Navigating the world of food stamps

Of the many things I’ve experienced since joining ESC, I chose to write about food stamps for my first post.

Being in the SNAP program has already taught me a lot about what our fellow citizens have to endure on a daily basis.  I admit that I had a few misconceptions about the topic before coming here, namely that it wasn’t too difficult to enroll in the program.  I’ve already learned that people in the SNAP program definitely earn those benefits and then some, just from going through the enrollment process, let alone their struggles that have led them here.

My experience consisted of going to the Human Services office on a Monday morning and being shuffled into a line of confusion, then a second line.  We were told to take a number and fill out an application; however, our numbers were often called before we could finish our applications and I needed to grab another number and just hope that I would finish the application in time for the next one.  After the second round of waiting and dealing with unfriendly employees who seemed more unhappy than those of us waiting in line, I was able to meet with a case worker who was sweet and very helpful.  I had heard that each person applying would have an entirely different experience, and it was very much true.  My case worker informed me that I would need to attend an employment-readiness class in order to keep my benefits, because she believed I required more documentation than I had to prove my current employment; however, my community members did not have this obstacle.

I informed her I was working full-time; somehow, things seemed to settle down for a month without any need to attend a class.  Then, last week I received a letter informing me I had been assigned to attend a 3 hour long job-readiness class; it implied that not doing so would put me at risk for losing my benefits.  I then proceeded to call them and attempt to inform them of my employment; however, I was put on hold for an extended amount of time.

My work-site is flexible with time, so this was not an issue, but I did have deadlines that I needed to take care of before the next day, so this was a very frustrating experience for me.  I found it difficult to do any work with their “hold music” blaring in the background; their hold music consists of miniature ads for themselves, facts about Human Services, even factoids about laws that had changed back in 2009 [?] read in a displeasing nasal pre-recorded voice.  I tried to email them or leave a voicemail, but their line did not allow for any voicemails, and after a thorough search of the Human Services website, I could not find an email address for the specific purpose of which I was calling.  I found that they are very difficult to contact, inaccessible to those who need their help the most.  I was finally able to get through the Human Services phone line, only to be informed that I had to email Employment First [the job readiness class] directly. This conflicted directly with the letter I received which stated “if you miss your appointment, please call [main Human Services number]”.

I really feel for those who are enrolled in the program because they do not have other options at this point; I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to deal with this sort of frustration if I had severely limited, or no other, ways of purchasing food as a result of my food stamps being in limbo.  I wish that there was something I could do to make things better, because there should be a better way to handle this system, to be more accessible to those who need care.  For now, I suppose it’s enough that I’ve been more enlightened on this topic than ever before, and have started to feel more of the empathy I have been trying to seek as part of joining ESC; both things that will help me on my path this year and beyond.

–Alaska

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