Grumblings About New York State Public Assistance Programs
***EDITOR’S NOTE: I am being more introspective with my writing than ever in 2010. I’ve always been transparent, as those of you who know me personally can attest to fully. But maybe there is a purpose in my trials after all. Well, not that there was any doubt, but the purpose itself never had been CLEAR previously — while trying to overturn every rock and stone and struggling to figure it out.
I have a real gripe with the infrastructure of New York State’s Public Assistance Programs. When I graduated from UNCG and came back to New York, I couldn’t afford to go back to Harlem and stay with my cousin, because I would have had to pay rent every month (and with no job lined up, due to the ridiculous economic situation and most of my networking contacts losing their mid-high level jobs THEMSELVES over the past 3 years), that wasn’t an option. So I came out to Staten Island. I had spent a couple of summers out here before, so I wasn’t a stranger to the island, but you know I’m like a fish out of water since Uptown is my playground.
Anyway, I brought my younger cousin Josh up here for the first time and showed him around all of north Jersey, all five boroughs, a little of Yonkers and Mt. Vernon and went up to Palisades Mall. Showed him many of the landmarks and what not. You know me, I love to drive and I know the city like the back of my hand, so I played tour guide all summer (my baby cousin Jasmyn came up a few weeks later and spent the summer and I did the same with her). While I was doing this, I interviewed with a day camp out on Staten Island that a ex-friend had suggested that I apply for. I got the job on the spot. The pay was awful, but I didn’t have any options, since I had completely depleted my savings paying for school out of pocket for the past 4 years.
I moved in with my aunt out in the Harbor (Mariner’s Harbor for those not familiar with Staten Island) and immediately I began getting frustrated. My social life took a huge hit, because it takes forever to get anyplace. Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, (and to the south) New Brunswick and our church — are only 15-20 air miles away, but would take me 2+ hours to get there. ONE WAY. Most of my old and newer friends either live Uptown in Harlem, Washington Heights or the Bronx, and a few in Brooklyn and Queens and out on Long Island. I only have about 2 or 3 friends on Staten Island and they live on the complete opposite side of the island. Let’s just say, despite June being pretty good, the rest of the summer was a nightmare. The camp took up so much of my time that I got off work there (sweaty from running behind kids 8 hours every day) and couldn’t get to the city (or anyplace on SI) to interview for a real job during business hours. I couldn’t take a day off besides the one I knew I would need to go down south to close out the lease on my apartment from UNCG. So I had to bide my time. I am a big proponent of “time is money” and being able to maximize your time for what you do with an employer. If you’re barely getting paid above minimum wage and your employer is trying to find ways to skirt the rules and not pay you (more on that later) then you’re royally screwed and wasting your time.
Nevertheless, I did the job. I worked two full months. Lost plenty of weight. It wasn’t a total waste of time, as I went from 208 lbs when I graduated (due to being injured and unable to work out after breaking my back in 2007 and having surgery in 2008) to 177 when I got fired in mid-August. The director trumped up a bunch of BS lies and excuses, claiming I had bullied a kid (what??? WHERE THEY DO THAT AT???) and pulled an Al Davis and fired me “with cause” — mostly because they didn’t want to pay me the $800 that was due to me. I was warned beforehand that the camp does this kind of thing. I went in, did my job, did everything they asked me, did OTHER PEOPLES’ job, plus the extra task of being the basketball instructor that the camp owner HIMSELF delegated me for. I didn’t complain, I didn’t moan and groan. I worked with a smile on my face, had fun with the kids and even the kid that they claim reported me was upset that I had gotten fired, because everyone knows I did nothing wrong.
At this point, things began to get even more foul. I got fired for the first time in my life (everyone who knows me knows my work ethic, dedication, lack of absenteeism and dependability — i.e. no one has reason to ever fire me from every job unless it’s personal) and while that stung, I did have an opportunity to look for jobs and interview, with a little (AND I DO MEAN A LITTLE) cash to buoy me until I found something. Being ever-optimistic, I thought this would last 2-3 weeks, maybe a month max, and I’d be good bread.
FAST FORWARD SIX MONTHS…
I’m still in the same boat. Depleted my savings. Sold everything of worth that I have (even this POS laptop, on its last legs, is worthless). Now student loans have come calling. I’ve been out of school six months. I owe UNCG $425 for a health bill dating back to APRIL 2008. But given how I hadn’t had a job since November 2006 (and that was a 20 HR/PT job while I was trying to sell my car and still be able to EAT), I couldn’t pay the balance to UNCG. This precludes me from beginning my Masters or entering Law School. I’m stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place and I’m tight about it.
Every way that I turn, I see a road block and it has to do with not having the funds to do it.
— Can’t start my graduate career, because of the aforementioned reasons ALONG WITH not being able to pay for it even if one of the CUNY schools let me in.
— Can’t move, because I don’t have verifiable income.
— Can’t get a job, for reasons I’ve yet to fully understand.
— Can’t get on top of my debts because I don’t have income.
— Won’t be able to get to interviews after Thursday, because I’m completely wiped out and I’ve used up my favors with my friends (everyone hates moochers, including myself, so…) there will be no more unlimited Metro (my ticket to interviews). Having an unlimited saves tons of money, because paying per-ride is at least $4.50 per day, and that’s if you don’t have two transfers — in many cases I do, especially when I have to interview in Brooklyn. That’s another reason I do not like being on this island. The island itself is fine, for what it is and if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn or just want to avoid being on top of all your neighbors and seeing criminal activity greet you at your front door daily (LITERALLY), but outside of a few young punks trying to act tough here and there, I swear I have never had any of these problems in Harlem nor out in Brooklyn when I was living out there years ago.
