On “10 Things You can’t Buy With Food Stamps”
Think about which personal care items you could live without. Could you pick? Would it be deodorant? Toothpaste? Toothbrush? Soap? Shampoo? What about laundry detergent? These are just some of the things that cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits, aka food stamps.  I’ve been experimenting with baking soda and vinegar for my hair and baking soda for my teeth, for environmental, as well as money reasons. Last year, I bought them in large quantities for cleaning, along with a large supply of laundry detergent and Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. Next is homemade deodorant.
Yet, try to get a teenager to forego shampoo or deodorant. Imagine trying to brush a toddler’s teeth with something other than toothpaste. What do you substitute for diapers and powder. Diapers, tampons and pads are also not covered. Thus, mothers are penalized more heavily. Make-up would be out, of course, but so, too, are lip balm and lotion.
This has become the reality for more and more of households suffering from food insecurity. Plus, the amount awarded is not enough if 90% of the funds are used by the third week. The fourth week is made up, for some, by local food banks. Others wait must it out. There is the added indignity of not having, or being able to buy those items essential for being in public, let alone looking for employment.
Interestingly, a disproportionate number of gay and lesbian households receive food stamps. Lesbian couples also receive more cash aid, in all likelihood due to the diminished earning potential of women. “Some 14.1 percent of lesbian couples and 7.7 percent of gay male couples receive food stamps, compared with 6.5 percent of different-sex married couples. Moreover, 2.2 percent of women in same-sex couples receive government cash assistance, compared with 0.8 percent of women in different-sex couples.” We cannot ignore the Transgender community who have double the unemployment rate, doubling once again to 28% for African American transgender individuals. No wonder so many tragically end up homeless.
Those in poverty continue to be vilified by politicians. A climate of resentment has been cultivated by those in power, so much so that people forget teachings by their religion that tells to remember the poor. Worse the working poor earn just enough money to be unqualified for help. It is the rich that feel entitled. As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the dignity of of each person. What are we called to do for the poor who walk among us?
 What You Can’t Buy
 SNAP Myths & Realities
 Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Poverty Update
 Transgender Face Uphill Battle
UU on the Ropes: The Frayed Safety Net
If one were to look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I have hit bottom. A catastrophic fall a year ago means that I do not have an income. Through the generosity of my girlfriend Kimberly, and the co-owners of her house, I have been staying rent free. Going through the public health system to recover from my accident, meant being bounced back and forth between the county hospital and the county clinic for months, with no movement to actually fix discs pressing on my spinal cord in two places was its own punishment. Believe it or not, mental health through the county is remarkably better. That, too, has its own story.
Although I was very embarrassed to have hit so low, I finally applied for food stamps late last fall. The rhetoric against people on food stamps plus a healthy dose of denial and shame kept me from applying sooner. I was too embarrassed to apply for cash aid at the same time. Since I did have no income, nor disability, I finally for cash aid from the county a few weeks later. I had to see a county contracted doctor, first. I was awarded the cash aid, General Relief or GR, in December.
This past Christmas was my leanest yet. My mother and father each sent a bit of money. Since I had to provide bank statements I just knew that they would figure out if I deposited money in the bank.
Mistake number one: I misplaced a report that I received at the end of December, which I was to fill out and declare income including gifts. I was notified that my cash aid would end because I had not turned in the report. So I turned it in at the county office before the threatened day at the end of January.
Mistake number two: Being honest, I declared the small bit of Christmas money. I then needed documentation about the money I received for Christmas. I had to ask my mother and father each to write a letter declaring that they gave me money for Christmas, and that it was a one time deal. Now, we are after the January 31 deadline. I went down to the county office, and turned it in. The worker was so nice. She said that she would put the paperwork in right away.
A few days later, I received three letters. One that they county overpaid me, and that they would be reducing the aid over the next several months to recover the loss. The overpayment was more than the amount one of my parents gave me. I suspect that it was the February money that was deposited on the 10th. The second letter said that my cash aid had been reinstated. The third letter said that it was discontinued.
By this time I am seriously confused. I did what they asked. It came to my attention that I would also need an outside referral from the county office. I called for more information and was told that I needed go down to the county office to fix the general relief before I could use the outside referral. I made an appointment, saw another worker. He said the GR should have been fixed, and gave the name of the worker in charge of facilitating the outside other service. He seemed convinced that the GR issue would be straightened out.
I made an appointment to see the referral worker, with stipulation that the GR be fixed, later that week. She told me to call her before the appointment to verify it had been restored. I called on the appointment day, and it had not been restored. So we made an appointment for the following week. We are now in the month of March.
