Another Assault on Telltale Papers

Early in 1983, at almost 8 months pregnant with my second baby, the doctor mentioned that it might be best for my health to leave my job as the headwaitress of a fine restaurant.  I had to get off my feet, give the veins in my legs a rest, and bring my blood pressure down.

Two days later, I took my two-year-old son by the hand and dropped him off at a church drop-in childcare for the morning (really, all they required was a name and a phone number.  Since I would be busy, I gave them my husband’s number for his job, knowing full well he would not be able to do much if a call should happen), then went to the government agency office which would tell me what to do to get foodstamps.

I was also introduced to the WIC Program.  Believe me, back then, understanding eligibility was not just a click away like that link would suggest.

I went back home and gathered all the financially proper papers from the last month.  These included the utility bills, rent receipt, and paycheck stubs.  Thank goodness I kept anything to do with money all in one folder on the shelf.  It took a couple hours to come to the conclusion that we would not be eligible for foodstamps, but WIC could begin for both myself who was pregnant and our older son because he was under 5 years of age.

The social worker told me to come back in a month, when our income had been reduced enough due to my lack of a job, and re-apply for foodstamps.  She also told me to cancel any other financial properties I might have, as they would count as assets.

I picked up my son at the church right at the time limit he would be allowed to stay for free.  Neither he nor I had eaten since breakfast, so I stopped at ‘my’ restaurant for my last paycheck and our lunch, which the owner signed off for the bill.

I had to write to a life insurance company which had a policy in my name.  My parents had been paying on it since I was a little girl, and Mom always said she would be able to have enough to bury me.  I didn’t tell Mom I had to do this, I didn’t want her to know I applied for foodstamps.  She found out years later, and still holds it against me that I didn’t tell her at the time.

The paperwork and check from that policy arrived, and I paid two months rent in advance with it.

Then I went back to the govt office, new month’s bills and papers in hand.  Again, we were ineligible, because of the cash from the insurance policy.

Meanwhile, a friend needed help with childcare a few days a week.  She would pay in cash, and my son would have someone to play with while I “rested”.  Those long winter days at home with two little kids are some of my best memories of those times.

We moved to Illinois when second son was six weeks old.
Within a week, I found the WIC office for an appointment.
All my papers now included a hospital bill for labor and delivery, and Husband did not have a job here yet.  I had to ask my father-in-law to write a note saying how much “rent” we would be paying for living in a house he owned.

Yes, the WIC transferred from one state to another.  The social worker also helped me to apply for foodstamps, we had another mouth to feed, and that hospital bill really was a doozy.

A few posts back, when I talked about the shredding, someone asked why I kept so many papers, what were they needed for.

I don’t know if she has ever had to be on public aid, but the lessons taught takes a big toll.
The mental attitude one must maintain for eligibility, the attention to detail for every tiny bit of money in or out brings on an obsession I cannot describe.  All the Sunday School lessons about honesty for cash income get pushed back to the dark recesses in order to get food for the family for another month.

Then all those papers get spread out across a desk, and an adding machine begins clicking.
Sometimes, another govt officer gets consulted.
When husband finds a job, and gets a chance for overtime and takes it, because the winter is the coldest in years, and the heating bill skyrockets….well, those govt officers can’t take that into account.  Paystubs show that Income increased, so foodstamps must decrease to meet the charted scale for the number of members in the family.

We were on foodstamps for about 2 years.  When the space shuttle Challenger blew up, my young family was sitting at the lunch table having goodies provided by WIC and foodstamps.
We needed the help then, and I never begrudge anybody ever asking for public aid.

I know what they have to go through to get it.

I found that box the other day.
The one holding the papers as proof that we had been needy.  With all the telltale bills and paystubs paperclipped together in monthly increments, along with the proper copy of the govt form.  One natural gas company bill, the whole paper was the color RED, as the final notice when the meter would be shut off.  Calling back my memory of the chilly April morning when a very strong looking woman was standing on my front porch with a monkey wrench in her hand.
With one receipt from a children’s clothing catalog pressed between, with a note saying the purchase made with birthday money from a grandmother.

One envelope contained one remaining foodstamp booklet, with $4 worth still attached.  As if I had decided that the last $4 would never be worth the trouble to spend.  That I had enough of laying my life out for other people working in rooms without windows to assess and pass judgement.

The need to keep, to make sure I had physical proof of circumstances did not pass lightly.  The box contained papers with the dates 1984 to 1994.  Minutes for working and calendars and service orders and paystubs and computer printouts of so many things regarding finances.

This morning I made yet another trip to the town re-cycle bins.

My cats are quite confused that the tower of boxes by the window is no more.  It was their resting place while they waited for me to finish with the computer (as if THAT will ever happen).

~~love and Huggs, Diane

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5 Responses to Another Assault on Telltale Papers

  1. momma says:

    I know where you are coming from except I kept everything because the husband died and the children got Social Security and I needed to prove I spent more on them than the payments each month. It was a long time until I was able to let go of some of those receipts. In fact I still keep my receipts in case something breaks, or etc. Now at least I let go after three years.

  2. Evelyn says:

    Diane – I have a question for you.
    Do you keep copies of your blog? I know that you don’t want to keep
    collecting more paper.
    Here is why I ask…
    The last time we were in Kansas, C–, our eldest gave John and me copies of “My Book – the Story of My Life” for each of us to answer questions to jog our memories about our pasts.
    John is writing his Story in a fat spiral lines notebook and is on page 33.
    I am doing my “Story” on our extra computer that went down into the basement when we got his new iMac.
    I am still writing about the events surrounding my birth.
    It is a good experience trying to put all the pieces together.

    When I read this piece about your “poverty” years,
    it brought back such memories to me of when John was in medical school and we were on a very slim budget – powdered milk, eggs from his folks’ farm, etc.
    Your blog really moved me!

    I think that this is the kind of thing that your children and grand-children would appreciate.
    I know you now are in the mood for shredding papers,
    but this is a KEEPER!

    Love you, Diane
    ~~Evelyn

  3. Susie says:

    This is very powerful, Diane. I had read it in bloglines, but wanted to come over and say something. Thank goodness you were bright and clear-headed enough to keep all of this together (the paperwork) while trying to “keep it together” for your family. I see so many people who need services and are probably eligible, but by the time they get to the right agency, they don’t have the emotional energy to jump through the hoops.

  4. Paula says:

    Yes, Diane, we once tried to get food stamps, but was not so lucky to get them. My Husband had been on dissablility from his work where he broke his left elbow and his right wrist in a shop accident. As soon as the cast came off his arm, the company doctor said he was able to go back to work, even when his arm was weak as a rubber band. We had our lawyer file a lawsuit, but in the meantime, we were living on only $75. per week with our baby daughter, while paying $110. per month for rent! The wait in the welfare office took all day, and when we finally got to see the worker, they figured that we made $10 too much to qualify for food stamps. Let me tell you that with diapers and baby food, we lived on boxed maccaroni and cheese and pot pies for over a year, when we finally got a small settlement from the company!

  5. Sharkey says:

    It’s funny that Evelyn mentioned saving this post for your kids/grandkids, because as I read it I was reminded of the autbiography that my grandma wrote. I agree that your kids and grandkids will be interested in this stuff.

    I just sent you an email and mentioned my inability to get your feed in Bloglines. But I see that Susie has it working, so I’ll give it another try. Then maybe I’ll stop by more regularly (promise or threat? you decide). 🙂