California has a web site through which you can apply for benefits, including Cal Fresh (Food Stamps) and Medi-Cal. At least, you can sort of apply. You put in all of your information, and then a person calls you and tells you to go to your local social services office on such-and-such a day.* You go there, and join a group of people. On the day I was there, the group was really eclectic. There was a homeless ex(?) drug addict – I know because he was talking at the top of his voice about sleeping on his friend’s couch and the drugs he used (?) to do. There were a few women dressed like me – jeans and t-shirts. There were a few women who were in sweats. There was one girl who looked like she was maybe 18, and possibly high. There was a 20-ish guy who looked like a meth-head. There was a man who brought his young school age son. There was one couple. I didn’t do an ethnic/racial breakdown of the room, but there were a decent number of white, black, and Latino (looking) people. However, the room definitely skewed female. Oh, and for the record, the county workers were a brown man (I would guess Latino) and a black woman.
At the appointed time, a person comes up to the front of the room and gives a speech. First, he says if anyone doesn’t speak English, leave. Seriously. There’s a separate orientation for people who don’t speak English. (No one left.) Part of the speech is about what will happen to you if you commit fraud. Part of the speech is about what certain parts of the forms mean. Forms? Oh yes, even if you filled out all of the forms on the web, you have to fill them out again on paper.
No one told me that. No one told me that I should bring a PG&E bill to verify my address, or my children’s birth certificates (one of which I didn’t have), or all our Social Security cards. I was thinking, “Crap. I’m going to have to come back.”
Fortunately, we were allowed to text, and Max could give me all of the information I needed for the forms that I didn’t already know (which wasn’t much, thank goodness!). Before we left, the worker told us that the Food Bank was there, and if we were in immediate need, we could wait in line and get some bags of food. We weren’t in immediate need, so I didn’t stand in the line, which wrapped all the way around the building.
It turned out I didn’t need a bunch of the supporting documentation. I found that out in a follow up phone call with “my worker.” My worker called me and asked a few questions. I remember that she asked where everyone was born. Of course, I was born here in CA, but Max was born in PA, Jackson in MO, and Cassie in LA.
My Worker: “Wow, you moved around a lot.”
Me: No, our kids were adopted.
My Worker: Oh. Do they get subsidies?
Me: No. We adopted them privately, not through foster care.
My Worker: Oh. Kids adopted privately don’t get subsidies?
I remember she also asked why we had “so much” money in the bank. Now, our account balance was lower than it has ever been. I’m not going to tell you exactly what it was, but I will say it was the low thousands, far from the 6 months’ salary that all the financial gurus tell you you should have. I laughed at her, and told her as much. Apparently, people usually come to Food Stamps with far less, so I guess we were lucky.
We got our first month of Food Stamps within one week of my applying. It was retroactive to the date I applied, so we actually got about $100 extra that first month.
Our application for Medi-Cal did not go so smoothly…
* Thankfully, our “local” office was 15 miles away in Bay Point. I was kind of concerned that our office would be the actual local office here in Antioch at which my friend Shy works. At the time, she was a social worker with the welfare department. It would have been very awkward to bump into her in a professional capacity.