Monday, October 11, 2010

My Trip to the Welfare Office (+rant)

I sat/paced around in the San Diego County Health & Human Services office (aka welfare office) for about 2 hours today. Other than the wait, everything went pretty well; I was just there to turn in some documentation that I was unwilling to mail (such as original IDs, original birth certificate, original social security cards, etc). However, I pity the person who walks in there without being prepared both organizationally (paperwork/forms) and time-wise.
I make $14.40/hr. I get health insurance through work. What am I doing at the welfare office, you ask? Think pregnant woman plus insurance copay. My wife is pregnant with our second, and if she stays three days in the hospital like last time, that's an $1,800 copay. Seeing as how I can barely afford to pay bills and buy gas and food and diapers at the same time, $1,800 is a crushing amount.
California offers a program for seemingly middle-income families like ours called AIM (Access for Infants and Mothers). We qualified handily to have our firstborn covered; mail in the app and fee, then get your insurance card and pay the contribution amount ($400-500) over 12 months.
So I go through the AIM application process with number two. Lo and behold, since my family has grown by one and my income has decreased by 10%, I don't make ENOUGH to qualify for AIM. Our application was referred to Medi-Cal.
Medi-Cal. I knew immediately this would mean dealing with the welfare office and lots of paperwork. Worse, the AIM rejection letter said I would hear from them in 45 days. And Medi-Cal took the full 45 days. Medi-Cal finally responded with a half-page list of documentation they needed. Thus my trip to the welfare office today.
As I sat waiting for my number to be called, I began to wish I had some money on me. I honestly believe the best way to bust through the wait at the welfare office is to offer to buy someone's number for, say, $20. I mean come on, you aren't there unless you are poor. $20 would be a real score for many of these people.
Alas, I don't have $20. It hits me that although I am only here to get Medi-Cal for my wife, I am just as poor as they are in many respects. Just not enough to ask for food stamps and cash assistance. I catch myself looking at the application for these wishing my family actually qualified. Just this past weekend I returned a technical book to the bookstore so we could by diapers and gas. Groceries this week are courtesy of a friend who paid me to look at what was going wrong with his wireless router.
Although I thought I could wait it out in the air-conditioned lobby the wait proved too long. I spent some time outside and chatted on the cell with my wife. (In an attempt to cut expenses I am ditching my cell in November when my contract is up.) I walked back inside and stood in front of the windows watching people come and go as the workers handled their business--at least until the security guard told me I couldn't stand there anymore.
One thing that surprised me was the number of people waiting with friends and family who were their on business of their own. The Tea Partier among us might concede that this proves some sort of defect in those segments of society; I rather think that poor people feel the human side of life a little more acutely than those who are more comfortable. They--ironically--have a stronger sense of community.
Another surprising observation was the number of very young women there--and not all had children. Indeed, while women and minorities comprised the bulk of those waiting for assistance, it would be impossible to pigeonhole the demographics of those present. There was a middle-aged white man who hadn't had work in forever, and had been through some sort of family separation that caused his benefits to get held up for several months. I again wished I had that $20--but this time for a different reason.
Then there was the barely twenty-something girl who was 7 months pregnant. I am ashamed to say that my fundamentalist upbringing put me in judgment of her when I saw no ring on her finger and heard her speak of her boyfriend. Then I realized, how could I judge? Perhaps the pregnancy was an accident of passion. More than likely, though, she and her boyfriend see marriage as another construct of a society that has failed them.
My view expanded to the many children present with their parents. Why have children when you must live like this? You do it because it is the human thing to do. The entirety of human experience can be seen to trend towards families and tribes even when the official civil and religious constructs are thrown out. People form clans. For these people, welfare is just another resource in a world where what matters most is the people you identify with, because that's all you've got.
When I finally reached the window I was greeted by a nice older lady whom I hadn't seen before. She processed my paperwork and I was out in no time.
When all was said and done my thoughts turned to the owners of my company. I wondered if the state of California alerts employers when you apply for welfare benefits. I can't say I really mind either way. But what would they think? I have no evidence of what political persuasion they are; but they probably fit the stereotype of most small business owners--Republican, economically libertarian, anti-government intervention, low tax types. I can hear the argument now. "If government would tax us less and leave industry alone we could pay you more." To which I say, well then get the ball rolling, start paying more. So you see that it is a chicken-and-egg situation. In the final analysis I have to say, when business types stop complaining about taxes, regulations, and social programs, I'll stop complaining about them. If it is true that you can pay me more or hire more workers if the government would get out of the way, then you are admitting to having passed the burden to your employees. If the burden is mine, then why are YOU complaining?
Business complains despite having implicitly passed on the financial burden of government to its employees because they don't really care about taking care of employees. The reality of the attitude of American business is more Scrooge than Mr. Magoo. Sorry, but I have a bad habit of calling things as I see them. Business is interested in pumping profit no matter what the source. What's so bad about that you say? Business is not a charity you say? Fine, then why do you have a problem with government social programs that will take the burden off of you to ensure the total welfare of your employees?? Taxes would be too high and choke off business you say? OK then let's end social programs and give business back that money so they can ensure the welfare of their employees. Oh but that won't work, because business will turn around and say "we are a business, not a charity"!!!!!!!
So you see, business wants to have its cake and eat it too. It is the reason Reaganomics and tax cuts and trickle-down economics does not work. Give business some $$$ and they'll stick it in their back pocket.
What is needed is a full-throated return to the New Deal combined with restrictions on companies trying to save money through worker visa abuse and mindless offshoring. Of course none of this will work without a comprehensive and ambitious energy policy that seeks to get us off of oil. The recession of the late 70s-early 80s was not so much a failure of the New Deal as a consequence of the energy crises of the 1970s. What Reagan SHOULD have done is fix our energy policy, not play around with taxes.
Any meaningful advance in this direction runs up against the mighty "petrodollar." Increasingly, our currency is not so much backed by the full faith of the US government as it is backed by the full might of the US military in securing economic rights and resources around the world to American corporations, primarily Big Oil. That's right America, the power of your dollar is squarely rooted in the misery we inflict across the third-world in the name of democracy but really in the service of fascism.
...and these chickens are coming home to roost. What you have sown, America, is what you will reap. The current economic hell (and yes, it is hell) is dragging at least 25% of America into third world poverty. We've been played, and the American elites are now out for YOUR blood, your livelihood, your little bit of something that you called a decent life. And through their sycophants in the GOP and through Fox News they would have you believe that the reason is because Reagan and the Bushes didn't go FAR ENOUGH in cutting them loose from any meaningful government regulation or taxation.
America is set to blindly put the Tea Party into power in 2012 at which time they will inject one last shot of de-regulatory, low-tax heroin into the greedmasters on Wall St and in business. It'll work! And then, like a drug, we will have the letdown, and an unfathomable economic catastrophe that will make 2008 look like nothing in comparison. Then this nation will finally become embroiled in war, within and without.

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