Today I was at the Department of Human Services building to submit our Medicare application for Geri. I haven't been really trumpeting about this one, but we are getting pretty stretched financially so I finally bit the bullet and asked for help. Really, all we need is assistance with the medical bills because they are eating us alive... even with insurance. I have felt a bit strange about this, because I never ever thought I would be on any type of public assistance in my life, but here we are. Geri is beautiful and amazing and making such great progress and it would be an absolute crime to have it interrupted by such a petty thing as money and pride... but that's not what I wanted to write about. I have to reel it back in... I'm so scared of being judged for asking for an "entitlement" that I get a bit defensive.
On our way out of the building we were walking in front of two women and their kids. One mom seemed to have three of them, the other two. As they were walking, I could hear them talking about applying for assistance. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop (I swear) but from what I overhead I could tell that the mom of 3 was new to "the system" and had applied for some sort of housing assistance. The other mom was telling her that she had to make sure she worked as little as possible this month in order to get in.
Mom of 3 was objecting, saying that she needs to work to pay her bills. Mom of 2 was explaining to her that if she earned too much money this month she would be ineligible for assistance and not get into an apartment. They were going back and forth over how to work this whole thing, with Mom of 3 talking about how she only wanted the assistance for a little while, until she could figure it out on her own.
Here's the part that kills me. People want, very often, to paint those on public assistance as lazy and shiftless and sucking off the teat of society. Here, though, was a woman who clearly wanted to work. She wanted to make her own money and support her kids as best she could. She didn't want to lay back and collect, she wanted to get out and provide. But she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. To get the assistance that she desperately needed, she had to look "poor enough."
I don't know all the ins and outs of the welfare/assistance system, but I know that if it spawns conversations like what I heard today, then it's not right.