In closing…

Well 2011 ends today (according to the calendar that I use, anyway) and I think that this marks a good time for me to conclude this blog and start anew elsewhere. Perhaps something with a little less poverty and a bit more creativity. 

2012 will also mark the start of a year in which I do not plan to live in poverty (something I could not say about 2010 nor 2011). Although my plans for this year do still involve money. Being debt-free is number one on my to-do list. With the money I received from the AmeriCorps Segal Education award I plan to pay off a majority of what remains on my US Student Loan balance. I still diligently pay down my credit card and I hope that to be at zero by the end of Spring.

My life has not changed radically since starting a new job. I do spend more money and because of a pet-emergency I do have that infamous credit card debt, but I did still manage to live somewhat frugally. I don’t have TV and aside from those Dog the Bounty Hunter marathons, I really don’t miss it too much. Between Hulu and Netflix there is a lot you can just find online. However, Roller Derby has happily taken over much of any free time I have had, and in those rare moments when I am not skating, I am watching YouTube videos on skating or making skate jewelry out of Fimo Clay.

Living in poverty and working within an impoverished community really taught me a lot of lifeskills and changed my viewpoints. I have realized that you can only help those who wish to be helped, and not everyone wants to be helped. Some people are happy in their current situation, even if it is not a situation we think is best for them, nor one that we’d want to live in ourselves. But that’s ok. In 2012 and beyond I will continue to try and come to terms with that, despite frustrations or feelings of self-righteousness. I will also continue to search for ways in which I can help those who truly want to be helped and let those who aren’t yet ready know that I will be here when they are.

I do not know where 2012 will take me professionally, but I do hope that whatever happens I still am able to work with those in need in some form or fashion. For many years I have had a flittering of a desire to do public service work and now that I am here, now that I see the bureaucracies, the frustration, the laziness, the lack of motivation, and how it can emotionally bankrupt an individual…I want to participate more than ever. I will find inlets around the bureaucratic roadblocks, I will focus on those who want to be helped, and I will do more Yoga and skate harder to recharge my own self.

To anyone who has ever read this, either with purpose or on accident, thank you. Seeing that there had been views other than my own encouraged me to keep writing. This blog provided a great outlet but also allowed me to receive input from the outside. 

I hope 2012 is as good of a year for you as it will be for me.

 

Turning the Tables

I had a really amazing experience this afternoon on my way home from work. It’s the moments like these that keep me going when the weight of my life or my job weigh extra heavy. For the past few days I have been in a bit of a funk. Whenever that happens I question whether or not this is the right place for me right now. If it was in fact the best choice continuing on and transitioning from a volunteer to a full-time employee. Moments like today confirm that in fact yes, I am supposed to be here.

The last year of my life was a roller coaster. Not just because it gets depressing living in poverty, although I am sure that had a large role as well. But because the last year was a huge growing experience for me. I moved away from someone I loved to a town where I knew nobody. And not just the next town over. I moved 1,500 miles away. I rebuilt a support system from scratch. Last year was the first time I lived on my own (aside from my furry roommates). Those experiences alone would be hard on your average functioning adult, but I managed to do it on $800 a month. And that $800 didn’t leave a lot of room for any retail therapy when life had gotten me down. Now I am not saying I deserve a medal or anything, because there were a lot of fun times too. I formed a friendship that I will probably keep forever, and I do hope so because her future career choice will come in handy if I ever find myself in trouble with the law😉 But I digress.

There were fun times. However, lately I find I am rebuilding my support system up again. My friends have moved away, I am no longer a part of the “volunteering community” as I am not in that program anymore. I have taken it upon myself to join a team sport which helps me meet new people and get out of the house. But there are still times when I get back in that funk, lonely, and questioning whether or not I made the right choice. I have come to embrace my aloneness. Living alone is something that should be experienced by everyone before they die. But it doesn’t mean that some nights I don’t wish to come home to dinner already made, a good conversation, and a hug.

