I applied for Food Stamps last week. My housemate and I printed off the 14 page form, filled it out, and drove to the DCFS office to turn it in. Not only is this service only open during office hours, but it has very limited public transportation access.
Luckily, the two of us have a week day off since we work on the weekend. Unfortunately, I’m willing to bet that many of the people who need this service don’t have that kind of flexibility.
We waited in line for over an hour. I noticed that Elizabeth and I were the only white people in the building, including the staff. I was standing in front of a family with young children. Arms full of well-loved dolls, these girls looked bored and tired. I offered the mother my spot in line, but she declined it with a serious look in her eyes.
“I don’t need to get through this line fast; I need to get my food back fast.” They had cut off her benefits in mid-July and she hadn’t been able to pay the bills since then.
She wouldn’t take my spot in line.
I couldn’t stop thinking, “Man, this system sucks.”
So finally, I got through the line. I expected to hear that my EBT card would be on its way, but instead, I was handed a paper with instructions for receiving a pre-scheduled phone interview.
That’s right: not only do you need access to a car and self-chosen free time during work hours, you also need a phone AND the freedom to drop everything at a random time on a random day of the state’s choosing.
I was angry. I do have this freedom; I have a great job with flexible hours. But there’s my privilege showing, even when I was doing something distinctly UN-privileged.
Fast forward to this morning: although I don’t work until 10 am on Thursdays (the only day I don’t have to wake up before 5:15), I grabbed an earlier MARTA so that I could be downtown by my 9:30 interview slot.
I forgot my keys, so I ended up sitting on the floor outside our office wa
iting for the call.
9:32. 9:35. 9:44. 9:53.
Ok, this isn’t happening I guess.
Finally my coworkers arrived and let me into the office. I hesitantly started work. The clock approached 10:30, and our office approached our staff meeting. I searched the interview summons for a phone number or email that I could contact to let “them” know that “they” hadn’t called. Nothing of the sort. The only section they had was the one that you fill out if YOU missed the interview, which promised to cancel your application if you didn’t send that in promptly.
(Did I mention how dehumanizing this whole process felt??)
I have the freedom of knowing that I won’t starve, because I have literally dozens of safety nets in my family, my friends, my service program, my track club, my coaches, my work, and even the color of my skin.
Anyway, guess what time they finally called: 1:15. Almost 4 hours after I had expected the call!
And the worst part? They didn’t apologize, or even ask if the new time would work for me. They immediately started grilling me with questions that I’d already answered on the paper form, then demanded that I provide them with a copy of my birth certificate, driver’s license, AND social security card.
So now we need a fax machine or a scanner, too.
I am frustrated because of the inconvenience of the process.
I am ANGRY because of the injustice of the way that hungry, hardworking people are herded through the slow, impersonal process of applying for public assistance. I can’t even imagine if, after everything I’ve gone through already, they also forced me to pee in a cup in front of a guard to prove my sobriety.
PS: I love Atlanta, and my new adult life. I’m going to write a happier post eventually, but I just wanted to share this experience tonight because it was jarring for me. ❤