Archive for December, 2009

Scene from the current depression: food line in Bushwick, Brooklyn sometime before 7 a.m. on New Year’s Eve day


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I emailed in my request for a hearing about my food stamps yesterday, the deadline for said request. A friend who worked for the city for over 30 years told me he thinks things just got crossed in the mail and it will all werk itself out. I am not as easily  convinced. I at least want to preserve the evidence for the record. If there’s one thing I learned in law school, it is to preserve evidence so there is always a record upon appeal.

This morning I tried to get a toothbrush and toothpaste with my EBT cash (I have $4 and change) and could not.  I don’t understand this nebulous realm of EBT where I can purchase $200 worth of food per month, but cannot afford to wipe my ass or brush my teeth because I cannot buy toilet paper or toothpaste with EBT. Go figure.

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Citylimits.org reports:

In October, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum released a new report which shows that the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) is frequently in error when it takes actions such as denying applications for public benefits or sanctioning low-income clients. The report charges that HRA may be too aggressive in taking such actions, at a great cost to the city.

In New York State, welfare recipients have the right to challenge the termination or denial of public benefits in a court proceeding, or ‘fair hearing’–the cost of which is shared by the state and local district. Since 2000, HRA has been charged $58.6 million for these hearings, yet its actions have rarely been affirmed by judges.

Public Advocate Gotbaum said: “If HRA would address the many barries between eligible low-income New Yorkers and the public benefits they deserve, a significant number of these hearings could be avoided.”

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My therapist was pretty worried about me by the time I saw her. I mean, I’m usually pretty casual and cool, but I was so keyed up and agitated and the situation I’m in has hit all my triggers. I’m not generally claustrophobic, but being daily in an overcrowded classroom with people milling around behind me is a but frightening and the din of others constantly coming in and out of the door (once again, behind me) is very distracting. Also, my financial situation has my stress and anxiety levels through the roof. Even my anti-anxiety meds aren’t helping much at this point—thank goodness the anti-psychotics still are!

I signed in, gave Mr. Anderson my documentation for the past two days, the note from my consultant friend form Monday and the letter from my psychotherapist from Tuesday. He said I had an appointment the next day with the Outprogram Counselor to talk about my WEP assignment.

I cleared my desk and took the original copy of my therapist’s letter and set out to see the director of the program. I’ve seen him around, but don’t know his name or what the fuck he does all day. I went in an introduced myself, he didn’t say his name, so I still don’t know. I said I hoped he could help me with accommodation because both I and my therapist are worried about my mental health being in this place on a daily basis.

He leaned back in his chair, like men in power do, and silently read the letter. He looked up and said “the only thing is, I don’t think it will fly with them” I said “you mean HRA?” “Yeah” I asked what I could do and he told me to go see an HRA rep (which I didn’t even know we had on site) and ask about WeCare.

I went over to the office where the HRA reps were, signed my name to the list of people waiting for a conference. I sat in the “waiting room” for over an hour talking with and listening to other participants’ frustrations and horror stories until my name was called.

My HRA worker, Ms. Bryan, said I had two options, go back with the letter to my original case worker who opened my case (a slow-moving church lady with god loving/god-fearing “stuff” decorating her entire cubicle) or go to the WeCare program where they will evaluate my mental health and see whether I need to stay in the program or if I might be exempt.

She generated an appointment for WeCare – it’s at 8 a.m. New Year’s Eve day. She handed me the papers and I asked what I do until then. She said “You‘re off the roster. You don’t have to come in until you are evaluated.” I flew outta that building and called my therapist and my shrink, who needs to submit additional documentation including something about all my medications and why I take it. And thenI came home and got some rest.

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The NYC welfare system has got the better of me this morning. I am so defeated, depressed and just plain annoyed. I really don’t have the energy left at this point to fight for all the things need. Why is to such a struggle to navigate a system designed to assist? Public ASSISTance, right?

I’m just trying to survive – it’s the best I can do right now.

I need to see my shrink and psychologist today, so am not going into werk. I emailed Mr. Anderson with a heads up and the promsise I will bring medical documentation tomrrorw or Thursday, depneding on my mental health situation. Will get a letter form the docs that I hm having a mental health crisis, which I am. My Bipolar crap and anxiety is kicking in–nothing uber serious, just feeling overwhelmed and stressed from the Food Stamp fiasco (that I still don’t have an answer about) to suffocating in an over-crowded classroom. Yesterday a participant blew up and out–he was screaming at Mr. Anderson and his assistant, raising his fists and going off in a very scary manner. One guy in the class said he ducked for cover “because I thought he was going to pull [a gun]…”

Welcome to my life.

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I swung back by my apartment to change into civilian clothing before I go on yet another Independent Job Search in the Community today. Destination: my gay boyfriend, his independent consulting company and a venture capital firm that has a few projects for which they might need a writer/blogger .

So, I’m comfy in my boots and jeans on the bus headed to the Upper East Side to meet said boyfriend/consultant and I open a piece of mail from the Fort Greene food Stamp Center dated December 17th.  Here’s the salient part of the document:



This is to tell you that your food stamps under your current case will be DISCONTINUED beginning December 17, 2009.

I called the Fort Greene FS office, which is NOT where I filed for food stamps. That was the Hoyt Street/Boro Hall FS office also where I filed for Temporary cash Assistance. And my case—for any of this—has not run my 45-day waiting period. SO my food stamp case SHOULD NOT be closed until my case is decided.

I’ve called all kinds of numbers, ones the document has on it (always busy or disconnected) and some I found on my own. I finally reached someone at Fort Greene. She clearly didn’t know what she was talking about, said my food stamps are cut off, but when I asked if I am going to starve for x-mas, she said,  oh, your case is open and in the hands of the other office, which she doesn’t have the phone number for. I do and the voice mail box is full

I’m now trying to get an answer on whether NYC HRA is a true Scrooge and will deny me food for the holidays or there is *just* a glitch in the system that is highly alarming me. In any case I am headed soon to Trader Joe’s to spend what seems like a balance on my EBT card. However, I worry about the warning on document I received that overpayment will have to be paid back or no more food stamps for me. Obviously I don’t have money (well for anything), but especially to pay back a closed food stamp case if I am getting food stamps and attending BTW to get temporary cash assistance for rent and utility bills!

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Today I returned to BTW with a letter from my former employer stating that he referred me to some potential jobs and also a note (on letterhead) from my dentist that I was there at the appointed time. I did an independent job search (IJS) and applied to a few non-profits I found pretty damn decent gigs for on idealist.org. When it was my turn to see my case manager, Mr. Anderson signed off on my activity sheet IJSC – independent job search in the community.

Community job searches are great, because while I can stop for coffee and such, I can also network, which I think is a huge part of finding a real job. I met with a colleague who has a consulting firm and we talked about various people and available jobs in the arts community, etc. I came away with some good ideas and new contacts. This is (part of) what’s missing from CEC’s Back to Work program:  any semblance of human contact and networking opps—at every level.  For me as a writer it’s imperative, but also as anything in the communications field. Nothing can really beat face time, for me or for anyone else in the BTW program!

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