So I was having one of those days, it likely emanating from my funk-weekend. Thinking about how life choices got me here and if those choices had been the right ones. I had to stop at the auto parts store because one of my tires had an ever increasing leak and I wanted something to tide me off until I could buy a new to me tire. I decided to mix the potion with air so I could get the tire pumped up a bit. Well I had quite the time putting the Fix A Flat in. The can basically shot all OVER the tire and not inside it. In my frustration I began cursing up a storm that even a sailor would find offensive. Once I was happy that some of the toxic mixture had made it inside the actual tire I went inside to go wash off the excess from my hands. Just as I am about to enter the gas station I run into a client of mine and he asks me what I am doing there. I explain to him and he tells me those cans are a waste of money. Then he reminds me that he helps out at a tire shop during the week. He will get me a good deal he says. They have new AND used tires. So he meets me back at my car once I have washed the extra Fix a Flat off my hands, and he does whatever he was doing inside. We write down the tire size and he assures me he will call me tomorrow with a good price. We talked a little bit about his situation, it has been a few weeks since I have seen him last, and I promise to do some follow up calls for him in regards to a supportive service. The whole ride home I giggle and smile at the fact that the tables have turned and my client is now helping ME. And I have never been so grateful to have been helped in my life.

And the results are in…

It’s been 2 months now since Florida instituted its drug testing for TANF program and the results are in. A whopping 2% of individuals tested, tested positive. Before we go into the idea/hope that this could help reduce some of the stigma associated with being poor, let’s first look at the cost to taxpayers for this program.

From ThinkProgress.org

Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.

That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month’s worth of rejected applicants.

Net savings to the state: $3,400 to $5,000 annually on one month’s worth of rejected applicants. Over 12 months, the money saved on all rejected applicants would add up to $40,800 to $60,000 for a program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year.

Other articles also bring up the fact that this program could cost even more money if individuals go to court over the matter and the state has to pay to defend its legislation. And to think, this program was implemented on the premise that it would safe taxpayer’s money.

Perhaps now taxpayers can direct their anger towards politicians and wasteful legislation, rather than the single mother who is facing hard times.

Working My Way Back to Middle Class

Well my term of service ended on the 20th. This means that I am no longer property of the Federal Government. Which also means that I am now allowed to work again and earn money.

I recently moved into a new apartment and was thus forced to plop down a great deal of money for things like furniture, alarm clocks, fans, mattresses, and bed frames. I may or may not have also bought some items I didn’t need, like a $99 HP Touchpad. I learned a lot this past year. Socioeconomic research and theories aside, I also learned how to live frugally. Something I very much want to carry on with me as I reintegrate back into Middle Class. So far it hasn’t worked out so well because I had to buy a few things. And as frugal as I strive to be, there is no way I am buying a mattress from a thrift store. Cockroaches and bedbugs do not interest me.

So, even though I am technically finished with my year of poverty simulation, I still plan on taking some of the things I learned with me. I still have no TV. I don’t plan on getting on, either. I do think I will be changing from my $15 a month PAYG cell phone plan to one that is unlimited and closer to $50 (thereby dropping the Magic Jack — the service isn’t very good) and of course will no longer be receiving food stamps, so I will have that increased cost. My rent went up a bit, as well. But I am still living in a modest apartment. I still buy generic, and I still am able to make in through WalMart with no impulse buys. I plan on doing up a budget once I know my net pay and hope to really crack down on some debt (CC and Student Loans) so that by December 2011 I will be one debt-free middle-class-rules-following individual. Stay tuned.

It’s been a while

I realize it has been quite a while since my last blog post. I apologize for the gap in writing but I have been up to a lot and been quite busy! We spent a great deal of time writing grants for our organization that would allow us to continue our funding for 1 and 3 year terms. We received all three grants that we applied for and were able to create 3 full-time positions! I will be taking over one of those positions at the end of the month and continuing to work on and develop programs for our community.

On August 2nd, we celebrated National Night Out with a special twist. Normally NNO is put on my neighborhoods without a lot of intervention. For example, when I lived up north I remember people having BBQs (or “cookouts” as I am told they are called if no BBQ sauce is present), meeting neighbors, and having police drive or walk down the street meeting people. Granted, I grew up in the 80s and 90s so things were different than they are now. However, there was still a sense of community and neighbors took it on themselves to get these activities going. It wasn’t odd for people to have a cookout and you to wander over and have a beer and chat. These types of activities continue on today in a lot of neighborhoods, just not the ones I work in. People frequently keep to themselves. Sometimes cultural or language barriers create additional hurdles that prevent new friendships from being formed. Which really is too bad because regardless of the color of your skin or the language you speak, impoverished families face very similar (if not the exact same) challenges day-to-day. If these groups of people could/would work together then I think a lot of things would change. If we don’t like what is going on then we need to speak out and change things. Everyone, regardless of how much money they make, where they live, what they do, or who they know, only has one vote.

But I digress.

