Friday, July 17, 2009

Pretend Possible Income

means no help for me.

As far as I know there is no one in my immediate circle of family and friends that has ever applied for any government assistance.

Developments in my life over the past year included devastating illness and multiple hospital stays. (Let's not even go into the mountain of medical bills I have, even though I was covered by one of the best insurance companies at that time.)

After relocating here I was able to find a job in a local school. School ended for the year in June. I received a nice letter thanking me for working there, and saying that I would 'probably' have a job when school resumed in late August. But that they weren't guaranteeing anything.

I have been applying for part-time work and/or summer work for months. Several times I thought I had a job, but things fell through. "The owner has decided to do the work instead because the economy is so bad." and other such reasons were given.

Finally I decided to apply for unemployment. Most people said I probably wouldn't qualify. I decided that it didn't hurt to try.

I am fortunate that my sister has opened her home to me and my dog. She cannot afford to buy my food and medications--or those for my dog. I also have an old car that needs work, and must buy gas and insurance for it. My meager savings was running dry. I applied.

I received notification that it would take three weeks to hear their decision. That they automatically did not pay benefits for the first two weeks of application. And that if I did receive benefits it would be between $50 and $187 a week. Not much, but something to keep me going.

While telling friends and family about this, several suggested that I apply for food stamps. (Food Stamps is a name for a money card issued by the state government. Every State has a different name for their card. It was embarrassing to even think of it. Yet, with no assurance of receiving unemployment and no income--it wasn't fair to my sister to ask her to feed us too. So I swallowed my pride and applied.

My interview was surreal. Here is basically what happened:
Bureaucrat: What is your income?
Me: I don't have any income right now.
Bureaucrat: Everyone has some income.
Me: No, I do not have an income.
Bureaucrat: Have you applied for Unemployment?
Me: Yes, they said it would be three weeks before they could tell me if I qualified to receive any money.
Bureaucrat: Did they tell you how much you would receive if you qualify?
Me: Yes, somewhere between $50 and $187. a week.
Bureaucrat: Okay, so your income is $187. a week.
Me: No, (trying not to hyperventilate or scream). I have NO income. In three weeks I might have an income. It might be $50. a week, it might be $187. a week. It might be nothing. But in the meantime, I have no income.
Bureaucrat: According to our rules you have to write down the maximum that you MIGHT receive.
Me: Okay, but how does that apply to my life today? I have no income today.
Bureaucrat: I am sorry those are the rules and that is how we must do this.
Me: Okay, so let's pretend I have an income of $187. a week. Now what?
Bureaucrat: What is your monthly rent and utility bill?
Me: I do not have one. I live with my sister and she is kind enough not to charge me for living there.
Bureaucrat: I am sorry, your claim is denied then. I cannot give you food stamps because your income is higher than your rent and utility bills.
Me: (Trying not to reach across the desk and strangle this fool). But I do not have any income. The soonest I might have an income--even if I find a job today--would be two weeks. Or three weeks IF they decide that I qualify for unemployment.
Bureaucrat: I'm sorry, but those are the rules. You can appeal this decision. She then explains I would have to drive to a location about one hour away and present my claim. I am not sure if my car would make the trip without breaking down. I have two tires that I desperately need to replace.
Bureaucrat: I'm sorry but I have other appointments now. Have a nice day.
Me: I am silently leaving and am too angry and upset to speak.

I do not understand the logic of any of this, except to deny benefits to as many people as possible. All the years of taxes I have paid, yet the first time I ask for help I am caught in this bizarre web of 'no help' because I have a pretend possible income.

I guess maybe I should have applied for Food Stamps before unemployment. Or lied. I don't know. It is a bureaucratic system completely foreign to me.

I am an emotional person, as I was leaving I burst into tears. A man had been waiting nearby and heard the whole conversation. "It's happening everywhere," he said. People like you that never have had to use these kind of programs. People that don't know how to make the system work for them."

I agreed with him, I had no idea who he was and I was too upset to care. I left and drove away in my old car. I used to be a Yuppie. I walked away from the pursuit of fine things and money over fifteen years ago and dedicated myself to work in industries that don't pay well, but help people. In the end---this is where it got me.

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