One Step Forward, Then Two Steps Back

“My food stamps went down and my rent went up,” Rochelle told me with a sigh two days ago.  Due to government budget cuts everyone’s food stamps, now called SNAP, went down.  She called me this morning and said her kids came back from school with a note yesterday saying that, due to government budget cuts, the grant that provided for her children’s afterschool care had been cut; there would be no more care after December 15th.  She said she had cried all night.  “What am I going to do?”  I had no answer.

Blogging About Poverty

UnknownIt has now been slightly over a year since I started doing weekly interviews with Rochelle, and I’m feeling a little blogged out.   I don’t “get” blogging, actually.  People who go on and on about their routine lives seem pretty boring to me; reporting day to day activities just isn’t very interesting.  I had to opt out of a friend’s blog for that exact reason.  I have good friends; we discuss our lives when we get together, but we usually don’t discuss them on a weekly basis.  The question, then, becomes what to do now?  Rochelle is still only working part-time at the grocery store, and even should the job become full-time, poverty will remain what constantly causes Rochelle to live from crisis to crisis. I have interviewed her for about 60 hours.  We have covered a lot of subjects.  Those who have read all posts should understand how difficult day-to-day living is for Rochelle.  So as the second year of interviews begins, I will be working at discovering new themes and new strategies for exploring Rochelle’s world and its implications.

Last week we had only a short interview.  In thirty minutes I discovered her elder sister is now caring for a year and a half old child who is unwanted by a relative.  This sister has five of her own children and got pregnant at 13.  She has had a long and stable job, recently divorced her husband, but by no means has much money.  This, of course, is what the culture of poverty is all about.  Rochelle’s disabled mother moved back in with Rochelle full time to care for this baby while Shondelle, Rochelle’s sister, is at work.  Rochelle is surrounded by the problems poverty brings.  It is hard to be hopeful for Rochelle’s children; their role models are their aunts, their cousins, their grandmother, and their neighbors.   All of them are all in the same boat of hand-to-mouth poverty.

During last week’s interview I gave Rochelle a globe.  It was a gift from Jessie, my anthropologist sister, who is the reason for these interviews.  Kalinda, Rochelle’s eldest daughter, had done poorly on a social studies test.  The test required that she place continents on a map, among other things.  Jessie thought a globe would be useful and sent it.  Rochelle’s eyes just lit up when I gave it to her.  “I’ve never had a globe,” she said.  I showed her where some countries were and said it should help her kids learn about the world.  I grew up with a family globe and know I was always looking at it.  “You know I’ve never been out of the state,” Rochelle said.  “Do you think some time, when I’ve saved up some money, you could take me and the kids on a trip somewhere?”  It had already occurred to me to try to do that.  I’m not yet sure how or when, however.  “That would be a good idea,” I replied.  Then I felt very sad; she had sounded so wistful when she asked me the question.

So the blog will keep blogging, because the world of poverty keeps on grinding its inhabitants.  I am afraid that in this blog we are mostly preaching to the choir, something that is probably true of all blogs.  But with luck some readers are becoming more aware of what a huge trap poverty can be for those who have never lived in any other circumstances.  And perhaps gaining a better appreciation of the texture of lives stunted by poverty will inspire us all to do our part in the struggle against it.

 

 

School Crisis Avoided

imagesTwo weeks ago Rochelle had an awful day, and it got worse.  She called me and said her car wouldn’t start; could I please pick her up from work.  Usually that means a dead battery, but I knew she had recently bought a new one. She had gone to work in daylight so she couldn’t have left her lights on.  Rochelle works near where she lives, and it isn’t far from my house.  We first stopped by a convenience store so she could buy a money order for her rent.  It was the first of the month, and there are steep fines for paying late.  I dropped her at her apartment and told her I would see her the next day for our weekly interview.  I wished her good luck with her car.

“Yesterday was the worstest day,” she told me when she came in the door for her interview the next day.  I don’t correct Rochelle’s English because I would be correcting her all the time, and that would stress our relationship.  I think I will correct her the next time she uses “worstest,” however. She uses it a lot, and I think it is such a stigmatized term that it could alter people’s judgements of her.  Her daily life can be hard.   She had found someone to jumpstart her car so it was running, but now she had another problem.  Rochelle had been called by her elder daughter’s afterschool care teacher because her daughter, Kalinda, had been in a fight with another girl.   Kalinda was now suspended from the afterschool care program at least for the rest of the week.  Rochelle was concerned that she might be suspended for the rest of the year.  She had called the teacher and was now waiting to see what was going to happen.  During the week her work was scheduling her so she could be off in time to pick up her children from afterschool care.  She would have to cut her hours if she didn’t have Kalinda in afterschool care.

