I don't want to write about this right now because I'm not in a particularly complain-y mood. But I don't want to let it go. I feel like it's important. The most stressful day of the year came and went last week. The day I reapply for our SNAP benefits. It needn't be so horribly panic-inducing. Maybe if we keep talking about it, someday it won't be.
Every August I know it will arrive but I'm not exactly sure when. I have been saving up my paperwork in an easily-accessible yellow folder: pay stubs and tax bills and social security cards. I am as prepared as any person living at the poverty line can expected to be prepared. Yet the day the envelope arrives in the mail I immediately feel my stomach lurch as I launch into fight-or-flight.
"Your SNAP benefits are set to expire October 10th" the letter says.
"Your recertification paperwork must be completed by September 11th."
"In order to have enough time for our office to process your paperwork, you need to complete these forms and return the requested documents by August 27th."
It is August 22nd when I get this letter. It's a Friday. Mail processing within the DTA office takes at least two days. It is my responsibility to ensure my paperwork is in my caseworker's hands by the date she requests it.
All this means that if I get the paperwork to the post office by 8am on Saturday morning there MIGHT be a CHANCE it gets in on time.
More likely they'll send me a letter they're canceling my case. Last year they printed that letter before I even got the initial questionnaire in the mail.
I tell Dan he is in charge of the children and dinner. I tell him I'm not eating until I get this done. I haul up in the bedroom checking off boxes and making copies of documents. Good thing I have all the forms at the ready. Good thing we have a copy machine in house. Good thing we have a computer and an internet connection and a credit card so I can print a priority shipping label and give myself a fighting chance at meeting their criteria.
Of course, they could cancel my case anyway. I've been doing this for five years now, and that wouldn't surprise me. I've come to expect that after I do my secretarial best I still need to spend several hours on the phone advocating for me and my family.
I have wrote about it before and I don't want to waste my energy writing about it again. Here's me quoting me circa 2013:
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 a patient 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 copy machine, printer, scanner, and internet access too. Is this what we expect of people who make under $20,000 a year?
We can look at this problem in two ways. One, we can say it's a gift horse and don't look in it's mouth. People like me should take the kind charity our society extends and not complain about the process we go through to get it. Whether that process be invasive or discriminating or stigmatizing or all of the above... don't utter a word that might smack of ingratitude.
Or two, we could say that an adequate food supply is the basic right of all members of our society. We could say that this is the least we can do to make up for the massive economic, social and environmental catastrophes foisted on our citizenry by business and government. In this light, we should do our best to ensure that this safety net, promised within the law, is actually accessible to those it's designed to help.
I have a friend living below the poverty line who didn't get SNAP benefits renewed because she had to go to her job instead of filing the paperwork in time. Another friend I know couldn't figure out how to prove he DIDN'T have a bank account. These are people with college degrees. I can't begin to imagine the countless others who don't feel confident even approaching the bureaucratic machine for reasons of language or education. It takes a certain mix of confidence and desperation to enter the machine and throw oneself on its grindstone. And another skill set altogether to actually come out the other end with flour.
I am not angry, I just want to face the facts together.
The fact is we live in a country where food benefits are provided and protected under law, and yet the procedures for providing those benefits subtly try to kick the poor off the roles every 6 months. These are the people with the least capacity to stand up for their rights. Mentally handicapped. Working poor. Mothers of small children. They deserve better. I deserve better. We as a society deserves better.