Poverty

Write about a time when…

Still feeling blocked. My soul is aching from all the hate and the suffering it’s inflicting on various people groups in my country. I’ve been housebound with a sick child this week and I’m dealing with some mental health stuff triggered by stress and worry about a family situation I have no control over or say in, but impacts me and my youngest child.

I’m determined to follow through with this session of The Ultimate Blog Challenge and write a blog post everyday. I just want whatever I post to be interesting, if not entertaining.

So, I searched for a prompt I could write about substantively. Here’s what I found: Writing Prompts: 60 Ideas You Can Use Today

I chose prompt 21: Write about a time when you or someone you love was scammed.


In some ways, this is my origin story…or one of them.

It was the beginning of my junior year of high school. My life had been upended…again. I was 16.

My uncle, who had been my guardian since just prior to my mother’s suicide four years earlier, had gone through a divorce and a custody battle over my baby cousin. He’d moved me in with my grandmother while he moved forward into a toxic and destructive new relationship.

Meanwhile, my grandmother and I were taking care of my cousin a lot of the time. She was with me so often that, when I was 15, I was often mistaken for her mom.

For whatever reason, I never knew, he moved my grandmother and me back to the place we’d lived when my mom and I had first landed in Portland. It was just down the hill from where his ex-wife was staying and back into the school district I’d been unenrolled from following the breakdown of our not-so-happy little family.

It was homecoming week and I was sneaking into school while other kids were sneaking out.

My uncle was MIA and had failed to do what was necessary to reenroll me in school and, because I was under a guardianship instead of living with my biological parents, I wasn’t allowed to enroll myself.

Contrary to everything pop culture indicates about the adolescent desire to avoid the confines of educational institutions, I WANTED to be in school…desperately. You see, I believed that the only way out of poverty and away from the kind of life I’d lived was my intellect and education.

I’d taken the PSAT (Pre Scholastic Aptitude Test) the previous year, as a sophomore. My scores were high enough that I received interest letters from Harvard & Radcliffe and Whitman College. I was also offered my choice of ROTC scholarships…all contingent upon my graduation from high school.

I was missing half of my first term as a junior and was anxious, angry, and feeling abandoned, again.

That’s when I met him.

At first, I shied away from him. We were living in the place where respectable morphs into disreputable and he was an unknown entity. Strange men were suspect and not to be trusted.

Then, when I was at loose ends one day, I ran into him again. This time, he was with a girl my age. I thought she was his girlfriend. It turned out that they’d moved in right next door. Within a short period of time, they became my port in the storm.

It turned out that she wasn’t his girlfriend, but someone he was helping to get her life back on track. Or that was the story…and I believed it.

He was 30, passably attractive, and treated me like I was an adult. He listened and talked with me as if what I had to say mattered. He was my safe haven from the drama and paid attention to me when no one else, my uncle, could be bothered. I fell in love.

Within a couple of weeks, I was finally enrolled in school, but I’d missed almost two months of the beginning of the school year and was struggling to catch up. I spent every moment I could next door, getting homework help, friendship, and feeling as normal as I had ever felt.

Things got physical. I initiated. In hindsight, I know I was manipulated to that point. But, I thought it was my idea. He pretended to dissuade me, but, took what I offered anyway.

Then, my uncle decided to show up and assert his authority. Probably because my grandmother had been trying to get me to stop going where I was headed and had reached out to him.

There was a scene right out of an angsty teen drama, where my uncle and I were yelling at each other (cue Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It). “We love each other!” I loudly declared. I don’t remember what was said next, but I got my face slapped. I almost hit back, but, my uncle was holding my 2 yr. old cousin in his arms. He saw the look in my eyes and taunted me, “Go ahead. Hit a man with a baby in his arms.”

Next thing I knew, I was out the door and locked in the bathroom next door. Shortly thereafter, the two men were squared off, outside, and I was on the door stoop, screaming for them to stop.

I went into my appointment. Things calmed down and my uncle eventually left. I snuck back out and went next door. We knew we wouldn’t be able to be together if things stayed as they were. The next day, we left.

Three months after we left, he got picked up on a parole violation. A month later I found out I was pregnant. A few months after lat, I turned 17. He was released, then, we were on the run, again. Almost a year after we’d first run away, our son was born.

