Fighting Hunger at Work and at Home: An Americorps VISTA's Experience (Part 2 of 2)
Listen to Eli share how they fight hunger at work and at home as an Americorps VISTA volunteer. They share the challenges they faced applying for SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps). And, they share what it was like to both work and receive food from a food pantry. Check out their story in this episode of Voices of Hunger NC, co-hosted by MomsRising and North Carolina Alliance for Health, with support from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.
This is Part 2 of Eli Lumen's story, written by Eli.
True to form, this Friday the Thirteenth was rough for me. Murphy’s Law overtook my day: what could go wrong did go wrong. So, I don’t know what I expected when I pulled up to Aldi at 7:30pm. I always feel bad going into a store right before it closes, but I was pretty psyched to have some fresh food!
I went down my shopping list and found some awesome deals. When I got to the checkout and swiped my card, it happened: I had my first embarrassing experience using my Food Stamps. The clerk looked at me and said, “Your card was declined… You don’t have enough to cover this.” I was so embarrassed that I just abandoned my cart to the clerk who was avoiding my eyes, leaving my Aldi quarter right there. Anyone who has been to Aldi knows how important that quarter is. That’s how quickly I fled that scene.
Sitting in the parking lot, I finally set up my ebtEDGE account, which allows you to check your balance online or through the app. Sure enough, my September Food Stamps had not yet appeared. I had a notice about Hurricane Dorian that stated I would receive my benefits on September 7, which obviously didn’t happen. The app showed my transaction history, so I did the math on how much I had spent, just in case I’d somehow spent $194 in 6 days without realizing it.
Of course not. I may be inattentive, but I’m too paranoid about money to lose track of that much that fast.
The only thing I could do was call DSS to figure out what was going on. I couldn’t do that after office hours on Friday or at any point over the weekend. So, I called first thing Monday, September 16. In fact, I called three times throughout my workday. I never got through the call line to talk to a representative. I wondered a lot about how people who can’t use their phones at work or have other responsibilities ever get through.
Fortunately, I got through to an actual human being the next morning. She was super helpful and informed me that there was nothing in my file to explain the lack of benefits. To get to the bottom of the issue, she then transferred me to my Food Stamps case worker. The case worker told me that there was a hold on my account and released it. Apparently, they don’t know if there are holds on accounts until folks call to report not receiving their benefits. When I asked why there was a hold at all, she told me that “sometimes the system just does that.” According to her, my benefits would be available the following morning on September 18. That’s 5 days with no access to my supposedly available funds, and a second month of problems with social services.
Food Stamps were marketed to me as this amazing benefit that could help stretch my meager living stipend even further. The truth is, when I finally got the funds, it was amazing. I had fresh produce and ate healthy meals made of ingredients that weren’t bathed in preservatives. Check out my personal experience trying to apply for Food Stamps. What was marketed to me as an amazing benefit also came with anxiety and insecurity.
However, this benefit came at the cost of many hours spent worrying and handling administrative nightmares. I certainly don’t think it was as accessible as I was originally led to believe.
The rest of my benefits have come in just fine, but I'm still on edge after this whole process. Will I get them this month? Will there be another random hold on my account? I guess we'll see.