Monday, June 9, 2008

Work to Welfare: The Hardest Job I Never Had

Yup! That’s right, I’m on welfare… I’m milking the system for all its worth! I had better go get in line before those Louisiana people and immigrants suck up all our resources (which have never once been available when I have needed them) That’s right, just another Ivy League grad too smart to go to work! I am just waiting on my next free meal ticket, subsidy, or voucher. The opportunities to exploit the government are endless! Where do I begin???

I remember how difficult it was for me to obtain benefits when I first applied several years ago. I am deeply concerned about how the most recent decision to eradicate yet another class of TennCare recipients will affect the poor and disabled residents in Tennessee. Without my current level of benefits, I simply do not function.

Before my benefits were stabilized, learning to navigate the system consumed every waking moment of my life. I was unable to work or attend school on any substantial level and I am deathly afraid of straying from my established, stabilized, treatment plan-- again.

If I lose my benefits, will I still be able to work? To function? To be productive?

Any new public program requires careful planning if it is to be effective. Recent discussions have not focused on the true impact these changes will have on the "street-level."

Has anyone asked recipients how they feel the new program (Safety-Net) should be designed, implemented, or evaluated? How will this impact the community and other social service or welfare agencies??? I want access, quality, and outcomes. I want… I want… I want!!!

The massive number of people being disenrolled or limited in their access to medical care and other social services will no doubt create significant anxiety, confusion, and chaos for everyone involved in the social service and health care industries.

I remember when Mr. Brian Lapps was somewhere very high up on the corporate TennCare ladder in 1999 when they adjusted the prescription formulary over Memorial Day in 1999. I see Mr. Lapps quite frequently since he now works at the local gas station down the street from where I live.

To this day, he insists that cell phones and TennCare are somehow contraindicated. Perhaps he knows nothing of the population he claims to know just all-too-well…. housing conditions that may or may not have electricity, broken families—some riddled with community violence and domestic disturbances. In the hood, your cell phone is your very best friend. 9-1-1.

These people plagued by domestic violence and community instability makes a cell phone the only logical option. How can you find a job with out a phone? How can you find a home with out a job? Yet even 6 years later, Mr. Lapps uses cellular phones as an example how the TennCare program is being abused by lazy, cheap, and unscrupulous second hand citizens who are just shiftless lazy bums waiting around for their next free hand-out.

Anyone who has EVER applied for or relied upon any kind of government subsidy to have their basic needs met, e.g., food, shelter, medical care, dental treatment, etc… let me personally assure you that there has never been a single time where I felt I was “pulling one over” on the government. I am not just one of the poor saps who believed what they told me they in school: I bought it hook, line, and sinker for the mere price of $279,982.00 and not a shred of financial security to show for it.

Even after consolidating my student loans, the interest alone is $10 less than my monthly income from social security.

So what happens now that the state of Tennessee will begin to cut off social security recipients from TennCare? I honestly do not think I can survive yet another re-certification process-- God knows the first one almost killed me. After three years of appeals, my condition had deteriorated so severely that I was forced to drop out of school, lost my home, lost my sanity, and lost hope. In short-- I lost my dignity and my belief in the social welfare system.

By the time my benefits were approved, I had already checked myself in to NYU Psych Ward because simply could not cope with the reality of what my life I had become. I weighed 94 pounds and suffered in excruciating pain that has only gotten worse with time. My extremities were ice cold, and my hands were numb since I went without medical treatment for the spinal injury that was first discovered when I was 22.

I am now 35 years old. My spinal cord is now damaged from years of delayed, sub-standard medical treatment. I owe the federal government $279,982.00 in student loans and when I am able to work, I make $10.46/hour as a substitute teacher in an urban school district. That job comes with no security and no benefits. It does however offer the flexibility I need to receive the bi-monthly epidural injections and other procedures necessary to manage my pain and alleviate the numbness I feel because of the damage to my nerves. And even though I cannot afford the gas money to get my appointments, pay for all of my medication, or even to get back and forth to work, it does allow me a few weeks of mobility so I can drive, use my mouse or hold a pen.

I have an advanced master’s degree from an Ivy League Institution. I am 12 credits shy of a Ph.D. in public policy. And despite maintaining a 3.2 grade point average, the graduate school I attended for my PhD will not grant me any leniency by extending the amount or time permitted to complete my degree-- or allow me to transfer those credits towards another program at the same institution since it has been just over ten years since I first enrolled. Vanderbilt will not even allow me to use any of the credits I paid for (in spades) towards another degree at the same university since they no longer have the program I was initially enrolled in. I think it goes without saying that I do not have the financial resources available to finish my last semester, take the GREs over again, or pay the associated application fees necessary to make the time spent there worth while.

Throughout the three year process of filing appeal after appeal after appeal, I acquired well over 1/4 million dollars in debt due to uninsured medical expenses and student loans. My life will never be the same. My heart will never be the same.

So after all this-- now I face losing my healthcare once again? Where is the safety net? Where is the American Dream that I so diligently chased after for so many years? What was the point spending so much on an education that will never be utilized? I understand the how; I just don't understand why.

Maybe one of these days Vanderbilt University and the Department of Education will realize it might just be cheaper to hire me that harass me, because unless I find a real paying job soon, their collections department will no longer be able to reach me on that extravagant lifeline my friend, Brian Lapps, refers to as a luxury.

If anyone out there would like to “trade places” with me for one month—I will gladly assume his/her responsibilities for that position if you can find a writer who is willing to endure and write about the reality of social services in our fine State. I do not want a paycheck from your organization; I just want the opportunity to put the myth of freeloading welfare mothers to rest. Live in my shoes for 30 days. Can you find the out? Can you balance my budget and make it work? Can you get the bill collectors of my back? Can you afford internet service to file state job applications and apply for services online? Can you maintain pride and dignity without feeling the least bit sorry for yourself and the choices you have made?

When I go to the pharmacy, I am humiliated that I do not have the $3.00 necessary for the co-pay on my covered TennCare prescriptions. At least when it was $40 dollars, I was not so damn embarrassed by my lack of funds.

Remind me again why I went to school. Remind me once more why I bother to speak out. Then remind me right now that that there is somebody listening. I cannot be the only one who actually gives a crap. My contact information is listed below.

Elyssa Durant, Ed.M.
Nashville, Tennessee
(FORMER doctoral student in public policy)

Elyssa Durant, Ed.M.
Nashville, Tennessee

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Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.