We spent a little over three years hitchhiking across the country and living out of cars. We put notes up in rest areas and told people stories about our circumstances designed to manipulate them into giving us money, food, and shelter. He was a low level scam artist and I became his apprentice.

Two weeks before Christmas of 1988, a little over a month after our son turned two, I’d had enough. I was 19 and over it all. I was done and he knew it. He disappeared for a week with that month’s welfare allotment. The shelter we’d been staying in either needed the monthly “rent” – money they set aside to save enough for move in expenses – or we had to go. They gave me our “deposit” back so I could try to find someplace for us to go.

Somehow, he knew to come back that night. We fought. He wanted the money and I wasn’t going to give it to him. He almost killed me in front of our son, but, stopped short for some reason. Then, he left. I never saw him again.

His love was a scam that changed my life forever.

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Social Justice and Being Christian

Forgive this interruption in the regularly scheduled programming about my job search journey. This is just too important to me to not talk about.

This past week I was in a discussion with several others regarding social justice issues like homelessness, stereotypes, what we believe about them, and how we act on them as followers of Jesus.

A significant part of the conversation was regarding those who experience homelessness, with much of that centering on those in chronic homelessness, who often deal with substance abuse and dependence issues.

There were the usual questions about the whys and wherefores of “those” people’s choices and lifestyles. We also touched on the changes and so-called solutions in our society which foster the problem of homelessness and its impact on society.

When we got around to what to do about it, that’s when we got down to the nitty gritty of our role as Christians and individuals. How do you love people who may be unsafe, living in unsafe circumstances, who reject the social services they may have access to? How do you determine if someone will or can benefit from your involvement? What does relationship look like in this context?

One person stated that we can’t know what to do unless we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. But, what if you’re like me and have difficulty accessing and discerning what the Holy Spirit may be saying?

Look to Jesus. Not to be trite, but, what would Jesus do?

• Make eye contact.
• Listen without judgment.
• Offer a willingness to understand.
• Treat with dignity.

It’s not our job to solve homelessness or poverty, as individuals. Those are goals to be worked toward, for sure. However, what we do know that it’s our job as individuals to love our neighbor, including our neighbors without four walls and a roof.

How to do that? Take time to get to know one of “those” people, even if it’s just to share a cheap fast food meal, a conversation on the corner, or offering a garbage bag so they can pick up their debris. These acts are acts of relationship and relationships are what Jesus is about.

I’ve experienced homelessness more than once in my life. The longest period was as a teen in relationship with a much older man who was, essentially, a professional, low-level con artist. Other times occurred when my mental health crashed and I couldn’t hold a job at the same time as my relationship’s toxicity clashed with my anxiety and mania…only I didn’t understand that’s what was happening.

I didn’t have substance abuse issues, but, my mental health issues, which weren’t recognized or understood by me or others around me, created an inability to toe the line of organizational and societal demands and expectations. Encountering someone willing to actually see ME and not just my circumstances or my history was priceless. It afforded me a sense of dignity that can only come from being seen and treated as if I was worthwhile and that I mattered, whether or not I could conform or meet the expectations of others.

I have neighbors who are unsheltered. Many experience alcoholism and dependency on other substances. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they panhandle. Sometimes they collect cans and bottles. Sometimes they do none of the above. They often do what they can to keep the areas they occupy free of debris. However, sometimes they don’t have a way to gather and dispose of garbage. Just like they don’t have consistent or frequent access to laundry or bathing facilities.

I’ve witnessed them helping and looking out for each other. They’ve helped me carry things too heavy for me to carry up a flight of stairs…without expecting or asking for anything in return.

Of course not everyone in these circumstances is friendly, open, or safe. There’s a lot of history of personal trauma for most people living on the streets. Substance abuse and addiction is very common for trauma survivors and those experiencing mental illness.

It’s easy to look at someone on a corner with a sign and make assumptions based on what you think you would do, given the set of circumstances you believe they are in. But, you don’t know them or their story. You can’t, unless you take the time and make the effort.

Donating money is easy – whether it’s to an organization or directly to an individual. Choosing any degree of relationship with an uncomfortable other is less easy for most of us and it’s not possible with all people at all times…but, it makes more of a difference and more impact than you may believe.

My WW Story

WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers. “Wellness that works.” What finally drove me to sign up for a weight loss program after decades of self-sufficient obesity?

Pain.