“I’m going to pull her out of that school.  It’s too rough,” Rochelle told me.  I told her it took two people to have a fight and suggested perhaps Kalinda should have gone to the teacher if the other girl had started the fight.  “What is she supposed to do, just stand there and get beat up?”  Rochelle responded. She now had a possible child care crisis and a car whose new battery had died, though she had no idea why.  Both problems could cost her money she didn’t have.

I didn’t see Rochelle last week because I had gone to visit my sister, Jessie, for five days.  When I got back home from my trip all Rochelle’s problems from her recent “worstest day” seemed to have been resolved, at least for now.  The car had not been fixed properly when she had been in a wreck last April; her trunk could pop open a bit and leave the trunk light on, which drains her battery.  Her daughter had received counseling from the teacher and from the school’s security person, as did the other girl in the fight, and they had to clean the cafeteria from 2:45 until 5:00 every day after school for two weeks.  The teacher said suspending her permanently would cause more problems than it would solve, so she didn’t believe in doing that.  I forgot to ask Rochelle if she was still going to move her daughter to a different school.  The schools in her neighborhood get rougher as the children get older, and Kalinda had started junior high this school year.  Rochelle had mentioned her concern about the junior high school before Kalinda started the school year.

The car will present more problems in the future, and school may not continue to go smoothly for Kalinda.  Next year she will have to attend a different school, any way, because her current one is going to be all boys.  Rochelle is really concerned about that because, she says, the new school, which will be all girls, will mix in some really tough girls from different neighborhoods.  But for now, the car is running, and all three children are in afterschool care.  Most problems are crises when one lives with so little money, and when there is no other adult to help shoulder the chronic difficulties of life.  But Rochelle was happy these problems are resolved for now.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Become Poor In Texas

images-2“I still can’t get health insurance,” Rochelle told me last week.   I was surprised she knew about her lack of coverage by the Affordable Care Act, but it was on the list of things I was going to discuss with her that morning.  I had already researched it and she was correct.   Texas is a state that has opted out of increasing the coverage for Medicaid to include healthy, non-pregnant, young and middle aged women.  Men aren’t covered at all until they become old or disabled in Texas, and they weren’t going to fare any better with the new act, either.  Texas wasn’t expanding Medicaid at all under the Affordable Care Act, mostly known now as Obamacare.  I remember being stunned a year ago when Rochelle had first told me she didn’t qualify for Medicaid.  I thought she was just misinformed.  No, I was misinformed.  Eventually I found something that allows her clinic care and a physical once a year.  It is far removed from health insurance but far better than nothing.

Rochelle’s problem is that she is too poor, too healthy, and too young to be covered by the new law.  Mostly she is too poor.  It makes no sense at all, except if one lives in Texas, and 15 to 22 other states (depending on their final decisions), that is exactly the situation.  If Rochelle were single and childless and making $10/hour she could sign up right away and be eligible for health care in January, 2014; but Rochelle is single, has three children, and makes $9.17/hour so she doesn’t qualify.  The Affordable Care Act just assumed that states would increase their Medicaid coverage to include the people well below the federal government poverty line, if they were not already covered by it. The law didn’t prepare for states to reject the idea of increased Medicaid coverage.  Texas has more uninsured people than any other state in the union, and it looks as if it will remain that way.

I explained to Rochelle why it was that she wasn’t going to be covered by the law.  She had voted twice for Barack Obama and was somewhat taken aback when she discovered the health care law wasn’t going to make any difference to her life. There will be quite a lot of people who are better off and able to get health care because of the new law; Rochelle won’t be one of them because Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, seems to have no understanding of poverty nor the cost to the state and the tax payers when those not covered by Medicaid use the emergency room as their family doctor.  I explained all this to Rochelle.  “Well, I heard he isn’t running again,” she said hopefully.  No, he isn’t, but it is doubtful his most likely replacement will think differently.   And so, again, Rochelle falls through the cracks, and there is no safety net for her.  I find it totally astonishing.  Rick Perry should be ashamed of himself.