let's be honest, it's rare for 2 of my days to look the same. but it can happen. today it was another day with my friends over at DSS. for those of you not familiar with the acronym, that is the department of social services. look, i'm not trying to bash the government, but let's be honest, whoever has a good, even okay, experience at most governmental-type agencies?
this was my 4th time there. the first time i went was to apply for Food & Nutrition Benefits (aka food stamps). it opens at 8am. a line forms outside as early at 7am. here is how it works: you come with your specific application and upon arrival need to fill out what is called a "household form" then wait in one of the 10 or so lines that can be 3-8 people deep. when you get to the person at the window they "greet" you with a "how can i help you?" and you give them your paperwork and stand in silence while they tap on a keyboard and jot notes in the margins of the paper. then they hand you a pager (like you get at a restaurant) and tell you to have a seat and when the pager goes off to head to the vending machines at the end of the hall. the waiting room fills up and the lines overflow as the morning progresses.
1st visit: i wait in the area for 3 hours with nothing. i didn't bring a book. and there is no one to ask questions. if a worker is walking by they don't make eye contact with you and therefore it's not inviting to ask, "um, excuse me, but i've been here for 3 hours. and, well, you see this is my first time here. the lady told me to wait and my pager would go off and it hasn't. i've seen people come and go, but i'm still waiting. i understand that everyone is here for something different, so maybe i just have to wait. but, you see, i have a doctor's appt to go to in concord, otherwise i would keep waiting. can you help me?" yeah, so that never happened. the only way to ask where i was in the "queue" was to get back in line which was now about 10 people deep each. so, on the verge of tears i left. i called adam and cried. i was so frustrated. i think i'm pretty resourceful and kinda smart enough to be prepared. but nothing can prepare you for this.
2nd visit: after my 3 hour debacle i went back armed and ready. well, not really. i showed up earlier this time, like 7:30a so i could go straight to the front. i had my household form ready and was one of the first in the waiting room. it's called a waiting room for a reason. you wait. i mean i got paged after about an hour and had a fairly pleasant "interview" with a caseworker. they call it an interview but it's basically a caseworker filling out some info and scanning your documents into the computer. then after about 10 minutes you are done. they give you a date (about 30-45 days away) that you should hear whether you are approved or not. and that's it.
3rd visit: the day after our family benefits ended (with COBRA i had to drop adam & charis) i wanted to get charis signed up for Health Choice (ie medicaid) as soon as possible. i knew i could only stay for an hour and a half so when i got to the window i asked how long she thought it would be for me to get an interview. she said at least 2 hours, but i could leave my application and they will process it without an interview and contact me within 30-45 days if they need more information. great, i thought. i handed over my application and in good faith trusted "they" would contact me. who was i kidding?
4th visit: today marks the 43rd day and i never heard from them. figures. so, i got online to see what forms/info i needed and headed over by 7:30. i was about 10th in line and i had all my forms so when the doors opened i could go straight to the window. look, i get that these folks see a lot a people and get asked lots of questions, but is it really that hard to squeeze out a smile first thing in the morning?! i explained that i had come last month but hadn't heard anything. no comment. literally. she just took my form and began tapping away and scribbling notes. but i was the first to get my pager and head to the waiting room. i had all my forms and 3 hours to devote. i waited a little over an hour before i got paged. my lovely caseworker greeted me at the door by the vending machines. i followed her to her desk and we began the "interview." at some point i asked about that other application and she said she saw no evidence of another application in the system. she told me i would get something in the mail on or "just before" 11/27 letting me know if we've been approved or not. that's 45 days. another 45 days to wait. i was out of there by 9:30a, which was great, but i was frustrated that i trusted them and didn't go back sooner.
i know lots of kids go without healthcare and that is fine. but i'd rather not. i know that it's out there and if we are eligible, which i'm sure we are, then i want to take advantage of the help available to get my baby girl some healthcare. i just wish the system didn't suck so bad. i have to admit that i'm pretty ashamed of the thoughts i had while waiting in that waiting room. the first time i was extremely judgemental. then i realized i was there too and needed the help. i'm not necessarily planning to go back, but if i do i will be ready.
so, there you go. a day in the life of me going to DSS. but it's all for a good reason...