Not just any pain. A very particular kind of nerve pain. Specifically in my left foot. More accurately, the top of my foot…with periodic zaps of electricity pricking the sole of my foot from the inside out,

The top of my foot is so hypersensitized right now that the hem of my pant leg feels like a jagged, splintered shard of glass scraping across it.

Fun stuff.

According to the doctor it’s a rare condition called Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. Like Carpal Tunnel, but, in the foot.

Yay me! I have a knack for the unusual when it comes to pain and injury. A few years ago, I fell and gave myself a spiral sprain. That’s usually something athletes get, not the general population. But, that’s another story for another time.

The doctor laid out my options:

Gabapentin – an anticonvulsant sometimes used to treat a wide array of mood disorders with some extreme (but rare) side effects like agitation, increased libido, and mania…Sounds like it could trigger a manic episode and I’m already taking four different psych meds to manage the bipolar, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. No. Thank. You.

Surgery – I’m a single mom, struggling to parent my High Functioning Autistic child who also experiences ADHD. I also live upstairs. I can’t afford an extended recovery period from surgical intervention.

Weight Loss – the universal answer to whatever ails you if you carry excess fat on your body, Don’t EVEN get me started! However, it was the most viable of my three options.

Initially, I doubted I could effectively transition from a life so sedentary that my spirit animal could be mistaken as a sloth. After all, WALKING HURT! So, I decided nutrition was the key.

I have lost weight before, using activity and nutrition. As a matter of fact, I lost 20 lbs at the beginning of this year with walking and changing to a healthier diet. Then, I transitioned from my manic state to a bad depressive state, stopped moving, and switched to a fast food diet. The 20 came back and brought a few friends. Five to be exact.

So, here I was – a 49 year old, medically obese woman of 265 lbs with hypothyroidism, Type II Diabetes, high cholesterol, Bipolar II Disorder, PTSD, fibromyalgia, and, now, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.

I also have the child I’m parenting, a 25 year old daughter, who is also parenting three littles, who (whom?) has me as her primary emotional support person and occasional baby sitter, and a son turning 32 in three days.

I have a lot of healing to do and a lot to live for. Also, I’m finally reaching the point in life where I believe I’m worth taking care of, too.

I needed help.

So, I searched Weight Watchers. They still had their Labor Day Special going on. It was barely something I could financially afford.

I’m destitute. Between my youngest daughter’s issues and mine, I am not currently able to sustain employment. Her dad pays for electricity, internet, this miniature hand-held computer I use to blog aka cell phone, and pays for all she needs. I live in public housing, survive on $352/mo of SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps), and a $72/mo stipend.

I committed close to half my stipend to the first six months of my Weight Watchers lifestyle.

Since I also experience a hitherto undiagnosed Binge Eating Disorder, I decided to approach this like a recovery program and committed myself to attend 90 meetings in 90 days.

Today, November 6, 2018 is my 53rd day and I will be attending my 55th meeting.

If you’re curious about or interested in how this part of my journey has gone, you can find it on my Instagram, humaninrecovery. Start here.

Addendum: I’ve lost about 20 lbs and I have walked daily for the past several weeks and can now walk two miles at a time…sometimes in under 20 min/mile. Yes, the nerve pain is still there.

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It takes a village: I can’t do this alone

I have a lot of complex issues and the conditions of my life aren’t exactly conducive to accomplishing self-care activities.

Here’s the laundry list:

  • Single parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum
  • Dependent on ex to pay the bills and basic necessities
  • Subsisting on less than $100/mo and $350/mo SNAP benefits, aka food stamps
  • A support person for adult daughter and her family with three children under four – depending on availability
  • In treatment and recovery from PTSD & Bipolar Disorder
  • Fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, diabetes

As you might imagine, I feel overwhelmed and isolated much of the time.

The isolation exacerbates the intensity of the overwhelm from all the challenges.

In the past, I lived by the mantra, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

I became the go to problem solver and rescuer of those around me.

A lifetime of living that way is what led me to where I am…a 258 lb woman under 50 with diabetes, high cholesterol, unable to maintain employment, dependent on government assistance and the ex.

I have very good whys for changing my health style by exercising and improving nutrition.

However, those whys aren’t motivating when the overwhelm kicks in and takes over my brain. They just add to it and make it worse.

