Adventures in Welfare
I would consider myself largely a failure at life. I barely graduated high school on time (I was almost held back twice for medical absences.), I dropped out of college, and I have had a mental breakdown at nearly every job I have ever held. I feel like there a couple kinds of depression: There’s normal person depression, which consists of going through life in a foggy haze, never knowing which way is up, but pushing forward nonetheless; and then there’s my kind of depression, where I can’t leave the house for up to 6 months at time and I drop to 90 pounds because I physically cannot eat. Being a failure at life entails lots of unpleasantness and deviations from normal person milestones. It also involves dealing with the faceless bureaucracies known colloquially known as “welfare.”
I first applied for welfare in New Jersey when I was around 20. By this time, I had driven the full scholarship I had to community college into the ground and had quit a near-minimum wage retail job. I applied for the trifecta of welfare: cash assistance (TANF), Medicaid, and food stamps (SNAP). I applied online and shortly after received a letter for an interview.
The Morris County Office of Temporary Assistance is a sad brown 1-story building located next to a Juvenile Detention Facility. In this sad building I waited about a half an hour in a sad line with lots of sad babies and their sad mothers just to speak to the receptionist so I could be directed to line of chairs in a sad hallway where I would wait another half hour and then then be directed to my second to last destination—a super sad, medium-sized waiting room.
My appointment was scheduled at 1 PM. I had shown up 15 minutes early. It was 2PM by the time I got to the waiting room. A thin 30-something guy with glasses walks in from the purgatory hallway and sits across from me.
“MEH!” he yells. “M-m-m-Mehhhhhh!” Everyone looks at him. “Sorry,” he says, apologetically. “I have Tourette’s.”
I sit across from Tourette’s guy for three more hours. He only has one tic and its name is “Meh!” There are no magazines, only a television with local news playing. There are children of various ages playing with each other interrupted every couple minutes by a stuttering “Meh!” and a rehearsed explanation for the people that just walked in.
Around 5 PM I finally get my interview and I teeter in the room feeling like I just had to listen to “What’s New Pussy Cat” for three hours. The worker who processes me looks like she was fresh out of college but the real world had quickly beat her into submission. Monotone and empty-eyed she leads me through the process, which is mostly just me signing multiple statements that I won’t commit fraud.
About another month later I receive my EBT card. Food stamps are generous enough—about $200 a month, but the cash assistance is only $70. Apparently, the state of New Jersey believes that a person can live off of $840 a year.
A couple years later I move to New York and apply for welfare here. There was a similar 5-hour long appointment for the meager cash allotment of $70 a month. There is a 24-month lifetime limit on cash assistance, so I ran that out pretty quickly. Conservatives and libertarians who believe that moochers can live comfortably off welfare indefinitely are sadly mistaken.
What I should have done at this point is apply for disability on the federal level. But instead I foolishly tried to work another retail job. This ended badly and I then spent the next couples years racking up hefty credit card bills while paying off the minimum on my meager savings.
The time comes every 6 months to renew my food stamps (SNAP). Well, one of these times I get a letter saying I did not send documents that I did in fact send. My food stamps get cut off. I’m pretty heavily in a depressive episode at this point so I just mope around and put my food expenses on my credit cards. Eventually I work up the courage to go to the sad building of endless waiting lines once again. I bring my documents, wait another month, and finally get my food stamps reinstated.
6 months later I have to re-certify again. I don’t have to go the sad building (thank god) but I do have a phone interview scheduled to complete the re-certification. The day comes for the phone interview and no one ever calls. If I don’t re-certify by the end of the month I’ll have my food stamps cut off again. I call the general help number on the re-certification letter to try and get help for the situation. No one picks up and it goes to a voice mailbox that’s full. I call four more times over the next two days. No one ever picks up and it goes to the voicemail that won’t take messages. I find the number for the state human resources department and call Albany. They transfer me several times to someone who says they’ll call me back. Luckily, someone does call back in a few days and gives me a new appointment. The appointment is close to the date I’ll get food stamps cut off which makes me nervous. I do get a phone call early for the interview, although it is on a day that is nowhere near the appointment. I’m luckily available and finish the process.
These days I have everything I need except money. I am currently applying for Supplemental Security Income (Social Security), which would have me certified disabled. The unfortunate part about the entire disability process is that it takes about two years. Pretty much everyone agrees that this is ridiculous. Disabled people obviously can’t work, and while I usually can hold a shitty job for a couple months before my inevitable spiral back into depression, I’m sure the Social Security people would flag me as non-disabled if I did a stint. So right now I’m just kinda withering in poverty..
I applied for SSI a year ago, was rejected, and am currently in the process of appealing the denial. I’m also trying to find a disability lawyer who will take my case, but the legal aid program I’m trying to get into has failed to communicate with me about whether they’ll take my case. (They’ve been “reviewing” my medical documents for five months.) I’m looking for a better legal aid program or maybe a trustworthy private attorney.
So that’s been my situation for the last few years. This is also my first autobiographical blog post in a while. Sorry if it wasn’t that interesting; it’s hard to make a post about tedious things non-tedious, I plan on doing a couple non-autobiographical posts in the future, maybe some political commentary or something. I was briefly considering letting my domain registration lapse, but, thanks to a donation from a friend, Clantily Scad will live on at least another year.