During my most recent six-hour wait at our Health and Welfare office, the folks around me were joking that the wait itself might be part of the screening-process; no one in their right mind would sit here so long if they didn’t truly NEED help. We didn’t ask each other’s names, but we knew each other’s numbers, and rallied a cheering-section as the numbers around us finally began to get called. One grouchy geezer made noise about organizing a sit-in protest, to which I replied that we seemed to BE participating in a sit-in; after all, we’d been in these seats for hours already.
I was there to straighten out some confusion about our family’s Medicaid; the system is evidently not set up to deal with the possibility of family-members having the same name. Of course, I have to admit that ours is more complicated than a simple junior/senior designation; altogether there are no fewer than five (living) “John Heyward Tylers” in the family. They all have additional (Hawai’ian) middle names, which are the names they actually use, but they all show up in the system as John Heyward Tyler. Never mind the different Social Security numbers, or the fact that each one has a suffix (from “Jr” on down to “VI”) as part of the legal name–H&W goes into meltdown-mode every time it tries to sort us out.
So I was there at the Humor and Welfare office to explain (again) who’s who, and which two JHTs are actually part of our current household. I wish they’d let me file a diagram. The “H&W” on the side of the building is meant to stand for Health & Welfare, I know–but given my “privileged” (and well-warmed) front-row seat to the System, I take leave to suggest a substitution. Someone with a sense of Humor designed this shit.
I’ll start with kudos, though. Absolutely without fail, the individuals I’ve encountered working for H&W have been good-humored, concerned, and mind-bendingly patient with the endless parade of clients they face. (I saw some serious craziness in my six hours of wait-and-watch time, but those ladies dealt caringly with every single person–and the line was as long when I left as when I’d arrived.) I’m sure there’s a grouch in there somewhere, but I haven’t met her yet. I find this astonishing, actually, especially considering how many people I have to talk to in order to get any single item addressed; by now I’ve experienced quite a broad sampling of H&W employees. I begin to wish I’d started writing down names so I could send them thank-you notes. It’s not their fault that the phone number printed on my latest letter isn’t the right one for the issue discussed in that letter; or that the person at that number has on file another number which, when I call it, is the right office but the wrong number; or that the third number goes to the voicemail of a person on vacation, with an emergency number of somebody else, which turns out to be one of the numbers I’ve already called… Given how disorganized the “organization” is, they must have to deal with a LOT of irate people who have been multiply misdirected–yet each of them behaves as if there hasn’t been a single frustration in her day. Roses for all of them! (Well, if I could afford roses. Maybe they’d like some kid-drawings of roses?)
That said, here’s a sampling of our “funny” experiences with the System itself… Ha ha.
Last winter while we were both unemployed and job-hunting, we applied & were approved for food-stamps and Medicaid for the kids. (Am I really complaining about this system when it has helped us this often? I’m grateful. And yet… Some stuff should still get noticed.) At that point we had two kids full-time, and another two just a couple days a month. I listed them all (as I was told to do) and made sure to point out–both on my paperwork and during the intake interview–that the two younger were not in the house often, and already had health coverage through their dad’s job. Never mind–it turns out kids “qualify” if they are even occasionally in your home, so long as they’re not already claimed in another household; it’s all-or-nothing. We got food-stamp money AND Medicaid cards for those two kids as well. (The food stamps didn’t go to waste–the two kids IN the house were ravenous teenage boys. But knowing the finite resources at the State’s disposal, it doesn’t feel right that they send full amounts of money for children who aren’t there to eat.)
The flip side of that same policy: if two parents share custody, the full amount of food-stamps go to the parent who applies first, regardless of where the child spends the majority of time. We have full custody of one teenager, with a weekend a month to his mom. We actually still qualified for food stamps while we both worked full-time this summer, but because we could buy food with that income (and don’t want to abuse the system, and prefer to stand on our own feet when we can), we voluntarily stopped our food-stamps. Meanwhile, our teen’s mom applied for food-stamps and (because he’s in her house once a month), she gets to count him. When my seasonal summer job ended and we re-applied for stamps, we couldn’t count him because she already does. Doesn’t matter that WE’RE feeding him 29 out of 30 days. There’s no provision in the system to re-evaluate; it’s straight-up first-come-first-served, so for as long as she’s still taking food-stamps, she’ll get to keep claiming him. (We still come out okay because the two kids who aren’t here full-time–and don’t eat much when they are–still qualify for full benefits. That’s messed up on several levels. And doesn’t help other families where a non-custodial parent beat the custodial household to the food-stamp line.)
Meanwhile, my husband (the one of us who DOES have a biological child in the household full-time) just got bumped out of the Family Health Services medical plan because he “doesn’t have a qualifying child in the household.” And why doesn’t his child qualify as a member of our household? Because his mom gets the food-stamps for him. Teen still has Medicaid, so that’s an important thing taken care of–but Dad has been putting off knee-replacements for five years already, and his arthritis is making it increasingly hard for him to work. So the blanket first-come-first-served policy has hit us harder than just the groceries. (I’m all too aware that we just got penalized for NOT taking the state’s money over the summer; if we’d continued the food-stamps, we wouldn’t have been “cut out” by her claim.)
A word about the food-stamps before I sign off… I’m not a granola-fanatic or anything, but I think it’s silly that a person could buy nothing but Oreos & sodas all month if she chose. The card is already programmed not to ring up “excluded” items (alcohol, pre-prepared foods, even energy drinks) so clearly they could exclude junk as well. Actually what I’m getting at is the idea that there are some “basics” that can’t be bought with food stamps, and I’d rather have those than be able to buy junk-food. I know the stamps are intended to keep struggling families FED, but I’d trade in even my coffee-creamer for the ability to buy a few hygiene items–how about soap or toilet paper? (We went without both of those for a stretch last winter–but we could have had a cupboard full of Cheetohs. Kinda silly. Baking soda works for brushing teeth, but it leaves something to be desired as a substitute for shampoo.) Our local food-banks sometimes have those basics the food-stamps can’t buy, but of course it depends on donations.
At the end of the day, we’re sincerely grateful for the assistance, even with its attendant frustrations. Not proud of needing it, but also not too proud to admit when we do. And I just got another letter from my buddies at H&W–a request for some documents which I’ve already given them and they’ve evidently managed to vaporize–so I’m gearing up for another sit-in. I think I’ll bring stationery and start on my thank-you notes.
[Post-Script 10/19: See comments below for kitchen-chemistry tips regarding baking soda and shampoo… I love my readers! ;)]