My spouse and I have lived on government support for these last three years. We both lost our jobs in 2009-2010, and we receive unemployment checks, food stamps, subsidized telephone service and gas/electricity, and even health care for a brief time.
You might have been led by various political figures to believe living on government largesse is a rich life, but life itself has been placed on hold. We wait and wait, wishing that time will pass quickly as we try to manage from one unemployment check and one food stamp or food bank allotment to the next. While many people may awaken looking forward to the stretch of a beautiful day ahead, we awake wishing it were tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or even next year.
We are also not lazing around in front of the telly while sucking from the government teat. Poverty takes a lot of time, most of it spent waiting for service. We had to sell our car to pay the rent, so we've been taking the bus. Our buses run every 20 minutes at best, and every hour at the worst. Often a bus doesn't show up at all despite the designated times listed in the schedule, so in order to make sure I get somewhere on time, I must plan to make the bus just before the one that should get me there on time. If I need to take more than one bus for a trip, it may take 1-1/2 hours or more to get to wherever I'm going, and another 1-1/2 hours to get back. That's a lot of waiting.
We wait for more than just the bus. Everyone requires documents in order to receive any aid. Just this week, I had to call the Employment Development Department to provide proof of income in order to have our food stamp money continued. It takes about two hours and about 100 attempted calls just to find a way to talk to someone, eating up all of my government subsidized minutes--and requiring me to purchase more minutes in case a potential employer calls to speak with me. In this case, after waiting to speak to a representative, documentation must be received by mail, and then it must be mailed to the social worker handling our case. Then we wait for confirmation of receipt and processing of said documents. If we are late submitting documents or fail to provide the right paperwork, our aid is cut off regardless of whether we were unable to obtain the documentation through no fault of our own.
Our local food bank has just requested that we provide proof of my non-income from the Social Security Administration, which means another long bus trip and another long wait. I tried to get this information by phone, but it cannot be had in any other way than a face-to-face demand. We wait between visits to the bank because we can only get a load of food every ten days. And we wait in line at the bank.
The quest for assistance is a never-ending part-time job. It is expensive and time-consuming. And as we try to comply in a timely fashion, we are also in a hurry in our day-to-day lives, to get to the next unemployment check, the next food stamp allotment, the next available food bank distribution, and the next government payout to keep our power on.
I sometimes wonder at the time that has passed since the nightmare began in 2009, since hurrying the days along and waiting for service became the definition of our lives. I'm grateful that I finally found work this past week and can start paying my own way again. Perhaps time will return to its normal pace, and maybe I'll be able to enjoy my free time once I've started the new job. It has been life-saving to have resources to turn to when we needed them, and I'm very glad for it, but I'll be relieved when it's no longer needed and I have my life in my own hands again.