I was reminiscing about the darker periods of my life, and remembering a time when I was unemployed and hungry. I had no income, not a real one anyway, and was pretty damned miserable. I was subsisting on $10 per week -- which amounts to some pasta, some butter, some parmesan cheese, and some ramen noodles. Oh yeah, bread. Needless to say, I wasn't exactly eating healthy.
I gave in and broke my pride and went down to the office for public assistance. I waited in the long line, and met some interesting people. There were people there who were the sort I resented... the ones who believed that public assistance was their right in life and that they deserved it and didn't need to work.
Then there were people like me, or in worse straits, who were doing their damnedest to get out of it. I thought those people were interesting, and enjoyed my conversations. And resolved that I would *get* out, as soon as I could.
It was finally time for my interview, and I went in and sat down. I had filled out the paperwork with all the details -- my rent, my car, my PoS job that barely paid me enough to keep the car going.
The woman took the paper from me and looked it over. "You'll need to sell the car."
I was surprised, and confused. But I needed the car to get a job! Without a car, if I had to depend upon the bus, it severely limited my job potential. She was adamant. The car cut down on the amount of assistance I could receive.
I refused. I'd take the cut in assistance. I needed the car. Every job interview I'd been on had been one that wouldn't take me if I didn't have reliable transportation. And the Capital District isn't exactly famous for its public transportation system.
She looked it over again. "Any kids?" She watched me as I shook my head. She frowned. "Are you pregnant?"
Thank the gods, no, I assured her. She was disappointed. You see, without kids, the amount she could give me went down again. Oh, and the apartment was a problem too. It was in a decent area of town, safe and whole, and well, just cost too much. I had to move.
The more she spoke, the worse I felt. I could feel myself being placed into a small little box, where I was supposed to be living in a scary place, with no transportation and two or three kids crawling around my feet, just so I could get enough money to subsist on. But then I'd have no way to get a job, or pay to care for my kids.
The system was broken. In order to get money, I had to need more... and there she was practically encouraging me to get pregnant to get money. And if I got it, I was in such a bad place I might never drag myself out. I wasn't allowed to keep the few advantages I had and get a little help so I could get the hell out of the PA office and back on my feet.
I had thought that long ago the system was put into place as a temporary stop-gap. I think that was the vision. PA was something that would help people get back on their feet so they could move out of mere basic survival and make something of themselves.
But the system is broken. I ended up feeling dirty and awful and while I had foodstamps for a while and it helped, I found myself wondering if the people that it was designed to help ever did get the help and improve their situations. Or if it made more people rot than it helped.
The blinders had been ripped from my eyes. I had never been a fan of welfare, and it had taken a lot to make me go down to that office. I had to admit that I'd hit rock-bottom. And going there had only made me feel worse, like I was lower than low in the social stratus, and like I somehow belonged there and should be making a more comfortable place for myself... because I was never going to get out.
The system is broken. The real question is, is there any way to fix it?Posted by Deb Atwood at October 28, 2002 11:09 PM | TrackBack