The Benefits Rant

This is not going to be a fun post.  It’s not even a post for any of you.  This is one for me.  I need to vent my feelings about something for a bit, and I can’t do it on any channels that bear my slave name for fear of the local press picking up on it, so here it is.  Feel free to ignore this one, and we’ll get right back to the usual fun, entertainment-oriented content next week.

If you’ve been following my Apocalypse Log bits, you may have seen that I’ve started helping my employer, a local government agency, process applications for emergency assistance in the Corona Crisis.  I’m actually really proud of that, I enjoy actually being able to help so directly in this situation.  Basically, my agency set aside a bunch of money to help with April’s rents and major living expenses, thousands of people applied to it, and I follow up on applications and conduct interviews to determine if they get financial help and how much they get.  It’s good work.  It’s also pretty stressful, but it’s not necessarily a bad kind of stress.  But there’s one thing that’s just sticking in my craw.

Most people get denied. And its getting to be frustrating.  Really frustrating.  I got to approve two people for funding today, and that’s the first I’ve been able to all week.  After processing a couple of dozen cases.  There are hordes and hordes of people applying for benefits that are completely ineligible in the first place.  And on the one hand, in my usual job, I’m usually all for having people apply to what they could reasonably get, and not having them pre-sort themselves out unless it’s clear they wouldn’t get it.  That’s having some rather serious consequences, here.  We are slow to respond just because of the sheer amount of cases on there.  A few weeks on, and we’re still working through the applications we got just three days after we opened it, most of whom we cannot help.  There are tons of people on this list who do actually need the help, but we cannot reach them yet just because we’re still having to sort through the massive amount of people who don’t.  Particularly as April’s rent is a week past due in some cases, us not being able to reach these people in time is having some dire consequences as landlords start trying for eviction proceedings.

Some people are just coming for help at the wrong place.  We’re not paying rents for people when there are already other programs with state or federal funding that can help them.  So the tons of people with children coming to me, I have to deny and refer to another program that can directly pay their rent, because that one’s designed to help people with kids and this one we need to stretch the available funding as far as we can for the people that can’t get help elsewhere.  It is a major task to reach out to them and make sure they’re getting to the right place, but I can understand it because it’s not like these people have the same encyclopedic knowledge of available benefits and resources like I have to maintain for my usual job.  For a lot of them, this is the first point of contact with the system they’ve had, and they apply here because they don’t know where they’re really supposed to go.  It’s still a burden on our system, and it’s still keeping us from being able to help the people who really need it, but I can understand where their coming from.

What I’m really starting to burn from is the people who have the means to pay their expenses yet apply anyways.  Again, I can understand where this is coming from.  I’ve never been unemployed, I’ve had the right combination of skills, choices, and luck to avoid that.  But I work entirely with people who are, and I know how worrying and panic inducing it is, particularly when you’re dealing with a system with no end in sight.  Moreover, if I was faced with having my savings rapidly exhausted and an uncertain future, I’m sure I’d be on the lookout for potential sources of help as well.  As I said, I understand.

But I don’t sympathize.  The past couple of weeks, hundreds of people learned I don’t care about sparing their savings.  A statement said to me today; “So the fact that I’m only going to have $200 left at the end of this month, that means nothing to you?” That’s right.  It doesn’t.  Nor am I swayed by the many people I’ve talked to who say that they need help now even though they can pay their rent and all expenses for the next several months because who knows what the future will bring, or who have accounts set aside that they don’t want to dip into, or who have already paid their rents and want us to pay them back.  Nor am I going to spare you from awkward conversations.  If you haven’t yet, you will still need to have a probably not-fun talk with your bank in which you discuss your options for keeping your home or car, and it’s only if there aren’t any options there that I will step in.  If you haven’t been working on getting unemployment, I’m going to ask about it, and push you in that direction if applicable. We need to stretch these funds as far as possible, because frankly, we may not even have enough already for everyone who’s applied.   And moreover, as is always a factor with government, all the dollars we’re putting towards this have to come from somewhere.  In giving money out like this, we’re either going to have to recoup through taxes or cut other, beneficial programs later.  This is all going to have ripple effects that we’re not even sure of yet.

So yeah, I have tons of people on my application list, far, far more than those who are actually facing the kind of need we can actually help with, who are clogging up our systems and keeping us from using our time to really help people.  I’ve gotten pretty good at denying people.  And many are really good with it, still remaining understanding and friendly even when told help is not forthcoming from us.  What really chafes me are those who have the gall to act out when told they don’t qualify.  Tons of people getting surly with me, or argumentative, on being told that they have to pay their own rent.  Not only are they making life worse for others by clogging up our systems in mass and keeping us from reaching them, they feel so entitled to this money that will neither have an immediate effect of keeping them from being homeless or making sure they can return to work once the world isn’t an apocalypse that they try to engage with verbal battle with me in a vain hope of… I don’t even know what they think is going to happen with it.  And I’m in good customer service mode then, so I have to use my verbal jujitsu skills to gently end the conversation rather than salting the earth and shattering the most dearly held parts of their self-image.

And the funny part of it is that you can’t tell for sure in advance who is safe to discount, because people are absolute shite at filling out applications, apparently.  It’s not like ours are even hard.  So, people suck, so we have to be careful of discounting people en masse and still have to spend the time talking with them, yet we have to do so knowing that our job is more to find the needle in the haystack than it is to be the giant money cannon.  And our job is that way, because it turns out that when you say “Hey here’s some money come get some if you need it” the line between need and want may as well not exist.

So yeah, everyone out there facing homelessness in my community who I’m hoping are not actually able to find this, I’m sorry we haven’t been able to swoop in and keep you afloat.  I would love to do so, but I have literally thousands of people standing between me and you that shouldn’t be there.

And now I’m done whining.  Next time, we’ll go back to something fun and probably super dumb in the best way.

One response to “The Benefits Rant

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