Friday, April 1, 2011

Handouts and Humiliation

I will preface this post by saying it is dripping with emotion. There are no facts. Nothing can be proven or disproven. I am simply writing from the heart and I really hope my readers will withhold any judgemental comments, seeing as this is an incredibly sensitive topic for many.

The four of us rode into Trenton on Monday morning and arrived promptly at 8:30 on the doorstep of the social services building. While riding through the parking lot trying to find a spot, I couldn't help but notice that every car in one particular row had a club on its steering wheel. Every single car. Now, I realize that Trenton isn't exactly the safest city in America but come on. I was going to ask Rob if we should have a club for our car but then I remembered our poor 2001 Town & Country van wasn't exactly in its prime. Its hay day had long since passed. With paint chipping off, large gashes in the side, and a piece of the bumper barely hanging on, I figured carjackers would pass on our pretty kitty.

Why were we in Trenton that morning? Well, since Rob had lost his job and I hadn't worked in 3 years (for pay anyway), we were told we might qualify for government assistance. We had an appointment with a social worker that morning and we were to bring 1,687 pieces of documentation with us to prove everything under the sun. Oh, and we had to bring the kids. Wonderful. An almost three-year-old and an eight-month-old cooped up in a small room for God knows how long while their parents fill out paperwork. We were certainly looking forward to a fun-filled Monday morning!

We plopped the kids in the double stroller along with a bag of toys for their entertainment and strolled in. Although we supposedly had the first appointment, there must have been 40 people in the waiting room. We had to go through security, get in line, and then wait for our number to be called. From the moment we walked through the door, I felt eyes upon us. It seemed most people were checking out our stroller. It's an Eddie Bauer double stroller, probably about $250, but we got it for free from a generous friend who no longer needed it. It's in excellent shape and the kids love it so we take it wherever we go. Why do we qualify for assistance when we show up with this expensive stroller, right? One woman even commented, "I see you've got your Cadillac with you." Ugh. To explain or not to explain???

The wait was long. We took a spot in the back of the room and let our kids open the toy bag and play for a bit. Oops, wrong move. Why do we qualify for assistance when we have an entire bag of toys for our kids to play with? More stares. Double ugh. I brought the toys so that our kids wouldn't act out and disrupt anyone else who was there. No other kids had toys though. Talk about feeling very out of place. We continued to wait. We were one of the few families in our section of the room who spoke English. We were in the minority as far as race goes as well.

Our number was called on the loudspeaker so we gathered all of our belongings together and followed the lady down several hallways. She took us into a room the size of a small cubical that had a desk, two chairs, a bench, and a window. The darn stroller took up 2/3 of the room! The lady asked to see our paperwork and it turned out that we were missing a few items, even though we'd brought an entire folder of documents. Rob was born in Italy (to military parents) and his birth certificate should have a stamp signifying that he's an American citizen. Well, he's had that birth certificate for 31 years and has never had a problem with it. Now, all of a sudden, it's invalid. What?? Geez. He was told he needs to "fix" his birth certificate to prevent any future issues. Ok...triple ugh.

We were then asked what grade we had completed in school. Rob has a Bachelor's and I have a Master's. We felt humiliated. We *shouldn't* be in this situation with college degrees, right? Quadruple ugh. Unemployment can happen to anyone.; no one is exempt. Rob's company is closing so he's out of a job. I decided to take some time off from teaching to stay home and raise my children. We certainly didn't anticipate we'd both be unemployed at the same time. And we could have never anticipated the current state of the economy.

We discovered that we qualify for food stamps but not until Rob can prove he is an American citizen. Oh, and we need to prove that we have lived in our house for at least five years. And the loan statements that we brought weren't proof enough. But at some point, we will be mailed a food stamps debit card. Please don't get me wrong- I am incredibly grateful for that- it's just such a complicated process. I know that while we were employed, both Rob and I paid into these government assistance funds so we'd be able to use them if need be. But I'm frustrated that we actually need to use them. And I'm even more frustrated that because the system is so widely abused, it's become such a hassle for those who truly need it.

We learned that our kids' medical bills will be covered but that Rob and I might have to go without health insurance for a while. A little scary, but I'm happy that at least the kids will still be able to see the doctor.

Nearly three hours later, we were able to go home. The kids were tired and hungry but thankfully, they behaved like troopers. They have no idea where we were or why we were there. They have no idea Daddy doesn't have a job or that there is no more money coming in. They have no idea the amount of stress we have been under for the past 6 weeks.They have no idea how long Rob spends job searching or how many companies he's applied to. They have no idea that we pray like crazy every night for our situation to improve. We feel like we have failed our kids, even though circumstances beyond our control have created our situation. But we trudge on. I know one day we'll be able to look back on this as a slight bump in the road. Yet, when you've fallen in a hole and you aren't able to see the way out, you feel like you will be stuck down there forever.


  1. omg the last part made me cry... u 2 will never fail ur children no matter what u r awsum parents loving n caring n they will be thankful for all the hard work u guys have done to make sure they have what they need maybe not what they want but what they need. and the place shouldnt have given u such a hard time but ur right its because of the people that abuse it that made it that way for the people who need it. and i didnt know rob was born in italy hes my cousin n i NEVER knew that!! but im sure one of u will find a job soon keep ur chins up, keep praying n ull find sumthing!! good luck to u both!!! i love you guys!!!

  2. Fighting back tears reading this. No one is judging you, and never feel like you are failing your children! We will continue to pray that your situation improves, and are here for you whenever you need us. **hugs**

  3. I haven't had health insurance since I moved to NC except for medicaid the 2 times I was pregnant. We at 1 point in time qualified for food stamps which was a blessing but now that we have 2 kids together we DON'T qualify. Derrick alone "makes" too much money even though we struggle monthly to pay our bills buy diapers and food. Now that I have a job I still don't get health insurance and we still struggle to pay all our monthly bills. I understand the frustration of needing the assistance but it's also a blessing every little bit helps. Have you checked into WIC? Warren and Colt both get it monthly I lost mine once I stopped breast feeding but it covers a lot of food throughout the month and helps us out. I hope Rob finds work soon.