Monday, February 07, 2005

The Government--Here To Help

I debated for a while as to whether or not I wanted to mention this situation on my blog. Upon receiving some words of advice from Auntee, I decided to go ahead and talk about it.

For a long time now, I've been without a job. I've applied at various places from Best Buy to Marshall Field's and even Mutual of Omaha. Each time, however, nothing has panned out. My grandmother suggested that I apply for food stamps, but I resisted. Finally, a couple of weeks ago I decided to apply for aid.

First, I went to the Township Hall to apply for General Assistance. It's a program for adults with no children to help them get on their feet. I first went to find out if I was eligible. Upon finding out I was eligible, I had to go in for an interview. Some of the requirements for application included filing for unemployment, checking eligibility for Social Security benefits, and checking eligibility for food stamps. I had to visit all three offices and give them a referral form to fill out.

The wait at Public Aid (where I went to apply for food stamps) was unbelievable. I got there close to 10:00 am in the morning and didn't end up leaving until 4:30 that afternoon. A variety of people were there from mothers with children to young black males like myself. While the initial line moved swiftly, everyone there had to wait (and wait) for their name to be called to continue. We occasionally chatted amongst ourselves and tried to figure out what place we were in the order of things. I kept an eye on a white guy that was in front of me in line. I figured that if he got called, I wouldn't be too far behind. At the end of the day (literally) I left the office with an Illinois Link card. Instead of paper food stamps, Illinois issues this debit card to be used for food and sometimes other services.

I went back to the Township Hall and turned in my paperwork. I was then officially approved for General Assistance. It is actually a very good program. I receive vouchers for food, personal/household items, and clothing. In addition, a check for rent is mailed to my "landlord" (my father). As part of the program, I have to apply for five jobs per month and I have to do Workfare once a week. Workfare is basically a volunteer-type program where a person works at either the Township Hall or the Township's Food Depository.

I got a taste of this first hand when I went to the Food Depository for my Workfare interview. Despite being told by my caseworker that I wouldn't work that day, I was put to work. I worked in the Food Depository for about two and a half hours, putting together baskets of food for needy families. I was able to really see how much black males (and black people in general) have been affected by the current economy. There were about 10-15 other volunteers working at the depository and every single one of them was black. To top it off at that, only about three of the people working were women. The vast majority of the workers there were black men. Everyone I worked with was nice and tried their best. We had to make 106 baskets before 12 noon and we finished them by 11:30. After we finished the boxes, I heard my name called and I went to see what was going on. Apparently, my caseworker was correct and I didn't have to work that day. I called my dad to come get me and I left there with a good idea of the type of work I would be doing the following Wednesday.

My pride kept me from applying for aid sooner. I can tell you that most people do not want to be on aid. They want to be independent people. But, when things get bad, you have to swallow your pride and ask for whatever help you need. Our family will especially need the aid I am bringing in because my mom's unemployment will end in the next couple of weeks. The vouchers from General Assistance and the food stamps from Public Aid will help us stay afloat while I continue to look for a job. And although I think things will definitely get better in the near future, things are still kind of bad. Harvey, an adjacent community to my hometown of Markham, has an unemployment rate nearly double the state average. While my pride may have also kept me from writing about this sooner, it's not going to keep me from trying very hard to get employment and to get out of the rut I am in.

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