Yes, I can be added as another single Rican mother to the food stamp rolls, for a month and a half at least.
I went, for the first time ever to the food stamp office yesterday. I entered holding my breath and my nerves. When I got to the first floor, the line was short and I naively thought “Hey, this doesn’t seem too bad”. Little did I know that that first floor was just to get a number to go upstairs, which was a special kind of hell and humiliation.
FA 3020, scribbled on a green paper because the systems were down. I went up to the second floor and was ushered past three lines and one packed waiting room to a another packed waiting room, painted prison/public school green, with school like chairs with desks attached. The room was filled with other parents with children, and single men and woman, mostly people of color. Some filled out papers, others listened to music or were reading the paper. There were young people, old people, and everyone in between, all waiting for their number to be callled. I had to wait three hours for my number to be called. In those three hours I was engaged in the joyous task of entertaining a restless almost two year old, who wanted to run through all the waiting rooms. The security guards were nice, pero why were there so many security guards. Four on this one floor I was on. Did they expect us to revolt after waiting for hours? It would have been a good option, but we all knew better. Our ability to feed our children and ourselves was dependent on these people. So we sat. Trying to hush our children. One young guy behind me started kicking it to me. I was like, “really? At the food stamp office?” Pero I found myself talking to him anyway. It was a distraction from the numbing atmosphere that prepared no one for the moment when their number was called.
When my number was finally called, I was led to the back, which opened up into a maze of cubicles with case workers. At this point poroto was beside herself with exhaustion and was restless and cranky. The Russian woman wo was my caseworker took my application and my documents.
“You make less money then your rent. That’s a problem. Why don’t you apply for cash benefits?”
“because I work and don’t want to be put in a job training program” I told her honestly. And I also didn’t want to deal with another office. Not now anyway.
“Well this means we will have to give you a deferral until you can prove you can pay your rent.”
“If I can’t pay my rent, according to my paperwork, isn’t that proof enough I need food stamps? “. I didn’t ask her this outloud. i just tried to comfort my now screaming toddler.
“You need to take your client out of here,” Another case worker yelled over her cubicle wall. Apparently Poroto’s cries were disturbing her.
“I’ll just have you do a telephone interview so you can get out of here” my caseworker told me before going to make copies of what I brought her: pay stubs, bank statements, utility bills, birth certificates, and Social Security Cards.
As soon as the casewoker left, Poroto reached on the desk and grabbed a pen.
“Oh no mami, you can’t let your baby start going through papers on the desk”, another caseworker with knee high electric blue suede boots chided.
“What she needs is a good smack,”
“I don’t believe in hitting my children,” I answered quickly and strongly.
“Well she can’t act like that in here, ” the blue booted case worker told me before walking away loudly telling all the other cubicles how my child was out of control.
That was when I wanted to cry.
Here I was a work at home mami, a woman who has worked all her damn life, a woman who was told her whole life by her own single mother that she did it all without a penny of government assistance, a woman who by my own account is pretty damn smart and talented, and a good damn mother and I felt like the smallest, ugliest stastistic stereotype, everything I was never supossed to be.
I fought the tears and gratefully accepted the blowpop offered to poroto by a male caseworker. My caseworker arrived, handed me a stack of papers and told my that my telephone interview would be tommorrow morning. I was then sent downstairs, again, this time to get fingerprinted.
The last time I had been fingerprinted was in the basement of One Police Plaza after getting arrested in a protest. There was no ink pad here though. Everything was done by electronic scanning. As I pressed my fingers into the scanner, I felt a little pedacito of me move through the wires and in between the unique black and white pattern that was my fingerprint on the screen.
Then I was done.
I left the building into the cold Long Island City industrial street and walked a little bit. Poroto fell asleep and I wept.