*IF you do not have kids under 18 or you are not over 65, you cannot buy: soap. You cannot buy: dish soap, laundry detergent, paper towels, tissues, tampons, shampoo, toothpaste, band aids, razors, a sponge (50 cents), or a light bulb.*
I fell a few days ago and smacked my head on the concrete. Blood spewed out in bursts onto the sidewalk. Now: I do not have Bactine, band aids, tissues. And I cannot buy them.
Because I do not have kids and I am not 65.
I am on food stamps and I can buy lobster, but I cannot buy tampons.
I cannot believe a woman named Linda collected 60k from good people who empathize with her past situation on aid - because she made "bad decisions." But Linda is buying a $1,000 bedspread - a treat, she says, for herself - because she had to put up with "trolls" on her blog. Her husband works, she has a job. Her parents help. She smokes, so cigarettes are easy for her. Soap is impossible for me.
Linda says she is using the money to be a writer and to get a lot of extra sleep.
People are helping the wrong people.
Point is, I am living it. I do not have family. I do not smoke. I am college educated. I worked in a law firm as a paralegal. My parents were married over 40 years. I grew up in a big, beautiful house my mom and dad bought for 18k in 1960. I did not make "mistakes" like drinking or drugs or erratic behavior.
There was a fire next door to where I was renting and I could never go home. The next day, my branch office closed.
I did not go on food stamps or unemployment. I took whatever savings I had and bought my way into renting a unit without a job. I had no family to turn to - never a Christmas card, Easter card, birthday card from any relative - no aunt, no uncle, no brother, no sister, no mother, no father.
I slept on hardwood floors with nothing - no bed, no blankets, no kitchen table, no silverware, no towels, no winter coat. I had about $200 left - and no, I was not pathetic for not saving a lot - if you work for attorneys, and you do not work for a great attorney, you are hired in and hired out, routinely. New case, new throng of people, new people cast out. Say or do the wrong thing or stand up for yourself and you will be ousted. It takes years to adjust to people calling you "the help" because you are not an attorney.
I found a part-time job outside of the city. It took six buses and two elevated trains a day to get there and back - two hours each way. That was okay, it was a job. It paid $391 a week. I bought a $40 gray winter coat from Marshall's and $4 gloves from Walgreen's. I was set.
The attorney was a sole practitioner. He literally called me "a piece of [crap]." Many, many times. I put my head down. I was humiliated because I never had anyone speak to me this way in a professional setting. Many people have done this to you at work, and you told them off, but I was no longer in that position. I took it. I needed the money. And he knew it.
I kept that job for nine months. I did not apply for food stamps, but I think I would have been turned down because almost $1600 a month disqualifies you. My rent was $900 in a major city, transportation was $80 (now a monthly pass is $100), that left me just enough for utilities and groceries.
Lose part-time job. Apply for food stamps and unemployment.
Then, I lost my position - no surprise. I had just paid my rent at the beginning of the month. I had no money. Now what?
I applied for food stamps.
I walked to the food stamp office. I had no money for the bus.
I received $4.40 a day in food stamps.
1. Food stamp reality. No soap.
Please understand, I was mind numbed. I cannot buy soap?
Imagine, none of those items and no hope of getting them.
You think of yourself as a kid and how many times your parents told you to wash your hands before dinner. They did not mean without soap.
No hope of getting a job because you cannot buy a bus pass. Not every available job is within walking distance. But "you know me" - I would have taken a minimum wage job and found a way back downtown to a law firm. Once you work at a minimum wage job, you are trapped. You cannot take a day off. How are you going to interview weekdays if you work weekdays? You're not going to take a day off and risk the job you have for a "maybe."
2. Unemployment reality.
Now I was going to have to apply for unemployment. Even though I was eligible, I was not going to receive my benefits for 12 weeks.
Why is that?
As it turns out, I was, apparently, overpaid two years, seven months ago on a previous unemployment claim. (Had I lost my job five months later, there would have been no delay on unemployment.) They said it was an undetected error and now I had to wait penalty weeks because I did not contest by mail. I was never alerted to an "error" to contest.
Unemployment deducted the overpayment (fair enough), so I received $276 a week.
But for three months, I had not a dime.
Yes, I called the director of the state unemployment insurance. I asked: Is there a hardship option? He said no. In fact, there is a hardship option. He either did not know, did not care, or lied to me.
3. Churches. Call the churches, like everybody says. Do churches really help?
Churches tell you they have no money, at least the churches in the zip code where I moved to. Not a fancy zip code because I had to take whatever unit I could, considering I applied for an apartment without a job. If you call the churches outside your zip code that could afford to give you a bar of soap, they tell you to go back to your zip code ("where you belong").