Thankfully, I saw the worker for the outside referral even though the cash aid situation was not fixed the following week. After the appointment, I stood in the customer service line at the county office again so that they could tell me what I needed to do next. Apparently, they lost the copy of my ID. Now since I applied for the food stamps separately, they did have a copy of my ID scanned into the system. The kind young man printed it out, and submitted it for me.
March tenth, the day that the money becomes available, I took that card to make a withdrawal. I’ve been really stressing at this point with no cash, and no money in my bank accounts. It had the $5 balance from last month.
I waited for another week to call again. This time I called the main number. The worker told me that the GR continued to be cancelled, and not only that, due to the foul up, my food stamps, as well. Up until this point, the food stamps had been working.
Several days later, I called the main number again. This worker told me that I would have to go in to the county office again. I asked if it was better to just go straight in, or to make an appointment. He told me to make an appointment, so I made an appointment for the following day, March 17.
I got in line to check in. I was relieved that it was still in time for the appointment when I started to check in. The worker put in my information and told me my case was closed. She told me that if I came in the day before, I could have fixed it. No exceptions.
I went to the application line to start the process over. I sat down and the tears came running down. The pain, the paperwork, the frustration, the money anxiety, all got to me. I heard my name called relatively quickly, after 30 minutes or so. I went to the window, but the person was not there. The woman at that front of that line got testy as she thought I was cutting in. I waited a few minutes with the woman glaring at me. I went to the customer service window to see if my name had been called. On the first day that I applied, the fingerprinting worker garbled my name so badly, I had no idea it was me. It was not until the last call announcement, that I realized that they were calling me. So, the customer service guy called me up. I showed him my papers and asked if I’d been called. He told me, no. He noted that I’d been there only 45 minutes and the process takes at least 2 hours.
I went back to my seat, weeping profusely. I heard my name called again. I went in to see the worker. I just could not stop crying. I tried to explain what was going on. He went away, and came back after discussing my case with a supervisor. It should not have been closed. He also made me fill out a depression questionnaire and was going to make me see that worker. I assured him that I did not need to see them. He told me he was denying the current application, but that I should call back in 4 days. I started bawling at this point, and exasperated, he told me that the supervisor will fix the old case so that I could start receiving the cash aid as of March 1. Mollified, I went home.
I called him on the following Thursday. As it had not yet been reinstated, he gave me the name and number of a supervisor. He told me that he’d look into it and call back. He gave me the name of another supervisor. That supervisor looked into it, and said he’d call back. I’ve called him three times since. As of today, April 4, the case is not resolved. He told me today that it is not my fault and he is continuing to monitor it. He actually tried to call in a favor. I asked him to check on the status of the food stamps as I had not been shopping.
Thankfully, since I did apply food stamps and GR separately, the food stamps are intact. Welfare is a punitive system. The workers are harried from the sheer number of applications, but ultimately they are doing the best that they can, and they are kind. The worse part of this is all of the man hours by the county for just under $200 per month. I will have to be fingerprinted again.
The food and shelter are okay for now. I’m boiling up a pot of beans as I finish this up. This is just the tip of the iceberg. My multiple identities are all intact, but battered. I am still at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. I’ve just been unable to do higher ordered thinking. The best I can do is pin pretty pictures that inspire me, and hope to inspire others that way.
After being the squeaky wheel, and then giving some time for the supervisor to track things down, he called me back this past Tuesday. The case was back on track, and I’d need to come in to get fingerprinted again. Five hours waiting, and a panic that I would not make my next appointment, and I gave my fingerprints and another photo on Thursday. There was no money in the account again.
I called the supervisor today. He told me my case must be jinxed. This saga was due to clerical error. Although my fingerprint request was marked urgent by another supervisor on Thursday, the fingerprints were still not attached to my file.
He asked for my number again, and said he’d call me back. As he did before, I’m going to trust that he will call back. In the meantime, I found this tidbit about SNAP, which could be said for cash benefits as well:
"Two-thirds of all SNAP payment errors are a result of caseworker error. Nearly one-fifth are underpayments, which occur when eligible participants receive less in benefits than they are eligible to receive." Feeding America.org kmm
Mr. Frykholm came through. I am so grateful for his perseverance and referral to other supervisors to help when I came in. It was not perfect, as there are humans at every level. Still, that one person cared enough, or was conscientious enough to see this through. I will not be missing anymore deadlines. kmm