Is poverty their choice? We seem to think so.
|Whose Fault Is It?
By Marilyn Mackenzie
I really thought I understood what it meant to be poor. When I worked in a church office, I saw people needing assistance through no fault of their own. I saw people who took advantage of the "system" too. Some kept a tickler system to alert them to when they could ask churches for more assistance. Some churches only help individuals every 6 months or a year.
It wasn’t until I experienced poverty myself that I really understood what people go through each time they are turned away from government agency after agency, from non-profit after non-profit.
I didn’t choose the situation in which I find myself. I was injured at work and almost 15 months later I’m still not able to work. I didn’t choose to be in this position. And I would certainly work if I could.
In other states, attorneys would be rallying round to help me. But not in Texas. We’ve made it impossible for attorneys to earn money with worker’s comp cases, unless an employee has lost a limb or an eye or something really serious. A mere knee injury doesn’t qualify.
Eventually, when the TWCC wins, I’ll receive 4 weeks of pay for what they’ve decided is only a 1% impairment. The fact that I now have constant pain, that I cannot stand at my kitchen sink and rinse dishes without having to sit down to rest my throbbing knee means nothing to them. Sometimes, I have to drag myself up the stairs to my apartment on the second floor. That matters not.
The last evaluator, the one whose decision made my weekly pay benefits stop, told me that since I’m over 50, I can expect to have pain. "That’s just life," he said. Funny, my other knee doesn’t hurt at all.
That the doctor who evaluated my knee was a plastic surgeon specializing in hands shouldn’t surprise us. That’s the way the system works. That he gave me advice off the record – to continue wearing my knee brace for a year, to not take a job working on my feet, and to try working only part time for the next year – shouldn’t surprise us either. His written report and his verbal advice were entirely different. It had to be, lest TWCC stop using him.
An attorney earning 25% of my 4 weeks pay isn’t going to work very hard. There are few attorneys even interested in taking worker’s comp cases anymore. There is supposed to be an ombudsman at TWCC available to help, but one can never reach such a person.
Being left without income and without a source of potential income, since my regular knee doctor wouldn’t release me to work, came as a complete surprise. But I assumed, as probably most people would, that the government would have some program to help me until the worker’s comp situation was resolved. Boy was I surprised.
My discoveries have been frightening. Did you know that in Texas you cannot get much assistance at all unless you have minor children? Even if you have an adult disabled child, it doesn’t matter.
Medicaid is only available to parents with minor children.
It’s possible to get one rent payment, but only if it can be proven that the situation is a temporary one. This help only comes after one has received an eviction notice, and even then is not guaranteed. And, if it is received, it’s a "once in a lifetime" payment. Heaven forbid that 10 years from now you find yourself in the same position.
Not to worry. I won’t go hungry as I sleep in my car. I’ve been granted $139 in flood stamps each month. Of course, once I don’t have an address, that will probably stop as well.
I also have an "indigent care" card that entitles me to drive to Galveston for medical care. I suppose, though, I’ll have to visit churches to beg for gas money to get there. It's 45 miles away.
I thought there were government "parachutes" for us when problems arose, but that’s just not so. I guess we really do believe that individuals who live in poverty have chosen that lifestyle. Since it’s their fault, we can ignore them. Our statistics look good, because we have fewer people than ever receiving assistance.
As I use my food stamps in the grocery store, I glance around at other shoppers. I know that many could soon face the same problems. Lay offs aren’t something for which we prepare. Work injuries are not something most people plan or choose. One certainly doesn’t expect to be terminated from the employer where an injury occurred.
Again, I’m forced to think of the words I wrote many months ago:
"Living in the United States, we are generally thankful for the level of prosperity our land of opportunity offers. And we truly believe that those who have not succeeded or reached our own level of worth have done something wrong or have chosen poverty over wealth. How wrong we are to feel that way."
"I read recently that we define poverty in the United States as a family of four making less than $17,000. That means that every single parent with three children who earns a minimum wage is far below poverty level. People like this are all around us, and yet we choose not to see them. If we do see them, we believe they have chosen this poverty."
I wish you health and prosperity. In Texas, you’ll want to do everything you can to keep them, lest you have to face bureaucratic red tape and rejections too.
I really thought I understood poverty. Now, I do understand the look of people I meet going in and out of government agencies. It's a look that says, "I give up."