Monday, November 05, 2012

We've Been Food Stamped

Food stamps have always been something of a mystery for me. I saw Food Stamped in college a couple of times and politics seems to keep circling around the matter of "free handouts," but food stamps were never a real thing until this year.

Since NEWARK ACTS pays us a small monthly stipend, we were encouraged to apply for food stamps, and the seven week process was tedious and frustrating. Here's what happened.

Day #1: We applied for food stamps online. Easy. Wait for a letter in the mail for our appointment time.

Day #2: A month later we hadn't heard anything so I went to the welfare building as a "walk-in." I was initially directed to the 10th floor, then to the 1st floor, then to the 2nd floor. The lady at the desk wrote my phone number on a sticky note and said they'd call me later.

Day #3: Later that week we got a letter in the mail with our scheduled appointment.

Day #4: Erin and I sign in and wait for our meeting. We get there at 9 a.m., and wait until noon. Our interview takes 45 minutes. We're out of there four hours later. Wait a couple of weeks for our case to be processed.

Day #5: Two weeks later a letter arrives in the mail. We can pick up our card.

Day #6: Go back to the welfare building. Wait on the 1st floor; get redirected to the 8th floor; wait in line; get my name called; sign my new card; leave. HOORAY  Seven weeks later we have food stamps, y'all  I call the 1-800 number to check the balance and . . . $16 a month. My heart sunk.

It's a wonder that anyone ever gets government aid. All the hoops and waiting and forms and confusion. For me it was easy to take a day or three off from work to deal with the process, but I assume most people can't do that. Mrs. Toews and I didn't get much money, but whatever. We have plenty to live off of. 

The big thing is that my eyes were opened to what millions of people go through because they have no other choice. I saw young mothers, elderly folks, and everyone in between hoping they get some help feeding their families. We're all hungry, waiting on the cold blue plastic chairs in the dirty room with harsh lights and scratched tiled floors, ignoring the crying babies and loud music from our neighbor's iPod headphones, wishing we were somewhere else.

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