I called 14 churches and found one church willing to help. They offered me a $20 Jewel gift card to buy soap. The secretary said to pick it up on Monday. I waited the whole weekend, and called first, because I had to walk. I had no bus pass. She said she was told they "forgot" - one pastor from a sister church was to bring it to a meeting, but forgot. Come back Wednesday. On Wednesday, they said, come back Friday. On Friday, Monday. On Monday, Wednesday. On Wednesday, the pastor came to the phone and said, "Come to the church and I will wash your hands for you" and hung up on me.
Who to tell? Who will care what this church said to me? Isn't there some organization that oversees church protocol? (I can call on my Safelink phone, but I do not have minutes to spare trying to find out who to call to complain about a church. I only have 60 minutes a week. I need those minutes to find a church in walking distance that will help me either find a way to buy soap or donate soap to me.)
I called another church to ask for a bus pass to a job interview. I said I may need a second bus pass if I get a second interview. I was told I could have one bus pass. It turns out I was put on a list - which the churches shared - a list that was passed around so people did not try to "swindle" more than one church for help.
4. Call the Salvation Army.
The director of the main branch of the Salvation Army told me to put my clothes in a bathtub filled with soap (as if I could buy soap) and "stomp" on them. That is how I should wash my clothes because that is what he did when he was a kid and poor. He said the Salvation Army had no funding for soap. I asked about a gift card and he said there were "very, very few Target cards" and they were all gone.
Many states have excellent electric and gas assistance programs. They pay either a disconnect bill or a one-time hardship payment. Some state programs are generous and pay up to $1000. What they do not tell you, until after you are "approved," is that you must pay $75 - or they will not pay the gas or electric bill.
IF you cannot buy soap or tampons or a bus pass, where are you going to get $75?
Call the Salvation Army, they say.
Call the Salvation Army to help pay the $75 so the state agency will pay your disconnect. Do not expect a live person to help you. Leave your name and number on a voicemail. Do you think anyone calls back? (The reason they say they never call back is because they have "too many people" calling for help.)
5. Call Target Community Affairs.
They say to call the Salvation Army. Target gives gift cards to the Salvation Army to pass out to people. Ironically, they say the food bank has soap. They have obviously have never been to a food bank. Target does not neglect to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays as they send you off to find soap somewhere.
6. Call the Red Cross.
The Red Cross was no longer taking applications from individuals for the remainder of the year. They were out of money. If you were part of a national disaster they "may" be able to help. But not with soap.
7. Food Banks.
The first food bank I went to passed out 2-3 bags of stale bread. People were leaving with several big bags and when you got there, you found it was bread from shops "around town." They passed out pizza sauce and frosting mix. Several cans of beets. I can eat beets. No fresh vegetables or fruit and no cheese or milk. (A food stamps critic tried to tell me "the government passes out cheese at food banks." Never seen it.)
At Christmas, the food bank did have a small quantity of bagged carrots. A woman passing out the food sat down at her desk with a bag of carrots. She said "Yum" and put the carrots in the bottom drawer. Were the carrots for her to take home or one of her favorite "customers"?
I went to another food bank, a church food bank. They passed out spoiled carrots and rotten bananas.
I went to anther food bank and there was no sign. I found it in back of the building, in the alley. A long line looked like the Depression. A garage in back was passing out food. There was a shelf of cereal boxes. I asked why they were not passing out the cereal. They said there was not enough for everyone, come back next week. Next week, there were no cereal boxes.
I saw a grandmother walking away with her grandson. They had received two 8-pack hot dogs for the week and some beets. I am sure the grandmother gave all the hot dogs to her grandson.
Dismayed, on my meager Safelink minutes, I called The Greater Food Bank Depository. They told me the food banks order food and once it's gone, they get bread from other resources. The food is supposed to supplement your food budget, not provide a meal. They were not interested in the behavior at the food bank because people who are trying to eat have no right to complain if they are treated poorly.
Beware if you forget to bring your electric bill to prove you live in the "correct" zip code for the food bank. If your utility bill says you are from an "outside" zip code, you don't get a bag of food, at least not from that food bank.
8. Food Stamps at farmers markets.
They may say you can buy one carrot on food stamps and get one carrot free - if you go to a farmers market or a green market. You can use your EBT card. Problem is, the farmers market - many of them - pass out tokens - and you only get to buy $10 worth of product, or groceries. Markets routinely "run out" of tokens. Many states say they ran out of funding for the EBT devices that allow the farmers to accept EBT cards. So how many people on food stamps get to shop farmers markets?
9. Glasses. Pearle Vision.
The Lion's Club offers a program via Pearle Vision to get a free pair of glasses. First, there are no appointments for three months. Second, they bring you a box of old, crummy glasses (beggars can't be choosers) from the 1980's. THIS is your choice. Some are broke. Most are child-size. Am I supposed to be grateful? Yes. I will be able to read or see far away. Would it really harm the program to spring for the $59-$99 frame range? I guess per person that adds up. It was not so much the glasses as it was the clerks standing over you, tapping their foot, they want you out of there. They're embarrassed, they've never seen a poor person, why are you here? You're embarrassed because you used to be "one of them" - you dressed smart, checked voicemail at 8am, and worked late. Now you're looking thru an 8x6 box of dirty, discarded glasses for "free."