So, on August 2, 2011 over 20 organizations got together and decided that we would bring supportive services TO residents. Instead of hoping they’d take it upon themselves to light up a BBQ we brought the hot dogs and turned on the burners. Nothing cost them money, but it did require them to participate and learn before they received anything “free.” We had the Health Department come and do HIV testing, immunizations for kids, and bike helmet fittings. Healthy Start came to talk to mothers about the importance of breast feeding. Whole Child came to talk about a comprehensive approach to child care (developmental screening, dentists/doctors, and health insurance). And the Sheriff’s department came to help create and mend community relations. There were also a ton of other people who came out and helped empower this community to make smarter, better choices for themselves. We had over 113 people participating within 5 neighborhood blocks. 53 people turned in a completed “passport” showing how many stations they visited. However, we went through over 200 hot dogs, and since you needed a passport to get a hot dog… there were more than 53 people who came out to get some information and education.

The worst part about the night was I ran around like a chicken with its head cut off and therefore wasn’t able to enjoy the sights and sounds of families getting out and enjoying themselves. Luckily though a few people took pictures.

National Night Out

More shutdowns.

It seems like recently government shutdowns are so passé and a day doesn’t go by without someone uttering the words “budget deficit.” I read yesterday after a few facebook updates that my homestate of Minnesota is indeed closing as well. Starting today, July 1. It means (temporary?!) lay offs for some employees, closed state parks, rest stops, and no licensing for new teachers among other things. However, government shutdowns can also mean increased hardship for those who are already facing difficulties economically.

For example (taken from FAQ on the potential Minnesota Government Shutdown):

Q: I get government support to pay for child care for my kids. Now what?

A: Federal funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which includes some child care assistance, will continue to be administered throughout a government shutdown. But state-run child care assistance will not.

In her ruling, Gearin wrote that,

    “the Court is aware that not funding non-TANF child care assistance may cause extreme hardship to low income working parents, increase the public assistance rolls because some of these people will have to leave the workforce in order to care for their children, and may lessen the opportunities for low income children to success in school.”

Extreme hardship.

So now unfortunately, families who were relying on subsidized daycare could potentially lose their jobs and be set back in their journeys to self-sufficiency. It really stinks how much the people lose out on things when government continues to play partisan political games, especially the people that are already at a disadvantage.

Drug Testing and TANF

So, a politician has actually stuck by one of his campaign promises!
I will give you a moment to pick yourself up off the floor😉

But in all seriousness, Gov. of Florida Rick Scott signed legislation today that will begin drug testing TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – Cash Welfare) recipients. There are articles about it all over, but if you are too lazy to google then you can click here. This was a hot topic of conversation at my workplace today, and I assume throughout the rest of the internet.

Basically, the Governor is seeking to test TANF applicants (at their cost) before they will receive welfare benefits. There are also measures to implement random sampling every 6 months. So recipients will never know when they will be tested. The costs of the tests are said to range from $10 – $25 and the fees will be refunded to the TANF recipient after they test clean. I have to be honest and say I do not outright disagree with the basic idea of the legislation. If you are testing positive for drugs on the TANF application, chances are you won’t be able to pass a drug test when it comes time to apply for the job. Therefore, how will you be able to get out and become self-sufficient? A lot of people argue that this is an invasion of privacy, illegal search/seizure…etc. And I’m torn. Will implementing mandatory drug tests take away the last bit of dignity an impoverished person has? People who apply for food stamps or TANF already must bear their financial souls to their case worker. Will peeing in a cup be the final straw?

Honestly, I am not sure. I think the part that I am most upset with is not the invasion of privacy, but the fact that Michigan already tried to pass such legislation and it was reversed by Federal Courts under the clause that it violated the Fourth Amendment. Upon further research, it seems to appear that Michigan is allowed to drug test welfare recipients if there is suspicion that they are using illegal drugs. So, what irritates me most about Florida’s legislation is the fact that it seems fiscally wasteful, and done only to pay lip service to the public. I wonder what will happen when people find out that everyone on TANF doesn’t use drugs and the number of individuals on welfare doesn’t drop to 0, and now we have paid extra for all those tests.

Which brings me to my final concern over Gov. Scott’s legislation. Exactly who is going to be conducting these drug tests? One of Gov. Scott’s cronies who just happened to buy a lab a few months back? If my skepticism is too much for you just Google “Governor Scott Medicare Fraud” and you will know why I feel the way I do.

So, is drug testing going to alleviate the US’ drug problem, or only further criminalize and punish people for being poor…

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