Financial Assistance Blues
The other day I noticed that my cupboard was close to bare and my bank account in a similar situation. A lot of us know it is difficult to get an education, support yourself, pay bills, feed yourself, and still have anything left over to buy toothpaste with. ( A lot of folks don’t know thanks to trust funds and rich daddies, I’m jealous and a little bitter, mostly jealous.) So anyway I’ve been going to the Food Bank for a while, this is a great resource, anyone can go down there and get bread, veggies, canned goods, staples, and even treats (only one please!).It’s located on the corner of Ellis and Iowa streets and operates on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. If you’re a starving student type, check it out, if not think about going down there and volunteering to help the folks less fortunate than you in your community. Back to my bare cupboards, I’ve been craving more than food bank food. A friend suggested that as a working college student, he thought I deserved food stamps. Sounded pretty good to me, the money I’ve been spending on eggs, cheese, and meat could all be better spent paying my heating or phone bills. I decided to swallow my pride and go give it a try.
The first thing they did was have me fill out some paperwork, no problem, I was in the military, I can fill out paperwork for days ( literally!). Then I had to wait about an hour (again my military experience comes in handy.), only to be told that I should come back in two days with a ton of documentation and paperwork: birth certificate, social security card, statement from my landlord ( who lives in California ), shared household statements ( yes even my housemates had to submit their names, jobs, ssn, and statements which said we share bills but not food ), pay stubs ( which I never keep.), tax returns, bank statements, insurance policies, auto titles, contracts, financial aid statements, military documentation, and signed testimonials from every lover I’ve ever had. I gathered together what I could over the next two days and showed up hopeful of getting $20 or $30 dollars a month in food stamps even though at this point it didn’t really seem worth it. My appointment was at 2:00 PM, I waited at DSHS until 3:00, and then this crabby old nag calls me to the window.
“Why are you here?”, she asked me.
“I’m no philosopher Ma’am, but I’d like to get some food stamps because I’m hungry.” I replied.
“It looks like you only worked 17 hours this week at the beginning of October”, she said clawing at my work schedule.
“That’s right, but that was my first week at this job, since then I’ve worked 25-30 hours every week, see..” I said, starting to feel hopeless.
“I’m sorry, if you weren’t in school we might be able to help you, either that or if you worked more”, the harpy squawked at me.
“But lady, if I weren’t in school, I’d be able to work more and I wouldn’t need food stamps”, I tried to reason with her.
“The system is not designed to help those who are helping themselves”, she pointed out.
That was all I could take, I picked up my stuff and left the so called Department of Social and Human Services. I was feeling angry and confused at the system we’ve allowed to take root within our society. It is a system that pays you for not trying to help yourself. If I quit school I would be eligible for all kinds of help, but because I want to achieve more, ( and in the process spend all my time studying, and my money buying books) I am not eligible for aid. Huh?
On the way home I ran into a friend who told me of a similar experience. She’s a single mom, returning to school and working at a job under the table so that she can support herself and her son.
“I have to lie to those bastards all the time just to have enough to feed and clothe my son,” she said, “ I don’t want to be on foodstamps and welfare, but I need it while I learn the skills I need to get a decent paying job. I don’t want my son to have to go through all this in order to get an education.”
Maybe I should try to get some grants or scholarships to help with my expenses. Well, I tried, I filled out the lengthy form required, then showed proof that I was telling the truth, only to be told:
“You made too much money in 1996, you don’t qualify.”
“But hey, I spent that money supporting myself up until this point because I didn’t have financial aid.”
Another horror story I heard from a Whatcom student. He was working 40+ hours a week and taking 13 credits. It was rough but he maintained a pretty high GPA and supported himself and his family. He was laid off and went to Job Security to get unemployment, they turned him down saying that he couldn’t work while he attended school full time. He tried to explain that he had been working 40+ hours while he attended full time for almost a year. Didn’t matter.
A solution? I don’t have one. It’s a messed up system that needs to be torn down and completely restructured. I think probably the best way to do that is to just go down there and lie, use every means you can to break the bank on this corrupt system that not only keeps people from helping themselves but also robs them of their dignity and ambition. Apply for financial aid, apply for foodstamps, welfare, unemployment, and any other program that sounds good, even if you don’t need it. If outright lying isn’t your style ( it’s not really mine, but some people like it…..) at least fill out the paperwork, clog up the process, and drive up the expense of the bureaucracy until it crumbles and something decent comes out of it. Me? I’m off to the foodbank, and then I’ve gotta go to work, wish I had time to do my Geology homework.