Saturday, April 9, 2016

Immigrants Stole My Welfare, Part 1

I was raised in a Republican family, with Republican family values.  My dad was a blue collar worker who was raised with old world German traditions.  There's very little room for play, you worked hard and work is its own reward. He worked as a supervisor at the B & W plant in Barberton, OH.  B & W and PPG were the two largest employers in our town. Almost everyone was employed at one or the other. The biggest lesson I learned growing up was that life was not fair, no matter how hard you worked, or how smart you were.  I had three younger brothers, and despite working hard, I would never measure up to their penis.  Family values meant the man was God in his own castle and everyone else was to follow his lead. That wasn't going to work for me; I wanted more for myself.  In the end, I still wound up getting married at age eighteen to someone my family considered acceptable.  My dad and Ron got along well.  They got along so well, that my dad blamed me for leaving the marriage.  He all but disowned me when I applied to welfare.  I asked for his help, but he left me to sink.  In his mind, he thought if he made life hard enough for me, I wouldn’t leave this deserving man.  When I left Ron, it brought out all of the resentment of his own two failed marriages.  He and Ron joined forces to make life as difficult as they could for me, in the hopes that I would see my failure and return to be the dutiful wife.  Intentionally making life harder for someone never brings about the results the oppressor is hoping to achieve.  It is the unspoken mantra of the Republican party base though.  If you make life hard enough for someone, they will tow the line. Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without suffering.  

I worked managing a beer and wine store.  I had worked my way up from being a cashier and I lost that job due to my husband. It was ironic since I was the one who got my husband his job. The owner said he couldn't keep the both of us because Ron was whining to the customers and the vendors about his relationship with me. It was creating a problem as the owner was receiving calls complaining that they didn’t want to hear about Ron's problems.  Instead of addressing this with Ron, he fired me. His logic was that at least if we ended the marriage, Ron would have a job to pay child support.  He would give me a good reference, but I had to go. He also though if I was dependent upon Ron, I might work harder to make the marriage work.  He didn't say that, but in his reasoning for firing me, he offered to counsel me on being married. I declined his offer.  Shortly before I was fired, one of my customers gave me her number.  She thought she had a job that would be perfect for me.  It was with a chain in a city just south of where I lived. They needed a personal shopper for their upscale clientele. Women were becoming more than a supportive function in the workplace, they were rising among the ranks into very busy positions.  They didn't have the time nor inclination to shop for themselves. The position required a month long training session in Connecticut, and four trips to Paris each year. I was in heaven. I called her as soon as I was dismissed. 

I interviewed with the owner of the store, and was offered a position.  The training session was scheduled within the next six weeks and the plane ticket and reservations were made. Unfortunately during this time, my marriage became unbearable. I frequently pretended to be sick in order to avoid having to do anything with him. More often than not, it wasn't a pretense. I was lying down in the bedroom when he walked in. He pointed his finger angrily in my face. He wasn't yelling. If he had yelled, I wouldn't have been afraid. No, he pointed his finger in my face and said very quietly and with a suspenseful resolution "I should fucking kill you.  I should blow your fucking head off." I don't remember what he said next, but of all the times he threatened to kill me I knew this time he was serious. Thank God we didn't have a gun in the house or this might have had a very different ending. I made sure not to create any further friction that evening. I made arrangements to leave him in the next couple of days. 

While I was in the Battered Women's Shelter, I followed up with my friend about the job. I needed to know the details of my start date so I could make arrangements to care for my children. The job offer had been rescinded. She had received a call from my husband, wanting to know where I was. Of course she didn't know, but he went so far as to threaten her if I had any further contact with her. That was enough for her to shy away from including me in this amazing life. She didn't want to deal with the drama.  Suddenly, I had no home and no employment future. Part of leaving my husband was the confidence I could earn a living and provide for my children. Because of him, that was gone. Still, I knew a lot of people in the beer and wine industry, I was certain I could find employment somewhere in there, possibly with a distributor. After just a couple of calls, I knew this wasn't going to be an option either. He had poisoned or threatened any contacts I had. Since we were both in the same industry, we knew the same people. He told anyone who would listen that I was mentally unstable and he was trying to get me committed when I left. He also told them I had an affair with one of the distributors, a married man with a set of triplets.  He expanded upon this falsehood to say I had become pregnant by this man and had an abortion without his consent or knowledge. He played the victim well, telling everyone he wanted me back and would forgive me. They only had to tell him when and if they heard from me. Every door I knocked upon, he had knocked on before me. If the other person expressed any allegiance toward me, gave any indication they would not cooperate with his pleas to let him know if they heard from me, he suddenly turned from victim to someone who threatened those who dared sympathize with me. He alienated me from not only potential employment, but allies as well. This tried and true Republican girl had to do what no respectable Republican would lower herself to do; I had to apply for welfare.  

I'm not even sure if it was my idea. I don't think that would have been my first thought, but as door after door was closed to me, my options were running out. I thought what all good Republicans thought; that people on welfare were black and lazy. That certainly did not apply to me. There was a social worker at the shelter who pulled me aside, inquiring about my plans moving forward. I told her what my husband had done. She let me know that was very common with abusers.  They systematically blocked any form of support so that women had no choice but to return to them. That didn't make a lot of sense to me. As hopeless as my situation was, his actions only made me more determined to leave. Why would I return to someone treating me like this? I never thought to ask myself why I would stay with someone who treated me like that. Good Republican girls stand by their man and their marriage. I had family values. As I spoke with the social worker further, it became increasingly clear it was the only door he couldn't close. If that was the only way I could get my girls safe, then welfare was the way I was going to go.   