I got an unlimited as a gift December 21 and they run for a month, so it expires this Thursday at 11:59 PM. I have two interviews this week (Tuesday and Wednesday respectively), but after that, it really gets sketchy.
Knowing this, I began following up even more fervently with New York State. I thought for SURE someone underemployed as I have been would qualify for worthwhile programs. God knows I spent years paying into social security (couldn’t get disability when I broke my back, even though I was out of commission for 18 months with regards to ability to do work without substantial pain or accommodations as per my doctor) and unemployment insurance. Why is it that both New York State and North Carolina Unemployment Offices want to act funny with YOUR money? They tell you that you MUST call in order to verify benefits and what not, but the line is automated, no one ever answers and the off chance you actually get someone, they never handle the situation properly — necessitating another callback (or three). I filed unemployment in NYS in August when I was fired. They dragged their feet for two months before claiming I hadn’t earned enough.
Then the President passed the legislation to extend benefits in November. So I kept filing. I was due 42 total weeks of unemployment. I haven’t received a dime. They continue to stall, asking me to verify this or that, which I’ve complied with each and every time. I still haven’t seen a dime. The last bit of BS paperwork I received asked me to explain what I had done since I last worked and what was my last date of work. The paperwork went to Albany (our state capital). Just 3 hours up the Hudson River. That was sent off 3 1/2 weeks ago. STILL NOTHING. They know what I’ve done and everything’s been in the system since August. WHAT ON EARTH???
As far as getting Food Stamps goes, no longer is there a stigma involved. YOU GOTTA EAT. When you can’t use connections to get a job, and no one will hire you on merit, and your f’n state doesn’t do its job, what else can you do??? The f’ed up thing is that I live with my aunt, who makes the ever-soul-killing “too much to qualify” (even with 5 of us living here) for me to claim benefits. I’m no liar, so I’m not going to disqualify myself from receiving any other benefits (or be fined, imprisoned, etc. by the State) in the future, but this is just ridiculous.
Maybe I’m going through all this so I will never be able to forget what it’s like to go without. I grew up privileged. Not rich, not EVEN. But I had everything I needed and almost everything I wanted. If my parents didn’t do it, my great aunt Mary (we called her “Aunt Suke”) or other family members always hooked me up. I was so thirsty (the only time I’m thirsty is over money, not women ha) that I was DYING to work the day I turned 16 and became eligible to work. I began working 3 weeks after my 16th birthday, even though I was an eyesore with the Erythrodermic Psoriasis and in pain 24/7. I worked as much as they would allow me to, and I continued to supplant what I would get from my parents and relatives with my own pay and always had the newest Mikes, Timbos, Air Maxes, colognes, gear, etc. That only increased as I got older and continued to work. Even landing a job that paid me more than most of my counterparts CURRENTLY make.
So going through this now is an extreme turn of events. I was never arrogant nor selfish (I gave people rides across town in my brand new car and didn’t ask for any handouts for gas or what have you — again, I love to drive and I love to help people; thought nothing of it) and everyone who knows me knows this. So the “needing to be humbled” aspect isn’t in play here. I’ve been humble after nearly dying TWICE, you kind of come off all the invincibility and puffed-upness (yeah, I made that up) that most young men go through. That is not to be confused with supreme confidence, because having gone through 4 years of being mocked, scorned and ostracized, you either come out a p—y and quit on life; pulling a Columbine or commit suicide, or you MAN UP and develop ironclad confidence in yourself. Some peripheral people mistake my aura and confidence as arrogance, but I am only concerned with those who know me and what they think.
I explained all that because I know inevitably someone’s going to say “well Mike, maybe you just needed to be humbled”.
Anyway, I definitely have an even greater respect for the cats in the street hustling legally or illegally (I always had respect for both, living here and down south during my life). YOU HAVE TO. Especially when this joke of a State doesn’t have the checks in place for its failing infrastructure. I would estimate 65% of the people who use Public Assistance ABUSE IT. Meaning, that while they qualify on paper, and some genuinely need it, a good number sell their Food Stamps for cash, some lie on their Section 8, some augment their prior income to cheat the Unemployment benefits. You name it. MEANWHILE, the people for whom the spirit of the programs were intended CAN’T EVER BENEFIT; either because the State has become so stringent due to widespread fraud or the rules and regulations put in place don’t take into account outstanding situations (again, my aunt, being near retirement has maxed out at her position and makes far too much for me to qualify, yet there are three GROWN teenagers here who do not work and have needs, and she is the sole provider with me out of work; these things aren’t taken into account when you go to the Food Stamps office.
So in short, I don’t qualify for anything but unemployment and now I’m at the absolute brink of being shut in until A MIRACLE occurs. God Bless You to my friends who have helped me out in a pinch when I needed it, I really appreciate it, but more than anything as a MAN I want and NEED to work, not just for cash, but for morale’s sake — any living, breathing man who says he doesn’t want to work (or exhibits a lack of desire to do so) is a CERTIFIED SLOUCH AND SHOULDN’T LIVE.
Anyway, I believe now and from now on I will always be able to relate to the less fortunate as I reach the apex of my career and fulfill my purpose down the line. Not that I ever needed it, because I had long said that I wanted to offer pro bono services for those who usually get overlooked and don’t have the best in financial and legal representation (of which I will provide to professional athletes and other entertainers once I finish Law School). But now more than ever I will definitely have that bond and perspective and no one will ever be able to question my sincerity when I tell them simply:
But New York State? As Keyshawn Johnson says on ESPN: “CAMMONE MANNNNN”
And North Carolina (I filed there, also, since I had a claim on file): HUHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! CHILD PLEASE WITH ALL THE AUTOMATED NUMBERS THAT LEAD TO THE SAME DEAD END. PAY. UP. THE. END!!!