The government shut-down today did not close the food-stamps office. But it might as well have, because they seem to be working at shut-down levels. Or maybe they're just in the business of shutting people down generally.
Would you like to hear me complain for a minute about government bureaucracy? Of course you would!
I sent in our re-certification paperwork for SNAP benefits at the end of August. They send us this form once a year that says something like, We really have until October to process your recertification application, but we take a long time doing shit so please fill out this form and make copies of all your bills and have it back to our office by August 30th. Which is tomorrow.
I make copies, I fill out forms, I send everything back on time. I assume things are fine because to assume otherwise is to live for months with a stress-induced stomach ache.
Last Tuesday I get a letter that said, Hi, We actually need more paperwork from you. Please copy these additional 4 bills and put them in the mail by the end of the week. Giving me more than 1 day of turnaround was pretty kind of them, if unusual. I had everything in the mail on Friday to arrive by their due-date on Monday.
Just to make things clear, the additional paperwork they requested was due on 9/30. On 9/26, four days before the paperwork was due, they mailed me a notice saying they were closing my case. The letter actually includes a hilarious sentence, "Your case will close because we have not been able to fully process it."
Let that sink in for a second. Despite having two months to process a 4-page application, they take a month to tell me I need to make more copies, then give me negative four days from the due-date to get them in. Then they cancel my case because THEY didn't have enough time to process it.
That's your government working for you.
I called the offices today, and was surprised to find my case worker at her desk despite the federal government being shut down today. I guess she's a state employee. She had no problem shutting me down from a federal program, though.
Did you get the paperwork I sent in last week?
Should I mail it in again?
Should I fax it?
But I got a letter that you closed my case!
Mail in our office takes a long time. But it's your responsibility that I get it. If I see your paperwork, I'll work on it. If I need anything from you, I'll call.
So in other words, I have to sit on my hands and freak out, hope that their internal mail system works, wonder every day for a week if you should be calling, then call again on Thursday and see if I need to fill out a completely new application. And this is pretty much their standard operating procedure.
Two years ago they never got my set of documents, and I had to mail them in all over again. And I had to call two different case workers four different times to figure out that was what I was supposed to do. Working with the DTA is a process that takes stick-to-it-iveness.
If we don't get food stamps this year would our lives be over? No, we'd find a way to cope with our cash budget for the year. It'd mean less delicious and healthful treats for the pregnant lady. Berries and probiotic drinks and meat products don't fit into our cash budget. But children in Africa live on two meals of enriched rice a day, so my lack of free supermarket trips may accurately be described as a "first world problem."
On the other hand, I live in the first world and I would prefer it not to suck or to flip off poor people. I have friends who are poorer than me who haven't been able to get on Food Stamps because of the massive process involved. Even I, a woman with a masters degree and years of experience pushing papers, almost break out in hives every time I get a letter from Davidson Street in Lowell.
To effectively deal with the DTA, or any government agency for that matter, you need skills only possessed by a few members of the human race who are advanced in both intelligence and maturity. You need patience, non-attachment, the realization that your government doesn't care about you personally and the self-confidence to accept that. You need the organizational skills of an executive secretary to save every piece of paper you receive all year and file it in a place that's easily retrievable. You need envelopes and stamps at the ready. It helps if you have a printer and a scanner too, but if not you'd better be able to upload a file to a web server and print it out at the library.
Is this what we expect of people who make under $20,000 a year?