AFDC- What a Disaster

We made a mistake today. In an effort to stretch our cash, we thought we would go to the county and see about getting temporary health insurance for the kids until DH finds a new job. We have never been on public assistance of any kind, and I ate a big heaping pile of pride to make the phone call.

The woman on the phone took a lot of information, and told us to show up at 1 o’clock for our appointment. We did. Right on time. Evidently, “on time” has no meaning at the social services office. Little did I know- there were scores of people, to talk to anyone, appointment or not, you had to stand in line, put your information in the computer, and wait to be called to one of 25 windows.

When we were finally called (27 minutes after our “appointment”) the woman at our window took down, again, all the information I had previously given over the phone. She requested our appointment slip- what appointment slip? Evidently,  when you make an appointment, they send you a packet directing you what to bring and how much time to prepare (2 hours). Nope. Didn’t get one- just the phone call telling us to show up. She explained the “packet” would probably arrive tomorrow. Great.

She spoke very slowly and repeated herself- if I asked a question, she would restate what was already said- in monotone. They needed the kids birth certificates and social security cards- which the phone lady did not tell me, but the “packet” would have. She needed our financial information, most of which we came prepared with. She needed our mortgage, our bank accounts, our savings, our taxes, our utilities, pay stubs, blah blah blah….

It was an exercise in patience and futility. Turns out, with unemployment benefits, we make too much. We’re unemployed, and we make too much. Go figure. If we wanted to apply for food assistance, I would have to look for a job, too. Oh, and the fact that we have three small kids? Well, if I find a job,  they can give childcare assistance. It seems, too, since we own our house and have equity, we don’t qualify for anything.

Truthfully, we are just to damn responsible to get benefits. If I were unmarried with three kids, used drugs, or if we hadn’t saved anything, ever, we would have walked away with cash, food cards, medical care and housing assistance. If we wanted to sell our house and piddle away the money, they would give and give and give.

Nevermind we have paid into this system for years and not needed it. Nevermind this is a temporary thing for us and DH has handed out over a dozen resumes since last Thursday- if he were a deadbeat, we’d be great! So basically, if you a normal person, just needing a little help, you’re out of luck. If you are a catastrophe, come on down! I told her to just forget it, and we left.

I’ve heard people talk about The System for years- but now I have seen firsthand. Broken isn’t even the word.

44 thoughts on “AFDC- What a Disaster

  1. Oh yeah. We’ve used WIC for the last few years since we’ve both been in school. Oh, and right now the kids are on the state health insurance program. But navigating the system is a total nightmare. Have you looked up Basic Health (you’re in WA right)? It’s a separate program from DSHS and involves private health plans offered at a sliding pay scale based on your income. I’ve been on it for about a year now and I’ve had a good experience. It did, however, take me a few months to get on unfortunately. All due to poor communication by mail and such. The system is great at working poorly and making you feel stupid and demoralized, that’s what I’ve learned over the last few years.

  2. Oh. My. Hell. This is the one thing on the planet that makes me curse. Don’t even get me started.

    And guess what? Even if you’d received the “packet” in time it still wouldn’t have told you all the crap you’re supposed to bring so you’d have to make a second trip with all the correct paperwork and regardless you’d still be screwed over because you and your husband are responsible people.

    I’m in the process of renewing our stuff and am working up the energy it takes to go down to the office and get my stuff taken care of because if I mail it at least 5 pieces of paperwork will be lost somewhere along the way. Taking it in narrows it down to only 3 pieces.

    I’ve had to deal with so much garbage just to get health coverage I didn’t even consider applying for WIC as well. It isn’t worth the loss of all my hair (from tearing it out) and all my sanity (from attempting to communicate with morons).

  3. As someone who had to deal with that system for years, my heart goes out to you. I remember being refused for food stamps once because we had a car that was worth too much money. I asked if we had a beater-upper would we qualify? He said yes. But then how could my husband reliably get to work every day? I wondered. The guy just shrugged. I mumbled to him, Too bad we can’t eat the tires on the car.

    There is a serious disconnect between the services they aim to provide and the administration of said services. Sometimes I wonder if one of the higher-ups had to go through all the steps to get aid, what would they think about the system then?

    Prayers are with you,
    Stacey @

  4. I’m sorry about all of that! How crappy!

    I’m just wondering, wouldn’t COBRA give coverage for 60 days, or something like that, after losing your insurance? It might be something to look into as a temporary, in-between kind of health coverage. (You probably have covered all your bases and I’m no help, sorry!)

    I hope things look up for you soon!

  5. It’s its own fulltime job, keeping up with the paperwork to get and keep your assistance. We were pretty blessed with its easiness in UT while we were in school; nonetheless, I’m glad to be rid of it now.

  6. This is definately a sore spot with me… you would think that the honest, hard working, tax paying citizens would be the ones that deserved the assistance… but it doesn’t always work that way.

    How about the woman I know that lived in government housing… because she didn’t have a job, her rent was free. Then, she got a part time job at Wendy’s, making around $400 a month. So what did the housing people do? They raised her rent to $370 a month. So she quit her job. It was easier to be unemployed… and have free rent. I love a system that really helps people raise above their challenges, right?

    I hope things work out for you!

  7. screw the system do WIC. seriously easy smeasy next to the system. Go to the web site, they tell you everything you need to qualify.
    They tell you the income reqs, stuff to bring for certification and what not. We just recerted my child (in our state they only cover kids up to 5) and we had to take social security info, copy of lease or residence in state, proof of income, or lack of (I’d take the unemployment info), ID and the children to get certified. They check the weight and height of the kids while you’re there. Seriously not anywhere near as bad as trying to get on medicaid or anythign like that. I can’t do that stuff due to the fact that my patience doesn’t stretch that far.
    WIC is different in the effect that WIC is actually a grant given to states by the fed government. They are more concerned in having the kids eat right and giving them food than covering their tails. When we first applied for WIC it was approaching the end of the year and they asked us if we knew anyone else who would qualify for WIC and if we would send them their way. If they didn’t use all their money that year they’d lose that amount for the coming year and they didn’t want to do that. We were like “cool”. It really is easy and they really do try to help.

  8. Oh, I could’ve saved you the time and frustration on that one. No way with your assets you’d qualify.

    You should look into Basic Health, but do it online. You should be able to find the income qualifications online, and whether or not there’s a waiting list.

    When I quit my job to stay home recently, I didn’t want the medical insurance my husband’s job offers (it sucks, and I had really nice insurance). So I looked into getting private insurance. No one would cover me because I’m diabetic. So I’m paying for COBRA—over $600 a month, just for me. And it only lasts 18 months. Not sure what I’ll do when that is up. The COBRA rep said there’s a state program for people who can’t get private insurance, but who knows what kind of nightmare that will be.

  9. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Just the waiting in line like you described is so demoralizing and stress-inducing.

    Your experience brought back bad memories of a counselor advising me to quit my part time ($400/month) job. If I was unemployed, we qualified for everything. My husband was in school and not working at all; my income was it. And all I wanted was health insurance for my then five month old. But we didn’t qualify for anything with my income. This was before WIC, which I hear is great. Anyway, I was shocked. Somehow, we made it through. Think we got on student insurance shortly after that.

    You guys will make it. And tell your dh that 12 resumes since last Thursday is very impressive!

  10. Oh yes, this is the reason that I become a nightmare of a wife every 6 months right now. Crying myself to sleep and occasionally breaking down and screaming with a pillow over my head.
    And I’m afraid next month is THE month.
    Hardly seems worth it, does it?

  11. This is exactly the thing that prompted me to call you in tears almost 2 years ago. Two years and one more kid later they still make it too difficult to ask for help. Curious George is entitled to NOTHING because he doesn’t work 20 hours a week. Never mind the fact that he works 15 hours, PLUS goes to school full time and then some, PLUS serves in the National Guard.
    And we NEVER got any of our application packets on time. I once got a packet detailing what I needed and when a day AFTER I got the letter saying I missed the deadline and they couldn’t help me.
    I could go on forever, but it became clear to me that the people the system is supposed to be there for, those needing only a temporary help, are the LAST people the system cares about.

  12. If your hubby had benefits before, you should automatically qualify for COBRA, which should be good for 18 months. Also, it should provide the same coverage that you had before. I’m actually really surprised that they haven’t contacted you about COBRA yet. Every job I’ve ever left has sent me a thick envelope with the paperwork. I’ve even been on COBRA before when the health insurance enrollments didn’t overlap, and I was left uninsured for over 30 days. Contact the HR person (if there was one) from your DH’s work, and ask about getting the paperwork for it. I don’t know what the premiums are–I remember them being the same as I paid when I was employed, which means there is probably a range of prices.

    But there is no reason you have to go through what you did again. None. So sorry about that.

    We almost went on WIC when we were students, and many of my friends did, too. I don’t know what it entails, but I certainly never heard any such horror stories. Good luck.

  13. Yeah… when I was pregnant with our first baby we were in college. I had a part time job, hubby had a part time job. We barely made enough to pay our measly rent and utilities. We decided to apply for medicaid. But, we had two cars – one for me to get to work, one for him to get to school and work. They informed us that we could sell one of our vehicles (a 1980 Ford truck and a 1990 Ford Taurus – total value of both vehicles was about $2,000) to help pay for the baby – so, we didn’t qualify.
    You’re right. Broken doesn’t even begin to describe it. 😦

  14. We do get COBRA- we got the packet after DH called the HR dept in Virginia- and it’s over $700 a month for a family of five… yeah. We have money to pay our mortgage and those necessary bills, but we don’t have an extra 700 a month- it would take away from our savings for mortgage. I don’t know what to do.

