War on the Poor

I had to go to the DHS office yesterday to be able to get a new Food Stamps/TANF case in order to pay my bills, buy diapers and food and other necessities for myself and my son. This blog post is in response to a form they made me fill out for their JOBS program. Because I do not have a camera phone I was not able to take pictures of the triggering questions, but I did have my journal with me and I wrote the triggering parts down. I have lived beneath the poverty level all of my life, and reading this the first time made me feel like I’d been punched in the gut. My name is Katrina Wolfgang, and here it is:

 “Self Assessment Tool. Use With DHS 7823A.

Section D: Things I don’t like

What I don’t like about my life. Check all that apply to your life now.

-Where I live
-What I can buy for myself
-What I can buy for my children
-The car I have now
-Not having a car
-Having to use public assistance
-People looking down on me (By this point I was seeing red.)
-Having others control my life (What, like the DHS office???)
-Depending on friends and relatives
-Where I have to shop
-Not being able to go on a nice vacation
-Not being able to help the people who have helped me
-Other 

Section E- Things I would like
What I would like to have in my life

-Better place to live
-Being able to buy things for myself
-Being able to buy things for my children
-Get a car
-Spend my money the way I want
-More independence from relatives and friends
-Have nice furniture
-Take a trip by myself
-Take my children on a vacation
Help some of the people who have helped me”

This is the form they make you fill out before you go in to talk to your new JOBS worker about your “plan”. 

Now, here’s some information about me. I worked two jobs for a year, supporting my best friend and her boyfriend. Big Lots and Volunteers of America. I consistently worked at least 40 hours a week, sometimes up to 60. For a year. I had to work through panic attacks because I was going along in life undiagnosed, not sure what the problem was but knowing that it made it very hard to survive at the jobs.

Eventually I couldn’t take the stress anymore, and I quit my jobs and became homeless. I moved 3,000 miles away from home to be homeless because where I grew up there is no services for the homeless. Anyway, long story short, three years later here I am, with a beautiful 18 month old son and a divorce to come (Yay, too poor to afford it!)

When I was working at Big Lots and Volunteers of America I had terrible anxiety. At every job I’ve had aside from that office job, I’ve broken down and cried on premises at least once. Often more than that. When I worked at Walmart I used to hide in the cooler with the stuff that needed to be stocked when the stress got to be too much- it happened daily, if not multiple times daily, simply because I couldn’t handle the people/customers.  That was my first job. With every subsequent job it got worse and worse.

Now I’m terrified to even try to get a job- at least a job like that. When you’ve been trapped during a panic attack behind a register with a growing line of customers, no support, and no clue what’s going on/why you are freaking out, it traumatizes you. Just like having to read that traumatized me years later.

My upcoming book, Corporate Wars, is about things like this. I am writing that book for everyone who’s ever HAD to deal with terrible things in order to be able to have a crappy paycheck to pay for a crappy apartment that they’re trapped in. The fear of not having enough food, of not being able to pay next month’s rent… Those are very real, and I’m so heartsick about it. It kills me inside, knowing that our society teaches us that we need to go to college to get a good paying job to pay back our student loans… Or we need to get that job to pay the bills. We are becoming more and more afraid of each other, afraid to talk to each other, to connect, to share our experiences for fear that we will lose our job.

I’m not okay with that. I’m not okay with the fact that to be able to get TANF to pay the bills and survive you have to go through the shaming process of the DHS office. Money is something that we created- humans created. It’s a concept that runs our entire society, and it distracts us from all the terrible things that the corporations are doing. But does it?

That’s what I’m starting to wonder. I like to think that people are becoming more aware. I like to think that people know what’s going on, but are too afraid to act. Well, I don’t like it, but it’s better than the alternative.. 

I guess what I’m trying to say, what you should take away from this post is that your value is not dependent upon your paycheck. The company you work for does not own you any more than you let it. Survival is survival, shaming is not okay. Community is key.

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~ by araelysia on July 21, 2013.

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