Friday, April 19, 2013

Welfare-Behavior Modification

I was scheduled to begin this work activity program the following Monday morning at 9:00am.  So I did. 
I have always had faith, and I have never let a challenge prevent me from going after what I needed to survive.  So, by that coming Friday, I was able to get $2.50  for public transportation fair to pick up a free seven day pass  that was going to make it possible for me to begin the work activity the following Monday at 9:00am using the public transportation system.  

This seven day pass was a blessing for me, you can use the card all day for seven days and not have to pay a dime, cool, just what I needed, to get out and look for a job in person, network and get work. That was my goal.  I was planning on going to the library mapping out the places I wanted to go via the public transit system. If the places that I wanted to apply for work were accessible, then I would set a job search plan into motion by organizing times and distances required to get there and back, ultimately, in person. I was planning to use the card immediately. 

When I was given the card by the lady behind the glass attendant window that Friday, she said to me, “You should start using the card on Monday”. I said, “Oh, it is not valid until Monday”, she said, “NO it starts as soon as you use it, but it’s a seven day pass, so if you start on Monday you will be good”. My mind went into question mode. I wanted to make sure I understood what she was saying.    I only had the $2.50 to begin with so if I shouldn’t use the card until Monday then I couldn’t get where I needed to go from there. What I didn’t realize about the card was that from the moment, the very second you activate it time is ticking down.

So in talking with another worker there who was standing on the same side of the glass window as me, I figured it out. If I was to use the card immediately, the seven day count down began immediately, and since it was Friday, the seven day countdown would begin on Friday, meaning Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday would be seven days, so I would not have any way of coming back the following Friday to pick up a fresh new seven day pass, let alone get home from there without using the card immediately.

The adventure began in a negative way, finding out that no money was going to be available until at least 45 days from the day you apply for TANF was very disheartening.  I was expecting some kind of delay in getting money so I was ready to accept that, but the seven day pass poked a hole my positivism.

I met a lot of wonderful women, young old; some had been married, some from various places around the country and even from other countries. One in particular from Chicago, was kind and friendly I told her about my experience with the transit card and I was already starting out in the hole because I needed to get a new one next Friday; I had no more cash,  the $2.50 was it. She was an angel in disguise. She made it possible for me to pick up the Marta card the following Friday, no problem.  This was the week of the fourth of July so we had a break in the week because of the holiday being on a Wednesday.  I always like to stay positive and I was finding it difficult to do in the work activity program, until the owner came in. 

She looked like she was serious. She wore a light grey, light-weight pant suit, it was buttoned and you could see the collar of a white shirt underneath. She certainly demonstrated the look and she came across as very positive professional, and that was what I liked to see. I was serious about finding work and the first couple of days’ content of the work activity program was not very promising or serious at all.  We were told about a dress code to adhere to, but the people telling us, except for the owner of this place, did not look the part, pictures would have helped.

 We were told that if we came in with a dress code violation we would be given a yellow sticky describing the violation that yellow sticky was put on the person in violation across the chest like a HELLO my name is tag. I’m sure this was to be seen as a lightly humorous action, but for women in our predicament it was more close to humiliating. The facilitators talked negatively about how people that came in were dressed, they smiled and joked all the time about how “welfare” was something either they have been through or would never ever do. I said,” Never say never!”

One said she had an episode where she went to apply for medical assistance for her sick child and was denied and appalled that there was no assistance available for her and her child.  

A lot of question asking made them uncomfortable. The answers were usually defensive, like, “it’s not us, it’s DFAX, ask your case worker” or “You grown, you can do what you want, I’m just telling you” and this always made the question askers feel stupid. One person told me they felt very embarrassed by being asked “What are we gone do with that head”? They were insulting and not coming across as trying to help, they came across as “I have a job, and I see why you don’t, too bad, you need to get one”.

This is why the money should be given first and then if it is deemed not needed take it. “Close your case”, a most familiar refrain is heard if this or if that, DFAX will close your case. Being there was like a constant black cloud hanging over your head when you are trying to do the best with what you got. It always seemed that no matter how best you did, you got no respect. It seemed as if they were looking to accuse you of not being honest, sincere or deserving of anything not even respect and the threat of your case being closed was a constant.

A DEFAX worker person told me they were determined not to give you a dollar.  I even had a case manager tell me that in order to get the money you have to play the game. I’ve never really been a game player, it all felt so bogus, I was astounded; she even went so far as to say “Our intention is not to give you the money, because it’s not enough anyway, that’s our goal”.  I was totaling beginning to feel as if this entire process was not really there to assist any needy family, but to take away most of their pride and make them feel stupid and embarrassed that their lives had taken a turn for the worst.

Who said this was a game, this is peoples’ lives. So is life just a game, are human lives just a game, what was the game, what was it all about. What kind of game is it a humiliation game, is welfare a game of humiliation and no respect, it seemed that way when after attending the work activity which by the way started at 9:00am and ended each day at 4:00pm, most of it was just talking about everything from stripper poles to giving your children away. The facilitators also talked about their life experiences from childhood to present. It was like some new kind of behavioral modification scheme that may have been used in some foreign land in the past to control and manipulate the masses, frightening, absolutely frightening.

  And then we were to begin searching for jobs; we were not ever given copies of any presentations of material or anything to take away. we were to just sit and listen to things being read to us, which made it especially boring . A couple of times while the facilitator was talking, right in the middle of what she was talking about she would interject with ”SIT UP” in a deep and stern voice. She would be talking to one of the participants saying, “You need to sit up, you’re falling asleep”.  All I could think was how bizarre, it felt nothing like reality it was like being forced to accept some kind of behavioral modification programming, we were helpless no one cared and we had no other choice.

The term non-compliant was introduced on day one. first let me just say this is or seems to be the jest of the work activity program.  The term, the use of the term and all of it’s variations for me point to obedience, you know, having the quality to willingly carry out the wishes of others, with no regard for your own wishes, it made me a frightened at the thought of its meaning. It made me feel docile, submissive, biddable, amenable, tractable, really.  

We were told that we will need to avoid receiving a classification of non-compliant, a black mark against us I called it, while participating in the job activity program part of TANF or your case would be closed.

Now, I sometimes get words and their variations a little jumbled but let me see if I can define non-compliant in simpler terms: disobedient, recalcitrant, rebellious, uncooperative, and dissenting. On the other hand to be in compliance would be like: fulfillment, obedience, agreement, acquiescence, observance, conformity or falling in line… that clears up their usage of the term, if you were found to be non-compliant then you might as well hang it up, you cannot receive this classification, not once, if you wanted TANF money. That was the straw that broke the camels back for many in attendance.

A non-compliant was up to the discretion of the Office manager/writer of the program/facilitator, she and only she could deem you as non-compliant.  The way it was explained went like this, “we simply report daily to Dfax and it is up to your case manager if your case is closed for non-compliance”.

 However, it was the crux of your survival in this world. If you could get through the work activity program without ever being deemed non-compliant then you pass you win the game you can get money. To be frankly honest, I didn’t expect any problems.

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