In the Heat. Again. Dammit.

Long post today. Strap in, it's gonna be a bumpy ride...

Got a letter from the Employment Security Commission of the Great And Powerful State Of North Cakalak the other day:
Dear Mr. Brown
The Employment Security Commission (ESC) of North Carolina
is reponsible for working with people who are receiving food stamp benefits and
are required to look for work.

The Department of Social Services has asked us to contact
you regarding your participation in the Food Stamp Employment & Training
(FSE&T) Program. We may be able to assist you in finding a job or enrolling
you in school or training to better prepare you for a job. Some assistance is
available for travel and childcare expenses. First, you must meet with us so we
can determine how best to assist you.

Please report to: (here was appointment information,
including the ESC office address, the time/date, which was today, and the person
I was to ask for.) If this is not a convenient time, please call to

If you do not keep this appointment, you MUST call
the Food Stamp Consultant by 4:00 PM on or before your scheduled appointment at
the above number toestablish a good cause for missing your appointment. If good
cause is established, you will be rescheduled and must keep that appointment. If
you do not keep that appointment, DSS will be notified which will result in the
loss of your food stamp benefits. This will be your only

We look forward to working with you to find suitable

I've kept the formatting exactly as they sent it. Mama got a copy of this letter as well. Boiled down to its base, it stated that we showed up to the ESC, or we starved to death.

Okay, nothing for it but to go. But what exactly did these jackasses think I've been doing for the past three years. Plus, I've already got a job. It pays nearly nothing, but according to the Great And Powerful State Of North Cakalak, I'm fully employed. So why did I need to report to the friggin' ESC?

A potential problem reared its ugly head almost immediately; I was down to my last $2.00. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have left the house, being my day off, until payday Thursday, when I could tap my account (which was already in the hole) for bus money. But we had to show up Wednesday. Okay, we'll just go to this idiocy and hope we can find some solution once that was out of the way.

Anyway, this morning Mama and I got up and headed for the bus stop. In the heat. The hilarity ensued almost immediately. We passed something dead at the side of the road that was now decomposed past the point of recognition. Mama, being of a more squeamish nature, ran (yes, ran) past it. I was still trying to identify the thing, and therefore wasn't looking up. I thought the bus was coming early (we still had maybe ten minutes to get to the stop) and bolted, untitl I realized that Mama was merely being squeamish.

We reacehd the intersection, and traffic for some reason was more insane than usual. We waited a good. five minutes for the racetrack to die down. As we did, I looked east to check the traffic from that direction and to my horror saw the bus coming. Five minutes early! In order to reach the bus stop, we still had to cross the racetrack and sprint a quarter-mile down the road. The bus would be there in way less time than that.

Taking a step out onto the road, I considered bolting across as best I could, then remembered Mama wasn't as strong a sprinter as me. nothing for it but to wait. We watched the traffic come on and on, looking angrily and impatiently as the bus closed the gap between its current position and where it had to make the turn. Once it made that turn, if we weren't across the street and clearly sprinting for the stop, the driver would assume we were just out for a stroll and keep going. We'd miss our bus and therefore our appointment and therefore our food.

At a break in the traffic, we started out at a dead run. The bus swing through the turn and started to head down the street. There was one slim hope: a major manufacturer has a plant at the corner; sometimes the bus stops there to let workers off...but no. It kept going. So here were two out of shapr fortysomethings running like crazy down the road in hot pursuit of a bus in what had to be 85% humidity. Fortunately, the driver had seen us and waited, but the whole episode only steeled my resolve to get my car back. Somehow.

As least my back felt much better. Had this occurred yesterday, running would have been out of the question. As it was, my lower back muscles gave me a small reminder that I wasn't yet 100%.

We caught our breath and settled in for the trip downtown. About halfway there just as I had settled on the right impertinent question to ask the ESC staff (the letter said "suitable employment" -- who got to define "suitable", me or them?), there was suddenly a sharp BANG from the back of the bus and the smell of smoke quickly followed. The driver pulled over, disappeared around the back of the bus for about 15 seconds, then got back on board and immediately got on the radio. Not good. I couldn't hear what she reported, but after signing off, she informed everyone on the bus that a van would be picking us up in a few minutes so could we all wait outside.

