Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Maybe I should have gone on welfare...

Thinking back to a decision I made a year or two ago... I'm not sure exactly how long it's been, but I went so far, awhile ago, as to apply for welfare. At that point, my Mom still had some savings left, I had very little in the way of credit card debt (or any debt; I was clear), and I came very close to having my rent paid by the government... by some strange coincidence, the maximum amount they give you per month ($610) is exactly the same as the amount I pay for rent. I do most of my cooking and eating with Ma, anyhow, so the $610 a month would have been a meaningful help. (I am basically her caregiver, have been since 2009; we were supporting that - my spending time with her, looking out for her - with an inheritance she received, but that ran out awhile ago)....

Trying to get on welfare wasn't an easy thing for me. I absolutely hated the experience of applying. Standing in line with some REALLY poor people - a lot of whom seemed to have addiction issues - was uncomfortable and somewhat shaming; I didn't really want to be SEEN in that lineup. More than that, though, their obvious, real need jarred against my own comfortable circumstances. Part of me felt that I didn't deserve the help. Even though I sure would have appreciated it.

But I had no income, so I went through the process. I stood in the lineups, I talked to the clerks, I filled out the online application, I acquired the relevant documents, and I waited for WEEKS, and finally I got a phone call for the final approval. They call you from a blocked number, so you can't seek retribution, I guess, on whoever you're dealing with. I explained my circumstances, was treated to the normal skepticism (do you own a car? Do you have property?). On my tax returns for the previous year, which I'd had to submit with the application, the guy noted that I'd had RRSPs - to the tune of a couple thousand dollars, which I'd cashed in and spent several months previously. All he needed, he said, was proof that I had done that - proof that I wasn't lying. I told him I'd fax him the information; he said he'd call me back thereafter.

The next day, I went to the bank, I got the documentation required, and faxed it at a shop to the number he gave me.

I waited for the call. A week passed, there was no call. Maybe the guy had simply received the final document, processed my claim, and I was going to get a cheque? A week passed, and Welfare Wednesday arrived.

No money, though.

Clearly something was wrong. I called the numbers I had - I didn't have the one that I needed, obviously, since it had been blocked - but no one answered or returned my call. I didn't want to go down to the welfare offices again, for another round of crawling discomfort in line. Besides, I was getting some work, and I was optimistic that I'd be able to pay my bills. I muddled by for a couple of weeks, and then realized that what I was doing was foolish. I should go back to the office. I needed the guarantee of income - trying to get by on freelancing and occasional bookstore work wasn't going to give me any sort of security.

So I swallowed my pride again, and went back to the welfare office, and was chastened for having let it go so long. They had never received the fax, and had simply closed my claim. The person I was speaking to COULD HAVE simply accepted that I had delayed coming back to the office because I'd thought I had other options... I had the paperwork in hand, and she had the power, I discovered at the course of our conversation, to simply re-open the claim.

But no. Maybe she didn't like my attitude. Maybe she didn't think I was sufficiently enthusiastic or determined to go on welfare. But what she told me - making clear that I deserved it, that I was being punished for having let it linger too long - was that if I wanted to get benefits, I would have to start the process all over again.

From the start. Two months of waiting. I got a bit indignant. I walked out. This is how they help people, eh? Fuck'em.

Flash forward to today, a year or two later. Mom has no savings left. My credit card debt is at the point of becoming unmanageable - monthly payments are now just big enough that I'm not sure how I'm going to scrape this month's together, unless I take out money from the same credit card and use it to make the minimum payment. I had a job interview last week, and was optimistic I'd be called in this week... but no. And it just struck me that at least some of this situation could have been avoided if I had simply done what it took to get welfare benefits. Mom would still have some savings, I wouldn't be burdened with debt, I would feel a lot less desperate and a lot less pressure.

I mean, maybe I made the right choice, I don't know. I guess if I get a job soon enough I'll feel differently... right now I feel pretty screwed...

No comments: