I fell on hard times for a minute and had to apply for food stamps in New York City. They’ll give me 200 dollars a month but I was notified that it’s mandatory for me to do 30 hours of work a week. Or rather act like I’m working. Or work at looking for work. Or something.
I thought no problem, I like work – – I’ll earn my keep – – pick up some litter, clean a park. I’m a writer yo but (just this year) I’ve shoveled snow for the sanitation department, did mason work on a motel, chased taxis down the street while working for the census. I went, like the letter directed me to, down to the agency NY state contracts with, FEGS.
An applicant was saying ching ching on the phone to someone about something. Another man asked me what “Ethnicity” meant and asked me if I would please write his Employment Goals on the form : “I just want to stay healthy and do good in the program,” I wrote for him.
Another man flipped out and threatened he’ll go to jail, punch someone in the face.
I had to take a couple hours of tests: long division, reading comprehension — they asked us, welfare applicants, broke and failing capitalists, about Frida Kahlo’s portrait to Leon Trotsky. Oh, NY State you sly possibly ironic loveable bastards, how’d you get her and him through all that bureaucracy.
I read that I could not wear do- rags.
Another applicant flipped out and said they don’t help nobody, he wanted to work so bad he took all these tests before and it was bullshit, they don’t give him any work.
They gave me subway fare home. My counselor seemed kind and caring; in the hallway he kissed an old woman on the cheek.
I asked my counselor is there any way I could, uh, just work for the city or the state instead of just preparing to work, or looking for work, or something, for 30 hours a week. I think I have to show up there every day to mimic a work schedule and learn about work, learn about applying for work. But I know I know. It doesn’t matter.
I’m exempt if I’m 1) disabled or 2) in a substance abuse program or 3) taking care of a child under the age of six or 4) a refugee.
Well: 1) sometimes I feel like I’m not quite up to a daily regular grind, but I’ve been through a lot and 2) I do like sleeping pills like Rip Van Winkle but I’ve been through a lot and 3) I have trouble caring for plants and showing up for regular family functions, so no I wouldn’t do that to a kid and 4) I haven’t been through that much.
I left FEGS somewhat bewildered. Is this a sweatshop, charity, social services, a scam, ridiculous, a roadblock to helpful cash for meat and potatoes, my ticket to self sufficiency? Will they help me get published in McSweeneys (that’s gratuitous, but sadly true-ish).
I actually applied to work at FEGS maybe twenty years ago – – ah, actually more than once, their classified ads seemed so righteous and I was so ready willing and able – – this was when I was fresh out of graduate school and idealistic and wanted to help people. They never answered.