    I know DH could have another job next week- but we have to plan on the worste case scenario, right? What if it takes a while? We need to save what we can…

    Hanging over a cliff here!

    I do feel the prayers, though. Really, and they are VERY appreciated. Thanks to all of you for supporting us through this.

  15. First of all, the system is broken. No one should be treated like you were. I’m so sorry. You deserve so much better.

    Take a part-time job. Get someone to help you with the extra 700 a month, but please just pay the money and keep health insurance. It’s more important than even paying your mortgage. Check with any reliable accountant.

    I’m not an accountant. I just play one on TV. (sorry, stupid humor.)

    Once you let your health insurance lag, you might not qualify for health insurance again. EVER. Which is fine, as long as you can guarantee that no one in your family will ever be seriously ill. Right now, health insurance is the golden ticket. Without it, you might never be financially stable again. (Super scary, but true.)

    Dont take my word for it. Go to a reputable accountant. AND a health insurance expert. Ask around. Read the internet. Good information is your most important commodity right now.

    I’m not trying to sound negative or scare you- although I’m sure that’s what I’ve done. I’ve been reading you over at MMW for months and you are my favorite. (Don’t tell the Wiz.) My heart goes out to you and your family. I’m praying for you.

  16. I had no idea that having assets would change how you qualify. BOO.\

    I have helped my son’s birthmom negotiate “the system” in Indiana, Chicago and Utah. It makes a difference that she had no assets. There is a groove that you have to get into. Boo. I am so sorry about that.

    Check out WIC. That sounds like the golden ticket… praying for good job vibes…

  17. Really, I AM BLUSHING- sitting here by myself, staring at my screen, and blushing. Anyone looking would think I was checking out something naughty!

  18. We had a lapse in our insurance and decided to do catastrophic insurance. It had a high deductible (like $3000) but covered you for anything major- cancer, surgery, etc. It’s been a few years ago but I think the premium was like $40 a month for a family of 5 (I can’t remember exactly but it was WAY cheaper then anything else we found). It doesn’t work for routine Dr. visits and medications but it does cover you if something dreadful happens. Since we are generally healthy it worked for us! Good luck!

  19. Google washington basic health and lifewise health plans. basic health has different levels of coverage depending on income, so you may be able to get SOMETHING at a reduced cost. Lifewise plans will cost about $450 a month if you are willing to have a deductible(under$2000). That is with my family’s info, but we’re pretty close to the same as yours.
    Also, the regional health district offers some basic services like immunizations on a sliding fee scale. And they never asked for verification of our income, they just asked for a verbal estimate of our monthly income. They have a list of other sliding scale and low cost clinics too. And they were very nice when I went.

  20. GO TO WIC. Seriously. It is the easiest thing in the world and with two kids on WIC we were saving $60 a week just on groceries. That totally adds up for other things. 😉

  21. If you are reserving your savings just for your mortgage, can you just pay it all now to your mortgage, that way it won’t count against you for assistance, and you won’t have to worry about the mortgage for a few months?

  22. I’m so sorry you have to go through all that crap. My husband has lost his job on two occasions. You eat your pride frequently. I don’t know if he’ll ever recover from the blow to his ego, he’s always afraid of being let go, even with no reason to be.

    The best help you can get is from the church. It is as even handed as anything can get (although somewhat dependant on the compassion of your bishop) Sometimes you can get really good advice and if you don’t like the recommendations you can still try the state agencies. It was a benefit to go through the process of getting help from the church during unemployment because now we need that info and compassion in our callings.

  23. I am a social worker in Arizona and have to work with these public assitance agencies all the time. Here are a few tips that may help you: 1) Always ask to speak with a supervisor. 2) If you don’t like what the supervisor has to say, tell them you are going to appeal their decisions. This generally gets them moving because they get in trouble for any appeals that are made. 3) If you are really having no luck with the state agencies, contact your governor’s office. Most governors have a whole team devoted to dealing with the issues of their constituents and they really know how to throw their weight around. I hope this helps in some small way. You and your family are in my prayers.

  24. I can truly say that I understand what you are talking about first hand.

    At one point I was told that if I called DSPD and told them to come and get Parker because I can no longer stand the stress of taking care of him and demanded that the state take him and care for him, THEN maybe we would be moved up the list to receive services.

    I can’t do that. I can’t call up and make that statement. I will forever be thankful that I have been given Parker.

    I’d still like to be able to keep my home though too.

    The home that we have had to take out a second mortage on in order to pay medical bills. We were offered payment plans on our medical bills. But the interest rate was higher than our credit card interest rate.

    We receive no help with food.