This is where I need community. I need a village of support people. I need a network and a safety net for the times when I’m going to backslide, cheat, or start to give up.

I need to feel the hope and inspiration from the success stories of others who’ve gone before me. I need the camaraderie of those in the trenches, marching beside me. I need the cheers of those who believe in me. I need others not yet where I am who I can offer my experience, hope, and strength to.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone with these needs. I’m almost positive that we all need these kinds of connections…which is more than challenging in the culture and society we live in today.

Everyone has their own laundry lists, their own challenges, and maybe even their own sense of being isolated.

What, then, is a person to do, especially when making the kind of changes I am making and can’t afford to join the weight loss programs and organizations?

I started online with my social networks on Facebook & Instagram.

I also did a little research and discovered Spark People. In the two days I’ve been engaged on the site, I’ve discovered tools (food/exercise tracker), information regarding making the healthy changes and sticking with them, as well as all the things I listed above. All for free.

I’ve found my tribe in a virtual village.

What does your tribe look like?

An open letter from a fat woman

Dear Everyone (including fellow fat people),

I realized something yesterday. I don’t enjoy being asked if I’ve lost weight or gotten smaller. This question is usually asked by those who are slender, generally healthy-looking, and physically fit. However, others who are also overweight will ask the same question. Often this question is accompanied by facial expressions and asked in a tone of voice which indicate the person is issuing a compliment and an encouragement. For those who are aware of the mental/emotional health issues I deal with, this question is followed up with, “You look happy, like you’re doing good/better.” It occurred to me that I feel neither encouraged or complimented most of the time. In fact, part of me feels frustrated and defeated, less than.

I had two people who I know love me and care about my well-being ask me at two different times yesterday if I had lost weight. Last weekend a third person asked the same and two weekends ago, someone asked me if I had gotten smaller. Four different people over a two-week period of time, all of whom hadn’t seen me in a month or more, asked me if I had lost weight. Each time, I felt obligated to say, “Thank you.” However, because I’m almost compulsively honest, I followed that up with, “No, I think I got smaller but then got bigger again,” because I know how the mental health disorders I experience have manifested in the past three months, as stressors in my life have multiplied, almost exponentially, and that I’ve been abusing myself with food. I know how my body feels, how clothing feels on my body, and how body has changed shape again in response to the binge eating and unhealthy food choices I’ve been struggling with.

Why not just accept the compliment and keep the rest to myself? It’s dishonest. I feel like I need to be truthful with myself and with others. If I were to say, “Thank you,” and move on, then, part of me would believe the lie that I’m doing better than I am and that the issues I’m having around food aren’t “that serious” or of concern. In the world of addiction and recovery, that’s part of the slippery slope of denial and it’s dangerous on many levels: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

For me, being fat is an outward sign of my food addiction and binge eating disorder. It is a sign that the depression aspect of the Bipolar II Disorder and the anxiety part of the PTSD are in more control than my rational self and spiritual being. If I accept the compliment and move on, then, I experience a sense of shame about these things, because I’m keeping them hidden from people I care about and who I know care about me. They need to know that I’m not okay. I’m not doing better, and that I still need them to be aware that I need them to see the truth that I’m not well and need their continued awareness that I’m still at risk.

This compliment is also an unconscious form of fat-shaming. It sends the message that I’m more acceptable if my physical appearance fits into an idealized shape more like theirs. These same people wouldn’t express their concern for my mental or physical health by asking me outright, “Have you gained weight. Are you doing okay? Is there something going on?” That question doesn’t get asked because it’s considered rude to comment on someone’s obvious weight gain. Why is it rude? It’s rude because gaining weight is often accompanied by a sense of shame, a sense of failure, and we are conditioned to avoid pointing out people’s shameful things in public ways . . . unless we’re doing an intervention, we’re assholes, or we’re talking about celebrities and other public figures.

Complimenting a fat person for losing weight sends the message that you believe they are less acceptable when they look more fat and that looking less fat makes them more acceptable. It reinforces the belief that no one wants to see a fat body, therefore, as long as I’m fat, no one wants to see me, because they won’t see me, they’ll just see my fatness.

In some ways, being fat and trying to lose weight is like being poor and trying to get rich. Society sends the message that being fat isn’t acceptable. You can exercise it away, you can eat it away, you can choose whether to be fat or to be thin. To some degree, those are true statements. Society sends the message that being poor isn’t acceptable. Get a job. Get an education. Get a career. Save money. Set a budget and stick to it. These things are also true, in certain ways. Yet, none of these things acknowledge very real barriers and systemic forces which exist and make those things more than challenging for people experiencing obesity or poverty.

Root causes of obesity go beyond eating too much of the wrong food and being physically inactive. I can’t tell you how many thin people I know who eat junk food all day long and live primarily sedentary lives. As a matter of fact, I lived with one for 18 years. There are genetics, mental health issues, ingrained generational patterns of lifestyle, physical health conditions, financial capacity, and life obligations which all factor into whether a person is fat or not.

Root causes of poverty are equally complex. I know people who work multiple jobs, don’t spend their money unwisely, shop with thrift, and work to save their pennies, but who remain poor. It takes money to make money. In order for someone to get an education that, MIGHT, lead to a good paying position, on a high earning career track, there has to be enough money to pay for the right education, often at the “right” educational institution. There has to be enough money to keep the bills and basic necessities, such as housing and food, stable. There has to be enough money to pay for the supplemental educational tools. In order to save money, the student repayment debt, as well as the costs of housing, food, transportation, clothing, and health insurance cannot meet or exceed net earned income. There has to be enough time and peace to allow for homework to be focused on and done well.

The correlation between poverty and obesity is also a real thing. If you experience poverty, then your ability to afford the healthiest foods is compromised. Your access to those foods is compromised if you are reliant on public transportation because you can’t afford a vehicle. The time you have available to prepare home cooked meals is limited. If you live in poverty, you typically are either living with a lot of other people in a small space or may not have a home at all, so buying in bulk and storing food is not possible. If you are a parent of young children, living in poverty, you can’t afford to pay for childcare while you go exercise. Being able to afford a gym membership is out of the question and the money required in order to pay for supportive footwear for walking, jogging, or running is needed to pay a bill or buy school clothes for the kids.

I experience poverty, as well as mental and physical health issues which are all interconnected with the fact that I am morbidly obese. I’m working on all of those things and I have a lot of things going on in my life which demand my time and attention. I don’t enjoy being fat. It’s physically, mentally, and emotionally painful. I don’t enjoy being poor. It’s also a painful experience. I am doing what I can, as I can, to work on both of those things, but, I don’t know that I will ever be able to do enough to change either of those conditions in order to be acceptable enough.

So, please remember, complimenting someone who may look like they have lost weight, but you may not know if they’ve been working to do so, is not necessarily a compliment. Even then, compliment something other than their loss of fatness. Compliment their clothes. Acknowledge that they are exuding a sense of self-satisfaction and happiness. Or just tell them how happy you are to see them and spend time with them, without commenting on their appearance at all.

Sincerely,
A Fat Woman

Poverty, Health, and Healing: How do I overhaul my eating on $357 a month?

I have to confess that a significant factor in my resistance to making “healthstyle” changes is due to the challenges of being economically poor. I’ve gotten very frustrated, discouraged, and, often, angry, when trying to discuss the challenges I face in attempting to cook home-made meals, with nutrition dense foods, while living in extreme poverty.

I came across a couple of other posts which simultaneously helped me feel validated and more than a little angry. As a matter of fact, the first one, from Michelle, The Fat Nutritionist, pissed me off as soon as I read the title: If only poor people understood nutrition!

WTH!?!?!?

I understand nutrition. I’ve studied it off and on my entire adult life! Seriously. I grew up without learning how to cook. We ate fast & convenience foods or in cafeterias where my mom and grandma worked. Later on, when I lived with other relatives, I still didn’t learn to cook, but we ate a lot of greasy, carb dense, “Southern food.” So, I’ve struggled with learning to cook, planning meals, grocery shopping, and all the other logistics of eating healthy. However, I’ve taken college classes on health and wellness, participated in community-based education on nutrition, owned and used a variety of healthy eating oriented cookbooks, and so on, ad infinitum. So, why has my eating and nutrition stayed so abysmally awful?

Michelle provides a lot of relevant information and probably explains it in a way that is less whiny or b****y, than I would. Once I read the following, my initial ire at the article’s title simmered down:

The reality is that people who don’t have enough money (or the utilities and storage) to buy and prepare decent food in decent quantities, cannot (and should not) be arsed [“asked” maybe?] to worry about the finer nuances of nutrition.