Applying to welfare was difficult because I needed documents I didn't have. The social worker helped me to get what I didn't have, and the process began. She also helped me to apply to Stark Metropolitan Housing, so I could have a place to live. That is one program which is gone.  It used to be if you were in the Battered Women's Shelter, you were expedited to the top of the list. You bypassed others who may have been waiting months. As the waiting time grew, homeless people no longer were able to bypass others who had been waiting. I was lucky to be homeless at the right time.  As I am finding out now, securing housing is a monumental task. I can't say for sure, but if I had not been able to secure housing, utilities and food for myself and the girls, I might have gone back to him. I filled out the necessary paperwork and I would soon receive my first welfare check. I was able to get a checking account in order to deposit the monthly stipend. Other women in the shelter were not able to get a checking account so they relied on check cashing places to access their funds, which they then took out money orders to pay rent and utilities. They would often lose 5% or more of their checks paying for this service. When every dollar counts, 5% is a lot to pay. As I was about to learn, being poor isn't cheap.  There are any number of fees and surcharges you have to pay for no other reason than you are poor. 

During the first couple of weeks in the shelter, I had access to a car.  We were making car payments to my brother for a car he had purchased, but couldn't afford. I soon found out my husband told my brother to report it as stolen. I don't know if my brother did, but I made sure to get the car back to him immediately. From that moment on, I no longer had transportation in order to seek employment. I was still determined that welfare be a temporary condition. I may have been in denial, but I wasn't one of THEM. I was the reason welfare was part of our system, and I wasn't going to raise my children on it. In the space of a few days, I had become homeless, lost a job, lost my transportation and had all avenues of employment cut off from me. We were living in a shelter and the first few days we were in the dorm section with other families. My daughter and I shared one bed, while the eldest daughter had a bed next to us. I was terrified. I can honestly say I can't remember a time since when I was that frightened. By the end of the first week, we had our own room, but living in a shelter wasn't easy. 

I had to take the bus everywhere I went, with two small children in tow. There were no babysitting services in the shelter, and other residents could not watch each other's children. That meant searching for a job was impossible. The social worker was trying to impress upon me the last thing I needed right now was a job. My first priority was to my daughters, and in stabilizing their life. I didn't see how I could do that without being able to provide for them, but the rules of the shelter were not supportive of seeking employment. Besides, all the things I needed to do in order to stabilize my life, the rules I had to follow to stay in the shelter, and the paperwork I had to return to social services was taking up all of my time. The little time I had during business hours was taken up by the mandatory counseling I had to attend in the shelter, and I enrolled my children to receive counseling services as well. We were all assigned chores which had to be done by the close of each day. I didn't object to the chores, but you had to have your children at your side and well behaved while you did them. I had no time to search for work. I vowed to myself I would get a job just as soon as I was out of the shelter. 

I was approved for emergency food stamps and that was when food stamps were actually printed and stamped paper issued by the government which were distributed in packs of $1, $5, $10, $25, $50 and $100 booklets. The cashier removed the number of food stamps for the purchase. The only ones allowed to be loose were the $1 values. They allowed those loose so that cashiers could give them as change, but if the remaining change was under a dollar, they gave you cash. Each month, your food stamps were distributed during certain days depending on your last name. You could not go get your food stamps before the date opening on your last name.  You could go on dates after, but not before. The site was only opened a limited number of days during the first two weeks of the month, and only open during designated hours the last two weeks of the month. You never wanted to go the first hours your day was available, because the line would often ring out of the building and down the block. If you could hold out until the next day, you wouldn't have to wait so long. 

I took the bus to the food stamp distribution site and found my place in line. I felt as if they were all staring at me. I was nicely dressed, as were my children. My hair and makeup were neat and pretty. This was in stark contrast to the people waiting in line with me. I looked at each one in judgment. I saw women who were shabbily dressed, and poorly kept. They had blank looks on their faces as if they were resigned to a fate in hell. That's what it felt like to me; like I had suddenly entered the gates of an alternate dimension in which my hell was to be in the welfare line. There were old people in the line and I felt sympathy for them, but even so some of them smelled. I didn't care how poor you were, you didn't have to smell. My nose was upturned in more ways than one and I had a lot to learn about why poor people smell. I suppose what surprised me the most was the mix of people I saw in line; not all of them were black. As I looked around the room, I noticed only a third of the people waiting were black. The rest of them were white, like me. 

For so many people congregating in such a small room, there was very little conversation. There were some people there who had come in with others and they conversed. There were some in line who recognized others who picked up their food stamps on the same day and they caught up with one another. The rest of us stood in the line of shame, trying hard not to admit we were waiting in line for food. I had never seem so much shame in one room in my entire life. This was not what I expected. I expected some type of a party, with low lifes picking up their handouts. I looked around the room with trepidation.  If truth be told, I was scared out of my mind to be in the same room with low lifes. It was almost as if I expected to catch the disease of poverty simply by being in the same room. I wasn't like them. I would never be like them.  I kept my head low, my nose up and my thoughts to myself as I approached the window. I handed the lady my identification and she counted back the number of food stamps I had been awarded. In between each stack of booklets was a pink card stock paper separating the booklets. The cashier had them piled neatly up off to one side. I asked her if we could have some of them. I thought there might be something we could make of them to play some type of a game. My girls loved those stupid little cards and spent the rest of the night making up games to play. I wasn't the only one who had lost so much. My children didn't even have toys to play with. The only toy they owned was the pink cards we picked up in the food stamp line.  

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