In the heat again. Dammit. And time was running out.

Fortunately, the van was fairly prompt, but there were fourteen people to transport downtown, and several of them were as big as me. Somehow or other we all crammed inside. It was hot. It was humid, and for some reason the driver had the radio tuned to the local hip-hop* station. In the morning. too early for that crap. I called up my internal soundtrack while envying the young man with the iPod two seats up. Along the way, the driver stopped to let four people at three stops that the bus had broken down and he would have to return for them. I felt sorry for those people. That got that look on their faces that I get whenever I think about how I used to get myself from place to place, seemingly a lifetime ago.

About the time I started sweating in earnest**, we reached the Depot. Mama and I headed for our connecting bus, which, thankfully, was still there. The trip to the ESC was thankfully uneventful, but when we got there, about 10 minutes before our appointment time, we found that the building wasn't even open yet!

Out in the heat. Again. Dammit.

And did I tell you that when you're standing waiting in high humidity, each minute seems like an hour?

Finally, the doors opened and everyone (about 20 people by that point) streamed inside. The session was to be a group thing, wherein supposedly the lady running it would explain what the heck was going on. We found out. As a condition of receiving food stamps, Mama and I have to make three job search contacts a week and report these contacts to ESC or lose our Food Stamps.

Again, what did these jackasses think I've been doing for the past three years?

We had to fill out some forms describing what sort of jobs we were looking for (I put down Graphic Design just to shut them the hell up, even though I've lost all hope in getting another job in the field and was considering training as a lab tech.) and set up return appointments with the ESC staffer in a month's time. For successfully completing a month's work search, we'd get a check from the county for a cool 25 bucks.

Oooh, 25 whole bucks. Now I can buy that Lexus I've had my eye on.

And the lady says that when we return, we'll only be here 5 or 10 minutes.

Sigh. So now Mama and I have to run across town. In the heat. Again. Dammit. To show ESC that yes we're fulfilling the directives of The Great And Powerful State Of North Cakalak and looking for work. Like we were already doing. To spend five minutes doing it. For a whole 25 bucks.

Can you say inconvenience? I thought ya could.

Okay, enough ranting. How about a little common sense here? Okay, we're poor. Yes we're on public assistance. But how about assuming that we're also adults capable of handling our own affairs. To be sure, my job search was going slowly, but it was going in a way guaranteed to get me a job or get myself into training for a new career. Now, because of one damn fool, overpaid social worker, I've got to move according to someone else's agenda and bring back a lot of the anxiety and uncertainty of getting a job that will pay the bills****. In other words, instead of expending time and energy on trying to get a good, lucrative job I can enjoy and possibly retire from, I've gotta take the first friggin' burger-flipping job some mook wants to slide in front of me.

And the day ain't over yet. It's not even halfway through. Still got to get through the afternoon. Fortunately, I was able to tap my account via a nearby ATM and get money for the bus. To the tune of another $32 NSF charge. There goes my pay for the week; by the time it fills in the void that is my checking account, I won’t have enough to catch the next bill coming in. In fact, I’m sure I’ll still owe more.

In the heat. Again.


*I think I've related to you before about the barbarous cacophony masquerading as music and calling itself hip-hop, so I won't go back into it here.

**For some reason that doesn't seem to be genetic, I sweat very easily and profusely, and cannot stop until I get under a steady airflow. For this reason, I try very hard to limit a lot of outdoor exertion if I know I'll be away from home for longer than a few minutes. But then of course, I have to run for buses and such.

***Didn't seem to matter that I had already told my idiot social worker that I already had a job. Remember I said I how I hate social workers?

****Of course, I (and I assume, anyone else possessed of at least a minimum of wit) cannot consider jobs that don't pay the bills. Most "service" jobs fall into this category. And another retail job is absolutely, positively out of the question, even if it means starving.

