Food Stamps and the Oregon Health Plan
Since losing our health insurance two months ago, I have been particularly stressed over the well-being of my family. Although we rushed to make sure we were all tuned up and ready to go, it is still quite scary to be living in an age of high healthcare costs, but no way to pay the bills. Listening to people denigrate the proposed healthcare reforms has made me particularly angry too.
“This is good news.” Our DHS caseworker said. “Well, bad for you, but good too.” Apparently we were so broke that we qualify for the full Oregon Health Plan Plus program – 100% expenses paid. That is good news – except for the part where we are that broke!
What a roller coaster this last couple of months have been. To be terminated in the middle of the worst recession since 1929 is not a recommended path. Our faith has sustained us, but I have to admit the vacillation between discouragement, dis-empowerment, anxiety, and disillusionment has been a wild ride.
“Also, because of your lack of income, you qualify for the full food stamp allotment of $600 a month.” Our very kind caseworker informed us. Our kids were being entertained in the next cubicle by another kind caseworker. I don’t know what you’ve ever heard about DHS employees – but I’m here to tell you they treated us very well – and were very kind.
I’ve applied for several jobs – some I thought would be fun, others would be challenging, and still others I could do while standing on my head. All have turned me down. I sought to reinvent, redefine, and re-envision my purpose – I saw myself in roles I would never have imagined. And still nothing.
“It will take up to 90 days for your mortgage hardship case to be reviewed,” the nice lady told me over the phone. But I don’t have enough money to last that long I explained. “You can miss up to three payments before foreclosure proceedings start.” Whew! Another reprieve.
When we arrived in Portland we had three months wages in savings – as is recommended. But it’s amazing how fast a family of four can burn through cash. Because of a miscalculation in our escrow account, they raised our house payment $500 a month last year. Then, because of the downturn in the economy, we were not given cost of living raises. Poof! In less time then you can say fiscal responsibility, our bank accounts were drained. It was at that point when the termination came through.
“Nationalized healthcare is socialism! We are not a communist country! Healthcare is not a right! The state should not be responsible for taking care of people – the Church should be taking care of people!” And so the epitaphs would fly. It’s one thing to argue against government supported healthcare, when you are covered by insurance. But interestingly enough, the only people I heard argue against the currently debated plan, are those who have jobs and health insurance.
One thing that has become very clear to me in the last few months is how much paperwork is involved in being poor. Every agency, every time I turn around, has a form for me to fill out. some are online, some are in arcane paper forms, and some are just over the phone. There are phone cues, websites, and regulations to navigate. It is a full time job. I don’t know how people get through this – especially those with less education, fewer resources, or those for whom English is not their first language. I don’t know how some people manage.
I’ve found it interesting that those who say the Church should be taking care of people, actually have nothing to back up those words. The state just came through with the equivalent of $1200 a month in assistance, but the Church has offered nothing – and we haven’t asked, because we know the Church doesn’t have those kind of resources.
Of course, the fear of losing our house loomed large. But, in the bigger picture, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. My real fear was to move into a one, or two-bedroom suburban ghetto apartment complex and the influence of the others on my family. It’s not like we can lock our kids in the apartment all day – but then again, there are scary things happening in apartment complexes.
But this week has been a week of victories. We now have full health insurance coverage! We have a larger food stamp allotment than we generally spend on food! And, it looks like we may be able to squeeze out a few more months in our house – without a foreclosure! I believe we’ll make it.
Earlier this week, I met up with an old friend who was coming through Rainier. He’s a former paramedic and firefighter. He asked me why I didn’t recertify as a paramedic. To be honest, he’s not the first person to ask me this – but he is the first who actually knows the score. Later that day I made some phone calls and sent out some emails – and this actually looks very doable.
So, stay tuned. We’ll see what’s next on the agenda. But, I just wanted to take a few moments to praise God for sustaining us through these difficult times – and for the light at the end of the tunnel. The Walter family has hope today!