more DHHS time-consuming confusion.

Note: As I’ve written about in my Bangor Daily News column, I don’t consider myself truly poor. I hope to use my experience with poverty to help other people (who haven’t experienced it) understand poverty better.

Today I received two envelopes from DHHS. We no longer qualify for food stamps. I’m not panicked, but I am a little worried. My financial situation has improved and my benefits have been only $14 a month for some time so on the surface it’s not a dramatic cut. However, as a food stamps recipient there are other benefits that will now cost me money. School lunches will no longer be free. I also won’t qualify for several scholarships for my children’s activities.
More than this relatively costly change, though, the mail contained what I now know is a very typical mixed and confusing kind of message from the DHHS. As you can see here, both packets contained information about our eligibility for MaineCare.
IMG_0132 IMG_0133We all qualify. Oh, no. We don’t qualify. Yes, we do! No, we don’t.
At this point, I suspect I don’t qualify but my daughters will. This means I will have the help to cover the co-pays required by their father’s health insurance plan. That makes a good difference for me (if they are actually covered).
In this report from DHHS, none of my childcare expenses are showing even though I entered them in my last recertification submission. Does this mean they no longer count? Does it mean something got dropped? I will need to call to find out, in case it makes a difference in the equation. One phone call alone is unlikely, based on my experience, to give me a helpful answer. It will also very likely take at least 15 minutes just to get someone on the phone to answer my questions, if I don’t get disconnected by their phone system several times as I’m on hold (which happened to me more than a few times).
And, finally, did you know these benefits are determined based on gross annual income? As my business grows in significant ways (yay!), my costs also grow (necessary boo). In fact, last year, more than 60% of my income went to expenses like my assistant, subcontractors, essential database subscriptions, and website maintenance, for example. My income didn’t really increase very much in the end. That doesn’t matter to DHHS as they don’t consider expenses in their calculations.
I’m not desperate, and there is no crisis right now. But, I am now in a much more precarious position. These new $20± items add up quickly. Loss of a larger client, or when (not if) my 215k-miles car breaks down for good, my financial situation will be dire. Despite this, I’m able to know that we’ll make it through okay. I know this because because of my experience as a person who comes from privilege. I know it will get better and I have the skills and support systems to get me through the scary times. Most truly poor people don’t have my advantages.
Where I am now is frightening, but I won’t lose hope. Living day-to-day without the knowledge that things will get better—while they won’t get better for most people living in real poverty—would be nearly impossible to survive.