There's No Place Like Home

Dorothy wanted to go back to Kansas.  In her quest to do so she found some friends that needed a heart, a brain, and some courage.

Let’s get something straight.  I like to work, and I like to work hard.  If I had my way, I would find a full-time job with the possibility of overtime.  I would share my talents, skills, and education in ways that help others in some small way.  And I would pay taxes into the system that has given me so much support.  Because that is what I want to do.

Health problems and disability issues have made that dream impossible for  now, so I get help from the government.  My primary income is Social Security Disability  that I qualify for because I worked full time for a number of years.  (By the way, I currently work a few hours a month for my church and I send my writing out to publishers periodically.)  On a state level, I qualify for Medicaid and food stamps.  Medicaid funds pay for all my caregivers and without the caregiver services I receive on a daily basis, I could die.  I am not exaggerating when I say that. Without going into graphic detail, sometimes I have bowel accidents that I need help cleaning up from.  If I am left too long, my skin could break down and I could develop an infection that would land me in the ICU inside a week.  How is that for a dose of reality?

The amount of food stamps that I receive is based on my income and my out of pocket medical expenses.  Therefore, whenever I have more out of pocket medical expenses than is typical , I meticulously document them and turn in the receipts to the social services office, in order to get more food stamps to offset the expense.  The last time I did so, the receipts were not calculated in determining the amount of food stamps I got and I was told I did not turn them in.  Those receipts were not found until I called state representative Tom Sloan’s office and he offered to get personally involved.

A few weeks later I called one of the supervisors at the social services office and asked when the food stamps would be recalculated with the out of pocket medical receipts included.  All I was asking for was an update and he would review my case.  He started out by saying “I don’t know, Lorraine.  You are not the only person on my caseload and I will get to it when I get to it.”  He made me feel like a spoiled child who needed to be reprimanded because I was interrupting his day.

At one point he rudely suggested we end the conversation because “I had talked enough.”  To be fair, he did let me say what I wanted to say eventually. In the course of our discussion, he told me I “demanded” information.  When I told him I was struggling financially because of the mistakes made by staff in his office, he said “telling me that story is not going to make me hang up the phone and work on your case.” At the end of the phone call, as with many similar calls in the past, tears of powerlessness streamed down my cheeks.

I understand that everyone in that office probably works with some people who try and take advantage of the system.  I understand they are overworked and have lots of people on their caseloads.  That doesn’t mean that everyone should be talked to or “dealt with” in the same manner.  In the past few years both the worker assigned to my case and this supervisor have repeatedly said things to me that I consider to be verbally abusive.  It has gotten to the point that I do not feel safe having discussions with either one of them unless I have someone with me to witness the interaction.

I don’t want to be on welfare.  My circumstances require me to be.  Since I am single, I don’t qualify for the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program.  But quite frankly, some of the changes being made to the TANF program in Kansas frighten me.

In a Call to Action document recently sent out by Bob Mikesic, the Co-Executive Director of Independence Inc, the Center for Independent Living in Lawrence Kansas, these changes are explained in more detail.  Part of that document follows:

Earlier this month, legislators passed Senate Substitute for House Bill 2258, an extremely harmful piece of legislation that makes it more difficult for the poorest families to achieve self-sufficiency. Among the changes are:

  • Reducing the lifetime limit for TANF to 36 months, which will likely reduce the number of participants in Kansas without necessarily connecting them to work.
  • Restricting cash withdrawals from ATMs using EBT cards to just $25 a day, making it harder for many TANF recipients to make their rent and utility payments.
  • Banning use of federal or state dollars to promote SNAP, which means families may not know they’re eligible for food assistance to feed their children. 

 If the withdrawal amount for this benefit is $25 per day, and some families use those funds to pay rent and utilities, how are they supposed to get what they need when many have limited access to transportation?  If they need $300, they would have to make 12 separate trips to ATM’s on different days in order to make the withdrawals.  Some of these restrictions just don’t make sense in the context of the livelihood of the recipients. I called the governor’s office today and asked that he veto the bill.

Not likely.

Jon Stewart spoke about the situation in Kansas recently.  I watched the video several times this morning.  You can see it here.

I am a welfare recipient in Kansas.

Jon Stewart rocks.  Just sayin.

Until I can no longer draw breath, I will continue to write and speak about the fact that I don’t believe that people who receive the assistance of government programs are lazy or uneducated.  In fact, I would bet my bottom dollar that most, like me, would give anything for their situation to be different.  I will do my best to challenge perceptions by trying to convince as many people as I can that most welfare  recipients are people who are simply trying to make ends meet.  We need more compassion, not more restrictions.  Changing perceptions will be difficult, especially in this state.   But as I said, I like to work hard.

Dorothy wanted to go back to Kansas.  Today I would question if that is still true. Her home just isn’t what it used to be.  On this journey, I hope that Kansas lawmakers have a heart, a brain and some courage when they are making the rules.

In my opinion, those are things that the leaders in Kansas desperately need the most.