    We have private insurance, but it doesn’t begin to cover the simply staggering medical bills from hospital stays and medication.

    Now if I could prove that my husband was using his income for drugs or if my 16 year old daughter got pregnant, THEN again maybe we could qualify for some help.

    We have gone through our entire savings and sold everything possible and still qualify for squat.

    The system is Utah is doubly broken and simply the stuff nightmares are made from. In Utah you don’t even have to prove citizenship to qualify for WIC. This means that somebody here illegally gets help before our family does.

    I can relate to the pride thing. If we hadn’t received help from surprise gifts of groceries on our doorstep this holiday season, we simply would have not made it. As it is I am praying payday comes soon. I used to have a ton of food storage. Not so anymore.

    Humility is needing help from others to feed your family while every cent you earn goes to keeping your child alive.

    My husband has worked all of his life and we have both paid into this system. My Dad earned a Purple Heart, two Silver Stars and a Bronze serving this country in Viet Nam. He and my Mom have paid into this system all of their lives. Until Parker we have never needed or asked for help.

    Our credit cards are stuffed full with paying for Parker’s meds. Sometimes his meds have run us over $1500 a month.

    I’m hoping nobody I know in real life reads your blog. That is something that I wouldn’t even share on Parkers blog. Very stressful to have to worry about groceries.

    Right now we are praying that Parker might qualify for Medicaid. At first they were giving us grief over qualifying over Parker’s vent settings.

    Now they are giving us grief over how many times a day he needs suctioning via his trach.

    I kid you not.

    I wish I could reach out and give you a giant hug.

    I truly believe that your husband will find a new job very quickly. Keep hanging on to that thought. My heart is pretty right on with feelings like this.

    You have an amazing amount of support here. Hold on to that too.

  25. The system is so broken. I had similar problems getting coverage after my husband’s first layoff. What saved us was finding the Regence (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) Health Savings Accounts. Rebecca is completely right, do NOT let coverage lapse or your children my not ever be insurable again. HSAs are high deductible coverage. The deductible can be as high as $5k or $10k, but the premiums are really low. It basically covers you for catastrophe and keeps you insurable. In some areas though the Regence Health Savings Accounts also cover routine drs visits, at least they do in Utah. I don’t know about your state. They may be quite a bit cheaper than the COBRA.

  26. Of course the system is broken. We have politicians all over this country who think it is more important to pander for votes, raise money for campaigns and generally do nothing for the people of this country.

    My mother in law is a share cropper’s daughter. She married at 14. Moved to California with her husband and work dirt jobs until she dropped. She picked onions, cut potatoes and budded roses. Finally in her 50s she got an inside job at a pharmacy. She then began earning $1.35 and hour. She made that same wage for 12 years. Her husband was a farmer all their lives. They both paid taxes, bought and cared for a home, raised two good sons, and never asks for assistance. When her husband died, she had to sell their home to pay medical bills and move to a smaller home (they lived in a one bedroom house). She now lives in a small condo and gets $690 a month in social security. She has no savings and does her best to get along.

    What is my point. My point is, do not ever fool yourself into believing that the government will take care of you. It is not designed to do that. It is so broken, I believe it is beyond repair. The social service worker is not the problem. He/She is as tired of the system as we probably are. Who we should be aiming at is our politicians! Holy moly! And they want to socialize medicine?!!?? aaack!

    We can be thankful we are members of a church that cares and can help us out when we truly need help.

  27. That is so disheartening. I am sorry for your experience and I am sorry for the experience of so many. This is an incredible story and thank you for sharing.

    The system is broken. Amen.

  28. I’m paddling out into what may be dangerous water here, but hoping I’ll be understood. I’ve had some experience in this area and I just wanted to throw out the possibility of moving some of your assets. I wish someone had told you that before you started the process. I was actually told that by a DHW employee years ago- get rid of it before you come in. We had nothing anyway, so it didn’t matter. Have a trusted friend or relative open a savings account in their name and move your savings. Sell your car to your parents for $1 and have the title changed. Whatever. Find out the exact asset requirements and reduce.

    Also, while you may be required to look for a job, you are not required to accept. Apply for the minimum amount of jobs required and for jobs you know you’ll never get. Also, they generally don’t look at your file again after the first six weeks. That information was also gleaned from a DHW employee. They also know the system is broken and is more like a strategy game wherein you are pitted against bureaucracy.

    And, finally, get on WIC. Much easier to apply and qualify for. They are nice there. Still a bit of the herding cattle factor, but a way better experience.

  29. Talk about frustrating!?!?

    The odd thing is, in Washington state the only stipulation to getting health insurance for kids under the age of 19 should be income. They should NOT be looking at your resources. Very strange.

  30. You are dead on aom! I found the link and sent it her way, good call!
    And I finally got off my butt and made my WIC appt, so at least some good came from this…..

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