Because getting enough to eat is always our first priority.

She sums it all up, quite nicely with her closing statements:

You want people to eat better? Give them enough money, a place for cooking and storage, and access to a decent variety of food.

Then you can worry about the finer points of nutrition.

A link from that article led me to Ami’s Guide to Food Privilege. Ami wrote from firsthand experience and addresses things like personal agency, classism, and how it seems like everyone in our society who is NOT receiving subsistence benefits (and even some who do) have an opinion about what those of us in poverty should or shouldn’t eat or spend food stamps on.

I’ve got to say, it was a relief to find these two articles. Because these women wrote them, I don’t have to wind myself up to say it all again. NOTE: These articles are from 2010, FIVE YEARS AGO! I think the “War on Poverty” has taken the form of “War on People in Poverty” because none of the information these two women provided is out of date.

For a variety of reasons, which I choose not to go into in this post, I’m on a zero cash income, unless a minor or major miracle happens. Minor ones do occasionally. However, every month I receive $357 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps).

How do I feed my youngest and myself the foods on the food list from yesterday and do so with only those benefits? This averages just under $12/day to feed the two of us. Three meals for me and one for her on school days (she gets breakfast and lunch at school) is just under $3/meal. On her days off from school, when it’s six meals, it’s just under $2/meal. True confession time: I often wind up putting groceries in my ex’s (because, CODEPENDENT), get a container of organic formula for my grandson, and regularly discover items I’ve purchased were consumed by other household members (again because, CODEPENDENT, *sigh*). Moving on.

With zero cash and limited kitchen equipment & tools for home cooking, how do I get the necessary equipment and supplies for food prep and storage? Those things need “real” money to purchase. Even if they’re “affordable” at thrift and discount stores, when you have a zero-cash income, even the “affordable” things are beyond reach.

I’m supposed to only eat fresh food and not eat leftovers because of the probable histamine intolerance. No beans. No rice. No pasta pasta. In other words, no dietary fillers and meal extenders. That means almost daily shopping trips. This is a good idea given current living conditions and solves the lack of food storage supplies. The problem with that is that it’s a minimum of an hour round trip on public transit in order for me to get to an affordable, bag-it-yourself grocery store. Thankfully, the ex bought me a bus pass for November.

When I got my SNAP benefits yesterday, I took a trip to a local butcher shop that is probably not as expensive as other well-known butcheries in the area. Most of those were quite hipsterish, offering lunch and dinner menus for the privileged who aren’t as concerned with food scarcity. This butcher shop is a long time fixture in an area that has historically been economically depressed, although gentrification is altering that demographic a bit. I hoped that I could buy some quality meat that was affordable FOR ME. I also really need to get busy making the homemade meat broths and stock, since it seems most of my upcoming meals will be some form of veggie/meat stews or soups. I haven’t been able to find where to get bones, unless they’re labeled for people to feed to their dogs, which I probably can’t get with SNAP.

I spent around $42 and came away with a whole chicken ($2.99/lb), 3 lbs of chicken wings ($2.99/lb), beef bones at, you guessed it! $2.99/lb. I got pork and turkey necks also. I have no idea how much broth or stock I’ll be able to produce. I just hope that was a good use of 12% of my grocery budget for this month.

Welfare vs Work in the USA 2013

Warning: Political triggers. If the topic of welfare incites your political troll, then troll on by. 

Disclaimer: This is long, but necessarily so. There are “from the horse’s mouth” facts and information about several “welfare” programs.

A woman I admire and respect tremendously, someone whom I share a spiritual faith with and value as having been a positive influence in my life, even for the brief time it was face to face and has now become another meme and link sharer in the Facebook news stream, shared something today that really lit a fire inside of me.

“No wonder we have the highest unemployment. . . .

On Labor Day 2013, Welfare Pays More Than Minimum-Wage Work in 35 States

A mutual FB friend, who is a member of the same church community where I met my friend had this to say: “Good ol’ Oregon!” to which my friend replied, “I want to move to Texas…”

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

That’s how I feel about right now, especially the, “Fire burn, and cauldron bubble,” bit. I am beyond heated, I am bubbling, boiling angry!