Did they describe what kind of job you had to apply for? My aunt had to put in a certain number of applications per week to keep her unemployment benefits so she applied for jobs that she knew she wouldn't get. I know it is counter productive and she didn't want to work. However, if you apply for jobs that you may want, it may help find something that pays the bills. And if you are applying for jobs that can pay the bills, then you are applying for jobs and who knows, you may find something...
My guess is that they know you are employeed and still on public assistance. Perhaps they would like to help you with the training that was mentioned in the letter? If they get you into training for >something< and into a higher paying job then you go off public assistance and then they did their job. No?

You are an adult, and you are able to handle your own affairs. You were homeless and now aren't. Public assistance or not you had to go through the steps needed to get to the point where you are. It isn't a good feeling to have someone else that is seemingly controling your life.

That said, you are employeed and on public assistance. Maybe you could look in to the training or school assistance that they are offering and come out better for it.

Or not. Just a thought.
You both make good points. To address them briefly: Mama and I aren't mandated as to what kinds of jobs to apply for (although quick employment requires applying for "service" typs jobs where a pulse is more important than training or education), but we have to make three contacts a week (standard number of contacts for unemployment in NC is two/week). And they didn't mention putting us into training, only that we had to make the contacts. I had begun the process of entering training, but deferred it when a friend recommended me for the job I'm chasing now, which, according to the lady I've been in contact with, I stand a good chance of getting. If so, that will change my schedule. And the program Mama wants to enter is only offered at night right now; the bus doesn't run there at night. We were looking at alternatives when this thing came down and altered our plans. We'll see what comes of it.
barbarous cacophony? ah man, you hurt my feelings.
Mike-- I'm a food stamp caseworker with DSS here in Guilford County. The E&T program through ESC is a program any applicant needs to go through unless they meet certain exemptions; it's the federal government's way of ensuring that someone in that household is looking for work.

It's difficult for everyone involved, including the caseworkers: you may very well be employed, but if the employment doesn't meet certain guidelines (number of hours, amount of pay per month), then it doesn't count as "suitable", even though your caseworker knows full well that you're working your butt off. I know a lot of people in the households I work with are trying as hard as they can.

I'm sorry you feel like this situation was brought about by a "damn fool, overpaid social worker." I'm trying really hard not to take offense-- you're in a bad spot and it's easy to get upset at the person who puts a face to the policy. We're not all overpaid morons, and a lot of us know that the policies created for food stamps can be totally ridiculous. Let me know if you'd like to get in touch with me; if you have questions I'm glad to answer them for you.
Wanna hear something ironic?
I'm ON UNEMPLOYMENT and applied for food stamps and they said I wasn't eligible!
My unemployment runs out soon, and according to the Greensboro office of ESC, there are NO EXTENTIONS OF UE Benefits in Greensboro!
Oh well, DSS will be hearing from my unemployed broke ass again. Hopefully this time I can at least qualify for food stamps with ZERO income, but maybe not.
I wonder if there are other types of assistance for 46 year old white women with no small kids at home? There may be. When I went to apply for food stamps, there was a huge woman there who had just had her acrylic nails put on, getting a "emergency" voucher for her electric bill to be paid by DSS... go figure.... I thought if I got my nails did I could go in and apply for emergency my rent is 2 months behind assistance or something...
If any of you out there know of anyone who needs a good Adnimistrative Assistant, Legal Secretary, or General Office please PLEASE let me know!!!!
I feel I must set you straight in regards to the policies of DSS. While I do not work in the Food Stamp department, I am well aware of some of the ridiculous policies. Ridiculous to you and I, because we have a strong work ethic. We know what we have to do to support ourselves and our families. However that is not the case with a great number of those people that DSS serves. We constantly have to tell them what to do and how to go about doing it-it is oftentimes a losing battle. Some are content w/ just getting by on the government's help, however there are those who take this downfall and turn it around in an effort to better themselves. Your requirements may seem crazy, however there are many others in your situation who do not take the initiative to job search or better themselves. As for the overpaid social workers, let me assure you that Social Workers- or case workers in your situation- are by no means wealthy-I speak on behalf of myself and others in Guilford County government.
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