Hello, family and friends!
Over the course this past month the most difficult hurtle I’ve had to jump is applying for food stamps via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Young Adult Volunteer program provides a meager monthly stipend with the intention that participants will live simply and, though I qualify for food stamps under these conditions, I initially had reservations about applying for assistance. For the first two months I lived in Atlanta I procrastinated and made excuses to the site coordinator about why I had not submitted my application for food stamps, my chief concern being that I would be taking resources away from families who urgently need aid.
After the site coordinator explained that, instead of depriving others, my request for assistance would help ensure more government funds will be allocated to the SNAP budget in the future, I was still hesitant about applying. I know that when I go home for Christmas I will be able to gather around the table with my family and share delicious meals, with breakfast casseroles and oyster stew, eggnog and sparkling cider. I’m also well aware that in the past, before my three housemates and I had to count pennies at Aldi, I have sometimes let produce spoil or crackers and cookies grow stale and tossed them in the garbage without a second thought about their value. While millions of people across the globe are starving, I’ve been profligate and heedless with regard to nutrition, privileged enough to not only afford healthy food, but waste it also. The dissonance between requesting food stamps and having taken an ample food supply for granted struck me again and again as I filled out the blanks on the application. If it were not for my desire to be able to afford healthier groceries, I would have left them blank.
As it turns out, though it has been over a month since I submitted my application in mid-November, I have yet to obtain food stamps, and I doubt I will. Last Thursday I was scheduled for a face-to-face interview for food stamps at the State of Georgia government building downtown. I took time off from the Furniture Bank to be there, arriving thirty minutes early for a 9am interview that never occurred. After I explained to the security guard at the front desk I was there for a food stamps interview, she asked to see the letter I had received verifying my appointment time, sighed and ticked her tongue against the roof of her mouth as she read it, then handed it back to me and told me to wait on a bench. Anxiety began to percolate in my chest as the minutes passed. I realized when I put clients who call the Furniture Bank on hold to search for their paperwork or look up their appointment date and time they must feel similarly, wondering as the silence stretches on whether their has been a miscommunication or an oversight.
The Georgia Department of Human Services seems to have made several oversights in processing my food stamps application. After I waited on the bench for a while, a woman came down from her office to apologize for the inconvenience, and then told me someone would call me as soon as possible about scheduling another interview, even though I had just walked forty-five minutes to be there for an interview. Before I could ask her to explain the particulars of the situation, she briskly turned away and marched off, the rap of her heels against the marble tiles resounding throughout the lobby. I sat there for a few moments afflicted by a stinging bafflement, feeling as if I had been the victim of some sort of con scheme.
A week later I have yet to get a call from anyone regarding another interview, though I did receive a letter today informing me that I missed my interview on December 7th at 9am (the same interview I have described above, the one that exists in letters, but somehow ceased to exist when I showed up for it promptly and with all the necessary supporting documents in hand). According to the letter if I do not call the food stamps office to schedule another appointment after I “missed” the first one, my food stamps application will be denied on the 22nd of December. Unsurprisingly, when I called my only option was to leave a voice message. The caseworker sounded weary in her voicemail greeting, towards the end of it emphasizing that clients should refrain from leaving her multiple voicemails before she has a chance to return their calls. In the end, I decided not to leave a message for her requesting another appointment date. Not only did I not want to unnecessarily burden a caseworker who seems to be overwhelmed, I felt it was a waste of my time and energy when I likely will not get a call back before next Friday, the day my application will be denied anyway.
At first I thought my experience applying for food stamps has only been so infuriating because, since I am not in dire need of assistance, my case was not a priority. However, after talking to my housemate Cat, who works at an advocacy center for people experiencing homelessness and helps people who desperately need aid overcome the crushing bureaucracy of the state and local government, I’ve realized my experience is the rule rather than the exception. Because the Furniture Bank allows for flexibility in my schedule, the fact that I had taken the morning off for a food stamps interview that never happened was merely frustrating. If I were a single mother who had sacrificed money for transportation and hours at work to be there, it might have been devastating.
The other day there was a mother at the Furniture Bank who asked me if she could take a flier pinned to the bulletin board about how to apply for food stamps home with her. As she was going out the door, I noticed her son, who looked to be around six or seven, had used the orange puffy paint at the kid’s coloring table to squeeze out the words, “Merry X-Mas” on a piece of construction paper. If she does plan to apply for food stamps, I hope the process will be much more expedient for her and her family than it was for me. Though I now know how maddeningly circuitous applying for food stamps can be, at the end of the day, I will be able to get by without them. I cannot imagine what it would be like to need food stamps to provide for children of my own, having to be patient with every roadblock and roundabout along the way while they complain about being hungry.