I am angry because the researchers and writers and propagandists are essentially stating that people on welfare would prefer to stay on welfare handouts because it is more profitable than working a minimum wage job. Then, the end of the article laments at how companies who essentially have built huge fortunes for their investors off of wage-slave laborers are being hurt by Obamacare’s requirements.

What?!?!

I’m sorry that the billions you have made off of the time, energy, health, and well-being of your workers and the ones most vulnerable to the insidious marketeering of your employment practices and non-nutritive, styrofoam valued products and services are now being threatened because legislation is now forcing you to do what being human should have inspired you to do on your own – take care of your employees and enable them to actually not become indentured servants in this post-postmodern era.

When this article talks about “welfare,” it lumps in a large variety of programs: SNAP, TANF, WIC, medicaid, housing assistance, utilities assistance, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Let me talk about each of these programs for a bit.

First let me establish my credentials: I worked for three years as an assistant manager for a for profit professional management company which contracts with housing owners who receive funding from federal programs under a variety of tax-credit and subsidy programs, the most commonly known of which is the Section 8 “choice voucher.” I worked for almost five years as a customer service representative for an electric utility company. I worked for three different fast food franchises of two of the named companies at the end of the article. I have worked for a community based social service agency while stationed in a state “welfare” office. I have been a single parent receiving cash assistance, food stamps, and medical benefits. I have been a working, single-parent receiving food benefits, medical, and childcare assistance. I have received WIC. I have received utility assistance. I have received emergency food. I am currently a non-working parent in a two parent household with the other parent being unemployed living in subsidized housing, receiving food benefits, and in between looking for work, waiting for a determination on the Unemployment Insurance claim, and not receiving cash benefits.

In other words, we have only the change in our daughter’s change jar and nothing else to buy food, pay bills, or purchase toilet paper. The only reason I can write this is because he worked hard enough to get caught up on all of our bills before leaving the over the road job, so he could find a job closer to home, because our family needed him here. But, I digress.

WIC – Women, Infants, and Children: $6 a month to purchase fresh or frozen produce or seeds for planting produce. A 16-oz loaf of bread or whole wheat tortillas. A dozen eggs. An 18 oz jar of peanut butter or a 16 oz bag of dried beans. 36 oz of specifically approved brands of cereal in their specified options. A couple of cans of frozen juice or their bottled equivalent. 1 lb of cheese. Approximately 3 gallons of milk +/- half a gallon. Breastfeeding mothers get a few cans of tuna or extra beans. Babies on formula get several cans per month, but I don’t know how many (Formula is EXPENSIVE!). Per month. Per child under 6 years of age. I could be misremembering some of the amounts, like the milk, and forgetting an option or two. All together, I would imagine that maxing out each available voucher and using them all in a month equates to less than $100/month per child.

TANF – Lifetime, time-limit per adult household member = 18 – 24 months, in most cases, to my knowledge. A single parent with two children receives less than $550/mo cash assistance in the state of Oregon. Prior to receiving cash assistance the adult(s) have to attend one – four weeks of job readiness and work-search classes. There are mandated job search requirements and action plans and goals that have to be adhered to or the adult members get “sanctioned” off of the benefits, reducing the monthly grant by their portion.

SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still known as Food Stamps: A household of three with zero income might receive $500 +/- each month to purchase ONLY food. No toilet paper. No diapers. No feminine sanitary products. No shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, or household supplies of any kind.

Utility Assistance: a) Every utility customer pays a few cents to a few dollars on each utility bill into a fund that provides energy assistance, including “welfare” recipients who pay for utilities (when there is enough money left over from paying rent and buying toilet paper). b) Once every twelve months. Different community service agencies administer different sets of energy assistance funds and how much is available is kind of dependent on how much money the utility companies received from their customers in the area, so there is no gurantee funds are available when needed or that a household will have the ability to call and get an appointment at the exactly right time. c) Maximum yearly assistance per household is $300 +/- for the year.

Emergency food: see Utility Assistance. Different programs administered by different agencies. A food box provides 2 – 5 days worth of food per household member. However, the government provided foods are insufficient to meet need. Which explains why I can get a food box with lots of cheap carbs like Hamburger Helper, but no hamburger to use with it, and cheap, knock off junk foods because people can go to the Dollar Store and purchase the required number of non-perishible items to donate so they can go see a movie at Regal Cinemas for “free” once a year. Some agencies allow emergency food boxes once a month, some once every three months.

