Rant alert. I’m not simply speaking to far-right zealots who place undue emphasis on individual effort and taunt welfare moms while they ignore how their party treats veterans. I’m also speaking to those on my side of the fence, those who have no idea what real struggle looks like. They are worse in some ways, because under their sympathy is a real resentment for poverty among their own.
I know this sounds caustic, but if you’ve never been on government assistance, let me take you through the average day of someone who is.
Note: A quick summation of the application process for Medi-Cal, Unemployment, CalFresh (Food Stamps), Calworks, Disability or assistance with childcare. It takes 2-3 days just to apply, and here’s why: the process is slow because the forms are not only copious, they are often badly phrased and confusing. And I am a writer. It requires standing in line, filling out hours worth of forms, personal data collection, and one unchecked box sets you right back to the beginning. There is often no human available to talk to at the many many contact numbers if you have questions beyond the information provided.
So let’s see what a typical day looks like for someone who is unemployed or underemployed and needs these services.
8am: You go through your normal routine feeding and getting the kid to school.
8:30 am: If you don’t have a computer, you go to the library or the EDD where you sign in and wait in line. You get an hour, and in that hour, you must register yourself into the system and enter all your employment history so the system can send you notices. Nevermind that no one actually gets hired this way anymore. You still get to do it so that the EDD can tell you are trying to get work.
The EDD customer service line actually tells you that inquiring about your claim will delay your benefits. The robot does not provide a general option to speak with an agent and all other options provide automated information. Then it hangs up on you. I shit you not.
9:45. You sit down to fill out your weekly EDD report online or by mail. These forms require you to track all the jobs you applied to, so you have to go back into your email, phone, look up addresses, etc. If you enter any of the information incorrectly, and I’m talking down to the period, it takes EDD a week to notify you, then several days after you correct the error to send you your check. Oh, and the IRS has the right to tax your weekly pittance, which is capped at $450/week. So that’s your rent (barely); where does the rest of it come from?
10:20 am: You need to go grocery shopping. First, you have to call the online system to see how much credit you have on your EBT card and then calculate out how long until you receive another payment so you know what to spend. It’s usually in the neighborhood of $350/month if you have one child and no income. You cannot buy a bottle of wine, but you can buy a liter of Coke. The EBT card is supposed to be more discreet, but of course, as soon as you select it, the cashier can see how you are paying and so can anyone in view of the display.
If you are an expecting mom, you have to take WIC (Women Infants and Children) vouchers into the grocery store. These vouchers all have specific brand names and quantities on them. So when you check out, you have 3-4 separate transactions. If you accidentally selected the 16 oz container instead of the 12 oz container, you either have to run back and try to find the right one, pissing off everyone in your line further, or you have to waste the voucher. Either way, you are totally humiliated by this process on a weekly basis. And grocery shopping takes considerably more time.
12:15 pm: You need to make a doctor’s appointment for your child. Don’t call now, everyone calls during lunchtime. Eat some Kraft Mac & Cheese and drink some whole milk. At least EBT lets you buy fruit.
1:30 pm: You still need to make that appointment but it’s not like being covered through a private carrier where that card with your medical record number is good enough. Understand that at every turn, this system assumes you are lying about your situation, and so nearly every time you go to a doctor, you are somehow asked to verify again that you are on Medi-Cal, even if you’ve got the card. You will be required to report on the nature of the appointment so that Medi-Cal can categorize the visit. And if you are on Medi-Cal, you are lucky compared to many other states. I’ll skip the part where any serious health complications come up, that’s another blog.
The first available appointments for regular office visits are usually a couple weeks out. Plan ahead!
2:00pm: You finally have time to sit down and look for a job at the library. Again, you get an hour. In this time, you can probably apply for four jobs online if you hustle and have all your info in place. Those employers, by comparison, will receive thousands of resumes. Also bear in mind that if you don’t check this email later today, by tomorrow those employers may have already found someone.
3:00 pm: You pick up the kid from school because you cannot afford to pay for aftercare or afterschool activities. I’ll omit the conversation where you have to explain to your child why he or she can no longer play soccer or piano. The rest of your day is shot with chores and parenting even though your mind is elsewhere.
7:30 pm: The kid is in bed and you turn your attention toward your bills. With a fine tooth comb, you go over your finances again, seeing how much you are paying for everything, what you can do without, and give yourself a good guilt trip for any recent, non-essential purchases you might have made.
You opt to pay everyone a little because you heard somewhere that a company won’t send you to collections if you make a partial payment. You might find extraneous charges on your credit card with its already mounting debt. Corporations have a way of knowing when you are especially financially desperate and they like to take that time to apply random fees, jack your interest rates, increase your monthly charges and so forth. This normally would just be irritating, but in your currently strapped situation, this feels like death by a thousand papercuts. You spend many hours on the phone yelling at customer service agents and you can tell from the sound of their voices that they think you are crazy for making such a huge deal over $15.
8:40pm: You binge watch something and eat ice cream. You deserve this.
9:45 pm: You are already in bed because you know that it’s not likely you will get a good night’s sleep and you have to get up and do all this over again tomorrow.
Now imagine this scenario compounded by a couple of weeks or months. Imagine having to prove on an almost daily basis that you need these services while trying to find work. Imagine that the idea of taking a lower paying job is even scarier because it will not cover your expenses but it will terminate all these services. Imagine the Sword of Damocles dangling over your head that you will lose your car, then your home and with it, everything you own.
Imagine what it would be like to go through all this and finally get an interview. You are no longer confident in your skills, even though you have many. You are no longer interfacing with coworkers in a professional setting daily and so your whole life feels personal and highly emotional. You cannot imagine that this company will hire you because you aren’t good enough. If you were good enough, you never would have become unemployed in the first place.
Understand that has nothing to do effort, that to find yourself unemployed in this heart-racing economy means driving for Uber, going to work for Handy, or Task Rabbit and that you will get raked over the coals for any income you make with these types of gigs when it’s tax time. Understand that more and more of us educated and skilled people will land here and that these meager safety net services are on their way to being nonexistent. Entitlements? I earned that unemployment. I earned my social security. I paid taxes and I will pay more if this tax bill goes through.
It’s not even worth saying, but I need the catharsis today: Fuck you Paul Ryan, Fuck You, Mitch McConnell and Fuck all you old, white, so-rich-you’ll-never-spend-it-in-your-lifetime assholes. When we no longer have anything to spend, you do realize the pot will run dry, right? I guess by then it won’t matter. You’ll own everything.
#Soapbox #TaxBill #Underclassuprising