Thursday, February 17, 2011

publicly assisted

I haven't written much because I'm still getting used to the public assistance thing and there was a period of jumping through a lot of hoops.  Going to the Coney Island HRA (Human Rights Administrator) and waiting hours to see our caseworker.  (I've never had a "caseworker" before.)  (And the upside of the wait is that I read a big chunk of "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," which I can't recommend highly enough.)  Presenting many documents.  Getting more documents.  Getting a letter from our landlord.  Going to the job center in downtown Brooklyn to get excused from orientation to keep an appointment with an HRA office downtown to prove who we are (showing yet more documents).  Then we had to go back to Coney Island, I can't remember why.  (Believe me, this is not the fun part of Coney Island.)  This brings us up to yesterday (the rest was maybe the preceding five business days).  I went to my first-day orientation at the job center, but Barry had a bad stomach and stayed home.  I had to call him at home and tell him that he had to bring -- guess what? -- documentation today.  He needed a doctor's note even though he hadn't seen a doctor -- or he'd be "FTC'ed."  This is about the worst thing that can happen at the job center, and we are often told that certain things -- like not presenting the right documents at the right time -- will get us FTC'ed.  FTC is Failure to Comply, and if you get it twice, you get kicked out of the job center program, which means no cash benefits.

If you want to get cash benefits (rent and/or cash assistance), you have to do the job center, which is five days a week, 9-4.  If you don't, you can apply separately for food stamps and for Medicaid, but you can't get money.  (They don't call any of this "welfare" any more, but that's what they used to call the rent and cash benefits.)  Our caseworker suggested that the job center "might not be for you," but that we should at least try it for a few days.  I guess he was implying that we had enough skills and experience to job hunt alone.  My thinking was that if we hated it, we could quit and just get Medicaid and food stamps, and if neither of us had a job a month from now, we could go back into it.  Unfortunately, it takes 45 days from the time your case opens until you see a dime, and if we don't have at least one job in a month, we will not last 45 more days.

So Barry brought in his doctor's note today, and he had his orientation while I had my first day in a classroom.  And by the way, they give you plenty of papers in orientation and in class.  The papers and documents get a little dizzying.  I am constantly walking around with a purse full of paper, and every night I check very carefully to see what I need and do not need the next day.  Tomorrow I need to bring proof of a job interview on Tuesday, and of a home visit on next Friday.

"Home visit" kind of freaks me out the way "caseworker" does.  If they were still saying "welfare," I would be crying my eyes out.  Mostly I manage to see the whole thing as something that will help us out until we have a decent income again, but I have those moments of "I can't believe we're going on welfare."  I was brought up to think that was only for poor people...and then I remember that now I'm poor, too.  I was never rich, but I was also never poor before.

I was glad to see that the classroom is by in large a relaxed atmosphere and not very strict (except about arrival time and documentation for absences, duh).  Oh, they're also pretty serious about dress code.  No jeans, no sneakers, no hats.  In warm weather, no sleeveless shirts, no flip-flops, no shorts.  (Basically, you have to be dressed as if for an interview, though not necessarily a formal one. Lots of guys in chinos and a button-down shirt, no tie.  People chat and leave the room to see a "job developer" or work in the computer room, or just to stretch their legs.

You get assigned to one of four or five classrooms, and each one has an instructor.  Mine is pretty amazing.  Very smart, very funny, and very perceptive about the people in the room.  She picks up on someone's attitudes and characteristics very fast.  I think she knows quite a bit about me already.

The other folks -- there are about 30 in our classroom -- are more varied than I'd expected, quite a few well-educated and talented people and people who have held pretty serious jobs.  Most of them are very friendly and I met and had nice talks with quite a few. The instructor noticed the publishing experience on my resume and asked if should could introduce me to a guy in the class who had written a novel and was trying to get it published -- maybe I could tell him something about the process.  I said sure, and the guy was really nice, took me to lunch and we talked for a couple hours, mostly about publishing, writing, and his book.  I haven't really talked about that stuff with anyone for a while, and it was great fun.  I offered to help with his query letter and I asked to read the ms.  (He e-mailed it to me, and I realized that I could use this to convert it from .doc format to .mobi, and put it on my Kindle.  Have I mentioned that I love my Kindle?)

I'm going to Jannah's on Friday evening, and staying over through Monday (the center is closed for President's day).  Unfortunately, because of the holiday weekend, she and Linda couldn't gather "the girls" for a jewelry party, which is a bit of a bummer, since I was hoping to come home with a few hundred dollars.  But I'll get to hang out with her, take a break from everything going on here, let Barry have a little time to himself.  (Luckily, we are not assigned to the same classroom at the job center.)  Jannah even bought me a ticket to see David Johansen in Bordentown, and we're going with John and Linda, which will be a blast.  We're going to try again soon to either do another jewelry party or for me to do a Sunday sale at her shul.  I love Jannah's shul.  ("Shul," I think, is Hebrew rather than Yiddish, and I'm not sure how it differs from the English "temple."  I think that "temple" refers to the building itself, and "shul" means the building and the congregation, the synagogue (same as temple) and its community, but I might be dead wrong.  Jannah's shul is reconstructionist, which I'm not explaining now, but I'll say it's a branch of Judaism like reform, conservative, and orthodox.  I describe it as "reform reform."  As someone once said (I'm tired and forgetting names), You could look it up!


  1. Did you work at NYU in the 80's?

  2. Sure did -- 1983-85 in the Department of History, 1985-88 and 1990-98 at the School of Law. Do we know each other?

  3. Cool. Yes, I knew you when you were at the law schooI. I worked at Bobst - 10th Floor (Tamiment). I lived on President Street in Brooklyn around the corner from the R station on 4th Ave. I remember that you wanted to become a writer and am so glad to hear that you did and are. I've seen you name on the web for years but only recently found your blog. Sorry about the present circumstances though. :( Jeff Reed

  4. Hi Jeff, I surely do remember you, and it's great to hear from you! (I don't know if there's any way to e-mail you privately...I'm kind of a dunce about the nuts and bolts of Blogger. Mostly I just do the writing. You and I knew each other from the union. I do remember a wild party at your place, or maybe I was just the wild one. I know I drank way too much, and didn't behave too well (or maybe behaved well for the wrong reason). It was my last big drunk -- I got sober about a week later, so this was all in late August 1986. Soon after, we went to the Labor Day parade on Eastern Parkway together. I always thought it was a shame that we were closest during a time when I was such a mess -- bottoming out, and early sobriety. It was maybe the most difficult time of my life. I would love to hear more about what you're up to. I guess I have to post my e-mail in these comments -- -- and please drop a line if you'd like.