Housing Assistance: Multiple programs, multiple funding streams, multiple income guidlines and eligibility requirements. Section 8 choice voucher or project-based (subsidy stays with the unit not the people living in the unit) uses the following formula to calculate how much rent is paid. Let’s use our single parent of two children who is receiving TANF:

Child credit $480/child x 2 children = $960/yr.

Utility allowance is the average cost of usage for same size unit in area, calculated annually.For our example let’s say $70/mo.

Monthly Cash Assistance: $550.00
X 12 months $12.00
Annual Income $6,600.00
– Child Credit -$960.00
Adjusted Annual Income $5,640.00
X 30% 30.00%
Annualized rent $1,692.00
/ 12 months $12.00
Monthly Rent $141.00
– utility allowance -$70.00
Monthly Rent $71.00

Wow! $70/mo for rent. WooHoo! That leave this parent $480 for electricity, household goods, laundry, diapers and/or replacement clothes the children are outgrowing, and transportation. A monthly bus pass is $100, unless there is a certified medical disability, then a monthly pass is $26.

If the property has the voucher, the parent waited 1 – 7 years to get a call that a unit was coming availabable and to drop everything and come fill out a new application ASAP. Bring all proof of citizenship documents for all family members, fill out a 1/4 inch thick stack of papers and documents authorizing all assistance agencies, people who help with periodic assistance, whatever form it may take, and any banking institutions, then wait 1 – 3 weeks for all documentation to be returned from the requested agencies and organization and for the management office to input the data and send paperwork off for approval or denial at the corporate level. If they are approved, then they give their 30 day notice where they are at, but have to move in and pay move in expenses concurrently with existing rent due at current place.

The housing provider gets to charge going market rate in the neighborhood. Project based housing is often in neighborhoods that have been targeted for gentrification, thereby raising property values and what market rate is for housing in the area. Brand new, eco-friendly, energy efficient apartments with all amenities can charge $850 – $1200/mo. in my neighborhood. My apartment was built in the 1970’s. No amenities besides the requisite apartment sized refrigerater and range oven. One laundry room with one coin washer and dryer set shared between six units. Less than 1,000 square feet. Market rent for this unit is almost $900/mo.

Sure the single parent of two on welfare is only paying $70/mo. rent. The housing provider is receiving almost 13 times that from the government in subsidies. This is just one type of calculation for people receiving housing assistance. There are many, many, many other types of Affordable Housing Housing Subsidies which fall under the heading of Housing Assistance.

As soon as the adult gets paid employment, they begin a transition off of TANF and receive Employment Related Daycare, meaning a portion of their earnings is paid in co-pays to a child care provider. At the same time, rent gets recalculated and increased with a slight modification for having to pay some child care expenses. SNAP benefits get reduced, and eligiblity for other services are reduced as well, including loss of Medicaid for the adult member after a transitional period. Oh, let’s not forget that all benefits are calculated off of gross earnings, not net. So, not only do all benefits decrease as the income increases, the increased income is taxed, resulting in a net paycheck that could wind up leaving the family with an overall decreased ability to be self-sufficient.

Oregon Minimum Wage is $8.95. Very few if any of the minimum wage job providers offer full-time employment. Let’s be generous and say that a fast food vendor is offering 30 hours a week employment at $8.95/hr. That’s $268.50/wk multiplied by 52 weeks, that is $13,962 year, more than double the cash assistance. Rent jumps to $255.05. Food stamps might drop to about $250 – $300/mo. Childcare copay could be $100 – $200 +/- each month. 

Let’s abolish most of the taxes, tax credits, and various forms of corporate welfare, mandate that all jobs are paid a standard living wage that doesn’t keep people from wanting to pursue their best selves, establish laws requiring employers to provide for their employees before their stockholders and owners, at least for business that are earning billions for owners, upper managment, stockholders and the like while crushing their labor force or eliminating it altogether and shipping jobs to other countries where human rights are not expected to be upheld.

Let’s establish a public child education and wellbeing system that begins at conception to help support, educate, encourage, treat, and build up ALL families, providing truly equal access to medical, vision, dental, mental health, art, physical education, and academics which promotes excellence in cooperative advancement for all, instead of falsely weighted apples to oranges competetiveness, one upsmanship, and building one’s success on another’s failure.

Let’s stop blaming the people and start fixing the problem.