Geri-Antics: Seniors do not go softly into that good night

Published 2:30 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2022

I sincerely hope that you never have to experience the process of applying for public assistance. I never expected to either; but just as so many in the United States during and post-pandemic, I found myself running out of options.

I tempered the humiliation of asking for help in two ways:

1) I am certainly not alone in finding myself in need of help. As the country struggles to recover from the pandemic and teeters on the brink of recession, millions are grasping to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Seniors, in particular, are being forced to choose between healthcare and other necessities.

2) I rationalize that I contributed into the system and worked hard for many years and therefore I deserve to withdraw from it in my time of need.

I first applied in December of 2021 for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamps).

Thankfully, as I began the application process, I learned that you no longer have to tear coupons (welfare dollars) out of a telling booklet at the checkout counter. A card that looks like any other credit card is issued to recipients and with the convenience of online ordering, grocery delivery, and pick up service, you never even have to see a real person.

I admit that if food stamps were still ‘stamps’ that had to be counted out at the cash register, I likely would not have applied. I’m just that shallow.

And bonus, confirmed introvert that I am, the pandemic has been a godsend for me. I haven’t been inside a brick and mortar store more than a few times in over two years.

I retired from the workforce 5 years ago and began receiving Social Security Retirement Benefits at 62. I had supplemented those benefits with some freelance writing up until December 2019 when everything dried up. I have not had any income beyond the monthly Social Security monthly check for over two years.

The application for SNAP was very straightforward and simplistic — or so I thought. It took me less than 20 minutes to fill out the form online and submit my request. I sat back to await my debit card in the mail.

I surmised that my request was a slam-dunk. Surely, anyone with an elementary education could do the math and determine that I do, indeed, qualify.

Let’s do the math. Over half of my monthly income goes toward a mortgage payment; therefore, utilities, gas, insurance, healthcare/meds, and food must somehow total less than the remaining half. They do not.

God forbid incidentals such as car maintenance/repairs, clothing, etc be required. They’re simply not in the budget and there is simply no way to save and prepare for them.

Social Security checks are automatically deposited once a month on the 3rd Wednesday. Payday often falls as late as the 20th of the month, stretching the dollar till George Washington screams; so when the majority of creditors rigidly impose due dates of either the 1st or the 15th of the month credit scores take a nose-dive. Late fees begin to mount. That was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, as I had spent over 25 years following a divorce establishing and building an excellent credit record.

Over the course of 24 months, I’ve watched my FICA score plummet and experienced harassing calls from creditors.

This has all been a humbling experience from me. But of course, since most of our elected officials are also seniors, they totally understand our plight and are rushing to legislate on our behalf. Right? Wrong.

Throughout the pandemic, data showed that seniors were the most at-risk demographic. Yet while stimulus monies came to the assistance of all Americans, seniors who no longer file taxes because they fall under the poverty line had to fight the system for their stimulus checks and many have yet to receive them.

For the past three weeks, I have made almost daily calls to the department for family services, as I had been told that a final determination on my SNAP application would be made no later than March 31st, yet no informational had been forthcoming. Yet each and every time I called, I was reassured that all documentation had been received and was in their system. Each representative to whom I spoke told me my case had met all the qualifications and was approved, pending final sign-off by a supervisor at the local level.

But just days ago, I was asked for yet another document. This time when I called to inquire further, a very kind and compassionate case worker made the comment that she was so sorry that I had been made to jump through hoops for over six months all for a mere $20 a month in assistance. That is the amount that has been determined for which I qualify.

I don’t mind telling you that I was brought to tears. I’ve spent over one month’s allotment faxing documents to Frankfort.

Having worked as an executive assistant for two Fortune 500 companies, I learned how to go up the corporate ladder to get a job done. I have advocated not only for myself, but for all seniors in matters where it has become clear that our government is essentially putting our segment of society out on an ice floe to fend for ourselves and many of us are sinking fast.

I refuse to go softly into that good night. I won’t be silent. I will continue to speak up and speak out against inequities affecting those in our age bracket and economic status.

If you are struggling and in need of assistance but have met obstacles at the local level, there is an ombudsman for each and every department at the state level and it is their job to act as advocate for every citizen.

Don’t give up. Make your voice heard!