friend of mine-we'll call her "Sue"-called
me up and asked a favor a short time ago. She needed someone to take
her to Buffalo to apply for food stamps and public assistance. Suffice
it to say that while so many people make a career out of welfare, this
young lady is truly in need, hoping to get some help to carry herself,
her disabled husband, and her four children through until she can find
picked Sue and one of her kids up on a Monday morning, bright and early.
We figured if we could get an early enough start, we could beat the
crowd to the Rath Building, and maybe get out of there before Christmas.
We arrived at 8am just as they were opening the doors, and there were
already about ten people ahead of us. We went to the information desk,
and the lady behind the counter eating breakfast grudgingly put down
her Egg McMuffin to write down Sue's name, and told her to wait to be
called. Apparently this was what they did with everyone. After about
forty-five minutes, not a single person had been called.
this time, most of the social workers were walking around, chatting,
and getting coffee. Finally, at ten to nine, they started calling names.
Each person was directed to another booth, or another floor, where many
were again told to leave their names and wait. When Sue was called,
the lady behind the counter, now eating a sandwich, gave Sue about fifteen
pages of paperwork to fill out, and a list of things that she needed
before they could process her case. She was then directed to a food
stamp worker who took some more information from her, and gave her an
additional list of things she needed to bring with her.
was then told to go home, fill out all the paperwork, gather the required
documentation, and return the next day to be interviewed. She informed
them that she had everything she needed with her (Sue smartly called
the office to see what she would need to bring before coming up.), and
asked if she could fill out the paperwork there and speak to someone
that day. She was told that it would take her the better part of a day
to fill out all the necessary forms. At that point, she produced the
completed forms she had been given initially, which she had finished
while she was waiting to be called. The social worker huffed and puffed
and said there was no way she could have done it all that fast, then
snatched the forms from Sue's hands and flipped through them, assumably
trying to find the ones Sue had missed, or done wrong, or whatever.
Sue was told to go back to the information desk and stand in line again.
She got to the counter about eleven-thirty where the lady, who was now
eating a bag of chips, rudely said that we would have to wait to be
called again, and to sit down. At about one-fifteen, Sue finally was
called back to the window, where she had to talk to another woman, because
the original girl was going to lunch with about fifteen people still
in her line. The second, slightly nicer woman told Sue that she would
have to come back at eight the next morning for some sort of orientation
following morning we were back in line, watching another McMuffin devoured.
Again to the chairs to wait, and again, an hour later, Sue was being
called, this time to go into a side room for some sort of orientation.
I was told it was just a bunch of propaganda about how Sue, and all
the others in the room, were second class citizens, and needed to get
a life, followed by a description of all of the other government freebies
she could apply for.
the brainwashing session, she was back to the chairs for another hour
to be called for a "personal employment assessment interview."
She was taken into a room with a bunch of people at desks, drinking
coffee and eating snacks, and enjoying personal conversations on their
government-funded phones. She said that twice during her assessment
she was interrupted by her interviewer taking personal calls about school
pickups and after-school activities. I was told that at any given time,
only about a quarter of the people doing the assessments actually had
people at their desks.
interview complete, Sue had to bounce around to a couple of different
windows to repeatedly give the same information to several different
people for different aspects of the assistance programs, and then she
was told that she had to come back the next day for another interview,
and to have her fingerprints and photograph taken. I hadn't realized
that being broke was a crime.
following day I wasn't able to take Sue up to the welfare office until
around three p.m., which, apparently, wasn't a bad thing. The most amazing
thing happened when we arrived there. I guess there is a rule that says
they have to process everyone who arrives before three-thirty within
the same day, and these social workers don't like to stay late. So from
the time we walked in the door, we never sat down. We were rushed from
window to window to an upstairs office, to an interviewer who rushed
through a few quick questions. All of the surrounding desks were full
as well. Forty-five minutes after we arrived, we were back out the door,
sat through three days of watching my friend degraded and unnecessarily
lectured about what a deadbeat she is (yes, that word was actually used
twice), because she has had some bad luck recently and swallowed enough
of her pride to ask for help. I was disgusted by the treatment that
she got. I figured it was par for the course, and of course these people
must be better than my friend, because they had jobs, and would never
need to get help from the system.
was until three days ago, when I was standing in line at the grocery
store behind a woman who worked at Social Services, and had made some
degrading comments to my friend about how she needed to find a job and
learn to support herself. She had a cart full of steaks and chips and
snacks and Pepsi. I overheard her telling the clerk that she was getting
ready to tailgate with her husband at the Bills game. How amazed was
I when it came time for her to pay, and she pulled out a welfare Benefit
Card and paid for her groceries with food stamps. My friend Sue has
to go back in a couple of weeks for some final certification before
she can get her benefits. I really hope this worker is there that day.
I have some supportive words for her.
Chance is a disgruntled citizen from Western New York, North Carolina,
Colorado, Montana, Alaska, Venezuela, and the Seychelles. He has a BS
in Computer Engineering and a BA in Political Science from East Carolina
University. He is retired, and spends most of his time writing about
anything that pisses him off. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.