Like Linda, I have bad teeth. My mother had all her teeth replaced at 16, my dad had bridges, and my brother (no longer with us) had teeth probably worse than mine. (He majored in Southeast Asian Studies and Tibet at the University of Madison. Why does that matter? Because people think people on aid who have bad teeth are lowlifes who should have taken better care of their teeth. We all need to take better care of our teeth, even some of us who can afford it.)
At one of my jobs, I had dental insurance. It only paid $1,000, but it was "good enough" for the dentist to begin work on my teeth. He pulled all the bad teeth. I was left with 12 teeth. The front two teeth had composite filling (which has now eroded). I was laid off that job and lost my insurance and the dentist canceled the order for new teeth (fair enough).
At my last job, I called a dentist an attorney went to for his dental care, on referral. I explained that I did not have an attorney's salary. I would have to make monthly payments. If that did not work, then I could not make an appointment. They said come on in, payments were okay.
I had fancy x-rays and sat down with the dentist. He told me he wanted $15-30,000 to fix my teeth and would accept $3,000 down. I cried. Not because I was weak, but because I had already said I could not pay upfront a lot of money and because a rich man was telling me I would not have new teeth.
I called the university dental schools in my city. They schedule appointments 90 days off and if you are accepted, they will not give you a "plan" for another 90 days. You must pay 25% of the cost.
11. What people think.
Yes, I see people who have cash on EBT cards buy barbecues at Family Dollar. I see people pay for groceries on EBT and they look like they just came out of a salon - fake hair, fake nails, fake lashes. They drive off in expensive cars they may or may not own. I see mothers pile up bags of Cheetos for their kids and no strawberries or bananas or yogurt and use their EBT card. This is why people criticize people on food stamps because some food stamp recipients withdraw cash from the ATM and use it to gamble. That's all true.
Why are people on food stamps not screaming to buy soap? They can't "all" have kids or be over 65. Some people on food stamps also receive SSI/SSDI, so if they do not have cash on EBT, they at least have cash to buy soap. Or a bus pass.
Cash is not necessary on an EBT card. An approved amount could be set aside for soap or a bus pass or gas to fill the tank. If an EBT card holder decides not to use that option, it could revert back to a food purchase. If the problem is food stamps are only for food - then nobody should receive cash benefits to buy soap or anything else.
The real problem is that people need to get off food stamps. They cannot do that if they do not have clean clothes or a way to get to a job interview.
What do I want?
- I want people like Linda to not say they were on welfare because they were dumb and made bad choices. She was not on welfare when she accepted the equivalent of a luxury car from people who thought she had nothing. She "neglected" to say that her monthly expenses were met and she was referring to the past. And now she will set up a non-profit to ask for more money.
- I want a dentist to allow me to pay back his or her dental care after I get a job - at a monthly rate I can afford for however long it takes - IF he will fix my teeth at no cost so I can even get a job.
- I want soap and tampons.
- I'd like to wash my clothes and towels.
- I want a bus pass to go to a job interview and follow-up interviews.
- I want a job. I am a paralegal, but I am also a legal or executive assistant or receptionist. My 100wpm accurately transfers anywhere. My forte is litigation (labor/employment, corp/securities, insurance defense). I am familiar with interrogatories, chronologies, and Amicus. I am competent in personal injury and commercial real estate. I have limited international IP experience.
- I want people to donate to churches things like soap and band aids. And follow-up to see if churches are giving soap to people or making people jump through hoops. And be sure the churches are not giving your donations to organizations that will never answer the phone or say they "just ran out" of money, try next year.
I know things could be worse. I could lose my health.
Am I going to lose my health with no clean clothes and no soap? Probably not. My teeth are worse now, but so is my potassium level. I ended up on a potassium drip at the hospital. Who paid for it? I never filled out a form, but the hospital says the state paid 5k (for three days) and 10k goes on my credit report.
I don't know if I will ever be able to buy soap. How long is that going to last? Forever?
I tried the Salvation Army again to see if they had any gift cards from Target. The Salvation Army said they have no gift cards, but they will send a rep over to my house to give me a bus pass to pick up a Christmas ham.
*My email: firstname.lastname@example.org.*
For people who say they want to mail me things, I appreciate. But the mailbox is basically open and available to anyone and everyone on the street. The box is for 6 units. If you can help with a CVS egift card or a Target egift card, IF and when I ever get a job, I will send back a gift card in the same amount to you and you can pay it forward to someone else in need. This week I went on three interviews - and IF anyone calls back for a second interview or for me to start - I cannot because I do not have a bus pass to get there. (Will they notice I have one pair of dress slacks and two shirts?)