valid, reducing my income for expenses. Also, here, my $400/month dental financing bill is considered to be a medical cost. I make pretty much nothing — a reality I knew, but wasn’t expecting would be affirmed by the state.
But there was still the looming concern that I wouldn’t really be able to even begin pulling myself out of this hole until the dental bill was paid off at the end of the year. Would my busting it to write as much as I can cost me my assistance before I was able to file the bankruptcy or pay off the dental bill? Turns out: nope. California for the win again.
Leaving out the boring details about how freelancing works and the timeline for getting paid, essentially I would have to hit the jackpot in one month before I even need to call in and update my income status. Even then, I likely would just not get a deposit to the card for that month. The following month I could call back and re-update and the benefits would be restored. Easy peasy. Which means I have the assistance for the rest of the year and can work my ass off to achieve my goals.
That’s the thing, y’all. The “cost conscious” right-wingers like to say that too much help makes people lazy. Open-ended assistance makes people dependent. If we offer hand outs, people will take that and not learn to be self-sufficient.
You know what the security and peace of mind that comes with knowing I have a place to live AND I can eat for the rest of the year until the monster bill is paid off is doing for my motivation?
I had intended to spend 2015 becoming truly self sufficient — one of those “productive members of society” the GOP likes so much. I thought the dental emergency was going to set me so far back that the goal of simply being well enough to function would be out of reach. Accidentally living in a state that sees fit to put a floor under my feet and ensure that I won’t be hungry has made that goal a real possibility.
I simply can’t do it on my own.
That sentence is really, agonizingly hard for me to write. But it’s true. I didn’t exactly have family support as a kid and issues that could have been solved and prevented during childhood weren’t tended to. That’s not my fault. So, society is stepping in — that’s what the government is: our society as a collective — to pick up the slack and support me while I go from capable (how I feel about myself) to actually “able” (what I can produce in the world).
Saying I need help isn’t saying I’m not capable. I am highly capable. However, I am sick and there are massive roadblocks between me and achievement/functionality. I didn’t build those roadblocks and I’m not angry that they’re there. I just need some expert help, a little time, and some social support to get over and around them.
My story of accessing assistance shouldn’t be an anomaly; help should be available to anyone who needs it. And, frankly, I’m not getting that much help. It’s not like the state of California is funding weekly dinner parties. The $140/month they give me only goes as far as it does because I have 15 years of food insecurity-style grocery shopping and cooking experience and I live in an area with good access to cheap, healthy, fresh food due to the climate and easy transportation infrastructure.
My story should be the baseline. Everyone knows conservative-run states are less likely to help their residents. But before you get all red state shamey or high and mighty with the blue state pride, take a gander at what those in need are able to access where you live. If winning the ZIP code lottery means $140/month, your neighbors probably aren’t getting the kind of help you think you’re proud of.
We can do better, folks. We can and we must. And we’re about to have a massive, trillion dollar national election season, so how about we nail any candidate that overtalks “the middle class” (like that’s a thing anymore) to avoid using the words “poor” and “poverty?” The poor are uncomfortable to discuss in America because poverty is a structural, systemic issue without one easy solution or policy fix. But if we have a candidate who’s husband championed welfare “reform” from the White House, perhaps we’re about to have a massive opportunity to spotlight the complexities and generational legacies of poverty in this country.
The poor are tired, overworked, sick and often unable to scream and yell in the streets. They don’t have access to media outlets or time to write about their experiences. They are underrepresented. We are underrepresented. It’s time everyone took a little responsibility for whether or not their neighbors are able to thrive; you could be speaking for someone who can’t because all they have time to think about is how they’re going to eat tomorrow.
So check on your state/city benefits. Let me know what you find. Maybe try and live on that budget for a month. It’s a publicity stunt when politicians do it, but in your private life where there aren’t photo ops, it’s a valuable empathy-building exercise to see if you can do it. (Don’t forget to include spices, condiments, etc.) The #FoodStampBudget is a real thing to consider when you’re assessing your representatives and the public policies that decide whether or not people can eat. Here and on Twitter (@Katie_Speak and/or use the hashtag), post what you find: what does your shopping list look like (or would like — it’s a good exercise just to do the math, even if you don’t shop based on the calculations) and is it doable for a single person or a family?
I’ll post mine too and some of the recipes I use to eat as healthy as I can on a restricted budget. $140/month means eating for $1.50 a meal. So, I’ll be putting up some of my #TwoDollarMeal recipes with pics and info.
And now, off to my second doctor’s visit of the day. Until next time…
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.