Saturday, May 15, 2010

On Social Services

Yes, I know, this is a transit blog. I'll get back to buses tomorrow.

My wife and I are going through some pretty tough financial times, primarily because the financial aid and grants that were paying for her schooling were cut, and the state agency that credentials substitute teachers (something my wife could start doing tomorrow, had she the permit) is ridiculously slow, due probably to the fact that they're understaffed and furloughed 3 days out of the month. We've used up all of my fellowship money, and she's had no luck in finding work, so we're living off of a combination of family help and social services. It is the latter that I want to talk about here.

First of all, and a lot of people who have never been on social assistance don't know this, most of the major public social service programs (Medicaid, General Relief, TANF- what most people think of as "welfare") REQUIRE that you either have children or be a pregnant woman. Childless singles and couples need not apply. There is literally no way for an able-bodied adult to get cash assistance or health care from the government in California unless you either have a baby or have a baby on the way. Even student financial aid, in many cases, can benefit from having a child- children of middle-class families are often excluded from aid, due to their parents' income. If they have a baby, that exclusion no longer applies. My wife and I have put off childbearing at least until we're done with our education, because that's the responsible thing to do- not to have children that are a burden on society. Because we were responsible, however, the government has turned away from us in a time of great need. An 18-year-old single mother with no job prospects can walk into the county welfare office today, and walk out with enough money and food stamps to support herself and her baby. Because my wife and I were responsible enough to spend the $15-$30/month on birth control, we cannot do the same.

Second, social assistance has been left behind in the wired revolution. I can pay my bills, do my schoolwork, and apply for all manner of credit on the Internet. I can shop for everything from groceries to automobiles without ever leaving my home, and have it delivered next-day. However, if I want to apply for government benefits, in most cases I have to hand in a paper application. Both Riverside Public Utilities' SHARE program and the LIHEAP utilities assistance program require a paper application, turned in by hand. Food stamps and Medi-Cal both have an on-line application, but completing this application requires an "interview" appointment. Our interview for food stamps lasted nearly 4 hours. And, of course, turning in an application or calling an office with questions is only possible during business hours, which are rapidly shrinking. 9 to 4:30 is common, and Friday closures equally so. For my wife and I, it isn't such a big deal to have to turn in a paper application- my studies are flexible enough that I can manage to go places in the morning without interfering with school, as long as I take my books with me- but for many workers, a detour to a social services office, which may last several hours, is out of the question, especially during business hours- also known as when PEOPLE SHOULD BE WORKING.

America's social service safety net is a critical part of what our government should be doing for people, and yet it sits in tatters. Were I a British citizen, or a Canadian, or a German, I would not be worrying today about how to pay my rent for next month. If I lived in any other industrialized nation, I wouldn't even be worrying about applying for social assistance- both my wife and I would be taken care of during our educational careers. That the richest nation in the world does so very, very poorly at taking care of those who have encountered even the most temporary of hardships- mine will be over by July or August at the latest- is appalling.

Politicians of both parties have demonized welfare recipients consistently over the last 20 years. How many times have you heard the line about "waste, fraud and abuse" in social service programs? Measure after measure after measure has been put in place to make even the tatters of our safety net harder and harder to fall into. Myths of welfare queens in Cadillacs abound in our political discourse. That rhetoric, and these policies, have dire consequences. Our social services are important precisely because some people, some of the time, will truly, badly need it. I am grateful that I have a family who was able to keep a roof over my head this month, but I am lucky in that regard- were I forced to rely only upon social services, my wife and I (and our cats) would be sleeping in my lab today, all of our possessions tossed to the street during the eviction. The point is that government is not some ephemeral thing that you can simply keep cutting and cutting and cutting- government performs important jobs in our society, and people rely on the government's continued performance of those jobs. Cuts have consequences, and it's time our politicians woke up and saw that.


k said...

Interesting commentary. At one time -- don't know if it is still the case, single folks after waiting many years and jumping through many hoops could get SSI payments, at least that is the acronym I recall.

Some may really need it, and others could get a job but chose not to get a regular job and tough it out on SSI.

It used to be that most/many folks who lived in the suburbs and had regular type jobs had no concept of the difficulty of others lives, who did not enjoy stable jobs, or being able to bounce right back into a job, having someone to help if you are working on a paper, need help in a pinch as when you don't have money for food or rent or electricity

Even working folks who get paid may run out of money after paying this or that bill and not have money for food.

Food Not Bombs is a good organization that helps folks out who need a bit, and there are many church organizations that feed people week in and week out, unsung heroes.

I have not ever had to jump through the hoops you are jumping through, but I have had some different rough times, and there was no help for a working person who pays their bills (but doesnt ask family for help), yet does not make enough to take care of the basic NEEDS to keep going. We are not talking about WANTS here.

LINK ON Riding in Riverside?


Craigslist has an underutilized discussion forum and loggin in from the IE this is the link to the CL PUBLIC TRANSIT discussion forum

Although it is listed like it is an IE discussion forum, there is only one Craigslist discussion forum worldwide (or at least that used to be the case, not sure about the sites in other languages)

Glancing over the the PUBLIC TRANSIT df acronyms it seems like many of the threads are San Francisco Bay Area with a smattering of threads from many other places including a couple of foriegn ones incuding places like BOSTON, Seattle-Tacoma, LA, San Diego, Detroit Metro, Columbus, Green Bay, Kansas City MO, Sarasota-Bradenton, Austin, Tampa Bay Area, Minneapolis-St Paul, New York City, Portland OR, Little Rock, Jacksonville, Boston, ADELAIDE, Northwest OK, Raliegh/Durham/CH, Springfield MO, Washington DC,Albuquerque, BEIJING (China expands high speed rail . . . ), Tallahassee, Skagit/Island/SJI, Ashville, . . .

This LAX thread talks about taking the train from Sac Town to Bakersfield . . .

That said, if you would list Craigslist PUBLIC TRANSIT discussion forum on your website as a place for folks to discuss this or that transit issue, it might help stimulate discussion of some of these issues on a broader scale.

Craigslist also has other discussion forums of interest

Bicycling (quite popular)

Automotive (quite popular but not as much as bicycling) This used to be mainly about fixing cars.

Frugal Living folks discuss many topics inc;uding public transit issues


Outdoors forum myriad topics including walking on foot, how many miles in one day, hiking,

Travel forum discusses myriad topics including public transit

Ruthie said...

Thank you so much for your insightful and honest words. People get so caught up in trying to be correct about reproductive freedom that they refuse to acknowledge reproductive responsibility. I, if not our societal institutions, am so grateful that you and your wife have made responsible and proactive decisions.

Here in Oregon, we have universal health coverage on paper, but not the funding to carry it out. Therefore, only children and pregnant women can get on the Oregon Health Plan. Parents of these children can't be covered. It makes little to no sense because if the parent gets sick and can't see a doctor, so many things could happen that are detrimental to that child that it hardly matters that the child has their own coverage. My brother is childless in his twenties and recently developed Type I Diabetes. Every month he has to come up with hundreds of dollars to buy diabetes testing supplies out of his student loans.

It's difficult to make sense of these policies -- our lawmakers are quick to rule in favor of the fetus, but once it's born and grows up, they blatantly don't care.

Eric said...

These are the problems that arise when a population becomes dependent on government handouts. The people who really need the TEMPORARY assistance are shoved aside because the "lifers" are using the limited resources available.