Social Perceptions of Social Services

I've been wanting to write about social services for a long time. We have been on some form of social services since we were fired from ministry almost 6 years ago. Even with my successful business and Tim working full-time, non-profits are just that. They are not for people who want to profit! And we are really proud of the work both of us do and are comfortable not rolling in the cash to do so. Though my business has been growing, so fingers crossed that we will be loaded in the future (jk, I actually love our simple life)!

We've been on almost all the government programs at one time or another. The only one I think we haven't done is TANF (emergency cash) or any of the utilities subsidy programs. That means we've been on state health insurance, WIC, food stamps (SNAP) and unemployment. And they are all different, requiring many things of each person who takes advantage of the benefits available. I cannot tell you how grateful we've been to have had access to these programs. It has been a true privilege. 

My favorite one is food stamps. They were the most generous with us, the easiest and quickest to attain and the simplest to follow. And this is important because people need easy, fast access to food. I've read many articles about how the government shouldn't be giving people free food without restrictions on things like junk food. That is a post in and of itself. I will say this, there is no better time to eat like shit than when you don't have stable work and you're scrambling. That is not the time for organic broccoli and fresh fish. There is no better time for frozen pizza and candy. And while that sounds flippant, sugary and fattening foods actually give your brain chemistry a boost in times of stress which is why we often turn to them in crisis. And while many families are not given a large amount of food stamps and that is very difficult, we qualified for a larger sum than we had previously been spending out of our own budget. What that means is, the grocery store was the one place we had money. If we wanted to share a meal with a friend, we could do so. We could not go out to the movies or out to eat, but we could have them over or bring something to contribute at their house. And that was so very needed in a time when community was a critical piece of staying sane. 

Tim and I both have college degrees from private colleges. We've both always worked in some form. And any time we've been on programs, it has been for a short period of time (with the exception of WIC and the kids state health insurance). For us, the programs exist to stabilize families. It's important to us that we use our talents and resources to benefit our community. By doing so, we've typically been underpaid, thereby qualifying us for certain programs long-term. The short term programs we've used when Tim has been between jobs. 

I've always been open about our use of government programs. There are people in my life who make derogatory comments about the programs or about those who use them and it's important to remind them that I'm on the programs too. It's like they don't see me as one of "them." But I am. No, we don't abuse the system. But that gets touted around like it's common. It's not. In fact, some of the systems are incredibly hard to use and access deliberately (unemployment raked us over the coals) to the point that even as educated adults, we've struggled through the jargon and paperwork. And the health insurance is constantly threatening to dump us with renewal dates different for each family member (Tim and I were recently dropped, with much notice, thankfully) and difficult websites to navigate. They change the names of the programs and automatically put us on the crappiest one unless we call in time to keep the kids with their pediatrician, etc. Don't get me wrong; we're grateful. But it's not easy to use or abuse. And if we didn't have access to the internet at home (as many people on programs don't), it would be nearly impossible.

One thing I will say about being on state health insurance, it is so very hard to get in to see someone new. If you already have a relationship with a doc who takes your insurance, it's all good. But they always give you a different primary (who I never saw because what was the point?) and if you want to see a specialist who hasn't seen you previously, forget it. Our "primary" was a very terrible Urgent Care facility where the doc informed me that I was using an abortifacent when I went for a refill of my birth control pill prescription that I'm on for my migraines. If I didn't know better, he could have wrangled me out of a medically necessary medication for his ideological comfort. No. Just no. Since I knew my insurance was ending soon, I tried to see all my doctors as close to the deadline as I could, refill my medications, etc. My dentist had recently commented on a mole on my neck, recommending I get it checked out. I hadn't called a dermatologist yet. When I finally did, it was a few weeks away from when I was going to lose my insurance. I called for a skin cancer screening and gave my health insurance info. The next available appointment for someone on state insurance was 5 months away. They only give away so many slots to the poor people. I mentioned that my insurance was changing in a few weeks and could they get me in sooner? No. But now that I know you'll be paying for insurance, we have a slot for you right after the new one kicks in. Poor person who might have cancer - wait 5 months for an appointment. Paying person? 2 weeks. WHAT IF I HAD HAD CANCER?!?! I didn't. But I do owe $175 for that appointment though no labs were done. 

One of my favorite (snark) comments I hear about social programs and "welfare queens" pertains to mandatory drug testing. So you get the comments about nutrition as stated above and you get the comments about addicts. Here's the question: do addicts deserve to go hungry? Are not addicts victims? Do they not need help? Let me be clear. Most people on social programs are not getting high every day. But if they were, would they be less deserving of basic care? This is the problem with capitalism. We only care about those who pull their own weight. So addicts, poor people, old people - they're a drain on our resources. We put up with kids because we have to, but everyone else needs to contribute. I get it. Contributing is important. Tim and I take great pride in the ways we contribute to our community. But in this country we define contribution by wages and most of the people who garner the highest wages are responsible for putting people on programs in the first place. How can we not see that the 1% is raping the poor? And then on top of that, we shame the poor for not providing for themselves? There are so many people in this country who would love to work a full-time job that provides for their families needs. Many of those jobs are not available. Many people I know who are working poor work multiple, difficult, part-time jobs. And they are part-time so their rich employers don't have to provide them with benefits. Who's lazy now?

The Night I Cried Doing Downward Dog (No, That's Not a Euphamism)

It's funny sometimes, practicing yoga. It requires you to breathe, to tune in, to sit in the tension you carry and then to release it. It's particularly funny to practice yoga as a caretaking perfectionist in crisis during a holiday week. Tonight I dragged myself to class, with my family limping around without me (everyone's sick but me), barely able to get in the door for being so stiff and terribly undercared for. 
I lie down on the mat my beloved teacher set out for me (because I was late). Just curling my legs into my chest, I feel them coming. The music is playing. The lights are dim. Tears. I am so fucking tired. Everyone needs a piece of me. There's not much left tonight. And so the tears come. In this one clumsy, stiff hour, I have so many wounds to bind up. The anxiety of trying to feel better in the one hour I've got juxtaposes with the amazement that I have a whole hour to myself to stretch every muscle that is locked down in tension. Penny is not asking to be held. Dinner has already been made. I am alone with others. My favorite way to recharge.
Going through all the positions, some feel wonderful, others really difficult, the tears slip out, one by one. Hiding under the sheath that is my undone hair, little by little the tears give way to release. Bone-deep, soothing release. Release leads to rest. The rest I long for. The rest I desperately need. The rest I cannot always allow myself in this time of crisis (Tim is still looking for work). 
I came home and read my little Cheryl Strayed book of quotes Brave Enough. One of the nuggets of truth that jumped out at me was this, "The particularity of our problems can be made bearable only through the recognition of our universal humanity. We suffer uniquely, but we survive the same way."
Sometimes it's surprisingly hard to be a person. I have so many beautiful people in my life. I've experienced so much grace and mercy when we weren't sure how something would work and it just has. But sometimes you just want to hide in a room alone for a month. Tonight, I had one hour. An hour I moved through with tears. But I came away having done what I needed to do. Exercise, yes. But really, I needed to cry. Don't be afraid to sit in your tears. Perhaps it's the only way to walk back out into the cold and into the fray. And ultimately, to survive.