Welcome to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), 16th Floor, 14 Boerum Place, Brooklyn, New York.
Signs that greet you:
Audencias en Progreso
No Cell Phones Permitted
Surveillance by Closed Circuit TV in Use”
Welcome to pale blue linoleum and gray-blue walls and fluorescent lights that turn everyone’s skin gray. It reminded me of Joe Versus the Volcano with Tom Hanks and Dan Hedaya. Hanks played an office slug, and Hedaya, his boss, working in a dingy basement office.
One of Hanks’ premier lines was, “You look terrible, Mr. Waturi. You look like a bag of shit stuffed in a cheap suit. Not that anyone could look good under these zombie lights. I, I, I, I can feel them sucking the juice out of my eyeball.”
Hedaya and Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano
That’s what it felt like at the OTDA this morning. I was there as my mother’s representative, to contest the possible termination of her Medicaid benefits since she had not recertified in November. An outdated bluish print of the New York skyline including the World Trade Center adorned the otherwise naked wall in front of the kindly older man at the podium who greeted all that entered.
I presented the Notice of Fair Hearing to one of the receptionists and presented my ID. I asked her where I should sit and she pointed sullenly to the far end of the room where the sign “CHILD AREA” was posted. The populace-in-waiting was mostly quiet and subdued, but a few were disgruntled.
A young woman walked out of one of three doors that led to the hearing rooms, and said, “They dismissed me. I heard this isn’t the first time they done this today. They owe me $202.” She was not pleased, and I started to feel nervous about my fate behind my particular door.
An announcement was made that those who came to the hearing alone (without friends or relatives) could line up to receive carfare at the carfare window: a MetroCard worth $4.50. Those who were accompanied were to receive their carfare after their respective hearing. Not sure why they did this, but my husband didn't want carfare, so I lined up for mine.
The woman in front of me was ecstatic, bouncing around, saying, “I won, I won. But they give me no paper, I wanted a paper.” She smiled wide and went on, “I’m gonna be like Forrest Gump when I get outta here, it’s a good day. God is with me. Now all I need is a job and an apartment.” When she went up for her MetroCard, she said to the woman at the glass window, “I won, but they didn’t give me a paper, can you give me one?” The carfare woman said she would be receiving a letter by mail. “Oh, but I want it today,” she said.
When my mother’s name was called from the opposite end of the room I shouted, “I’m coming” and my husband and I moved quickly across the floor. Judge Quan escorted us into an office. We sat us across from a clerk or other official person and a witness at a long table perpendicular to Judge Quan’s desk; she gestured that I should sit closest to her. I handed the judge a letter signed by my mother stating that I was authorized to act as her representative and examine her case file. The judge and the clerk presented their case, after which the judge said I could present mine. I explained that mom did not recertify because she has Alzheimer’s disease and used to ignore and/or throw out her mail until I rectified the situation. They asked how I did that and I explained that now I receive most of her mail and that she never goes downstairs to check her mail anymore so I do it for her. I also told the judge that mom doesn’t read anymore so even if she hadn’t thrown out the paperwork she would not have understood what it was.
I told Judge Quan and the clerk that I had evidence to support her illness and presented them with a Certification of Health Care Provider for Family Member’s Serious Health Condition (FMLA) that was completed by her neurologist. I am the recipient of unpaid family leave time but all the information on the form related to mother’s illness. The judge announced that the certification would be filed as “Appendix 1” and the letter signed by mom as “Appendix 2” and the clerk noted that on each document. The judge instructed me to bring the two documents to the receptionist to copy for her, and said the judgment would be sent by mail.
Were we behind door number one, door number two or door number three? Whatever door it was, I think it was a lucky one. Nobody told me I won like the lady on line, but it felt like a Forrest Gump day for me too.
Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano