“Mrs. Galindo, the reason I have to talk to you is that papers show that you failed to report all your income,” the public assistance investigator in San Diego, Elizabeth Cazares, expresses to me in Spanish.
The words “Economic Crimes Division” I read on her personal card she left at my door, would scare anyone, especially a mother in assistance like me.
In this economic recession, with thirteen million people unemployed and thrown under the bus, the least we want to worry about is losing our food stamp benefits.
The number of Americans receiving food stamps as reported by the United States Department of Agriculture is 46.7 million, as of June 2012, which is more than the entire population of many large nations.
Cazares and I talked and agreed to meet the next day, but since then, the roller coaster of emotions starts again.
My mind is filled with: “What did I do wrong? I have reported everything.”
A few years ago, we survived the terrible insult of the inspection of our home by Project 100%, the county’s welfare eligibility program that requires all welfare applicants to consent to a warrantless home visit as a condition of eligibility.
After a large amount of pressure, the “assistance” arrived approximately two or three weeks after the intrusion of our home.
This program, according to the District Attorney’s office “…does not violate the applicant rights under the United States Constitution, the California Constitution, or California welfare regulations prohibiting mass and indiscriminate home visits.”
Under Project 100%, all applicants receive a home visit from an investigator employed by the D.A.’s office. The visit includes a “walk through” to gather eligibility information that is then turned over to eligibility technicians who compare that information with information supplied by the applicant.
The investigator confirms that the applicant has the amount of assets claimed: the applicant has an eligible dependent child, the applicant lives in California, and an “absent” parent does not live in the residence.
I must say that I felt forced to meet with Cazares and miss school again, but food stamps are very important in my household of four.
The little jobs I have make it tougher for us to survive while we skeptically look for a better employment opportunity so we can stop depending on government assistance.
According to Lawfirm.org on Oct. 11th, the welfare office has a special unit called Fraud Early Detection, F.R.E.D. “You do not have to talk to a FRED investigator. If the FRED investigator comes to your home, you do not have to let a FRED investigator in, unless the investigator has a search warrant. You must be told of these rights both verbally and in writing, in the language you speak.”
Instead of that, after introducing herself and entering our home Cazares asked, “Oh, do you collect antiques?” I noticed she was writing notes and I am aware of the racist stereotype of the welfare queen, but I assume, if she is investigating, all my neighbors can state that I work three jobs only to stay afloat. I answer: “No, this is my furniture that I had since 2000; some of them were given to me, by my grandparents and my parents.”
After talking for a while, confirming the names and the earnings from my clients in one of my other jobs, I tell Cazares I have a new temporary job working on a candidate’s campaign for major, the investigator tries to trick me asking “and you don’t report that income?” I tell her “Of course I do, but I will report it in my next quarterly report”… and she writes some more.
Families in assistance get sanctions if we earn more money in our jobs; even a minimum change on income reduces our benefits punishing our families. Therefore, we never have enough to meet the needs of our children. But if fraud is confirmed, penalizations can be devastating.
Then Cazares asks: “Our investigation reports that a male person has been seen here.” And I take me by surprise, but I answer: “Well, I have many friends and family members that come to visit and sometimes stay with me.” She asked me in particular about a male friend that has been seen more often lately, and I answer that one of my co-workers visits me frequently, and I told her his age.
As if poor people shouldn’t have sex. I must say that even when I do not have a relationship with him, I wonder if the county is going to keep track of who I have sex with only because I receive assistance. It is clear the message is poor parents in assistance cannot enjoy the “gift of the poor”, so keep your legs together or you will lose your benefits, or worse.
It is humiliating to have to answer those questions. I firmly believe this is about control, as if our life wasn’t already difficult.
And Cazares continued: “According to our report, there was a person living here back in May.” I think immediately of a friend I was talking back then; I said he stayed sometimes, but no long enough to state he lived here.”
To end her official visit, and as mocking of me she asks me for a tour of my “mansion,” and she jokes about it. “I tell that to all the people I visit, she adds.”
We will see.
Before she leaves she asks if I have any question for her. And I answer,” There are two people committing fraud; recipients and case workers. I am sure some people take advantage of the benefits taxpayers help to fund, but I have proof that I have three jobs only to pay the rent. I have finished my Bachelor’s and I am pursuing other Associates in journalism and life is not easy for us.
Why me?, if I have proven that I want to get out of poverty. Why me?
But she only smiles and says that the results of her investigation are going to be sent to me.
That can mean many things. I think the county believes that poor people are lazy, commit fraud, do drugs and have babies. I only need assistance to feed my kids. Actually, we need jobs, not Welfare.
Lawfirm.org, states that “Sometimes the investigator comes to a conclusion based on false information from a third party. Other times they may draw incorrect conclusions from what they see.”
Absurdly, the percentage of federal spending on welfare programs is 1% and that same government that is constantly cutting the Food Stamps Program is constantly raising the military budgets.
According to Moraloutrage.wordpress.com on Oct. 12, we are spending 2 billion dollars per week in the war in Afghanistan.
The military contractors are corrupt thieves, but they never receive the kind of suspicion reserved for mothers of children on food stamps like me.
The life of a single mother on assistance is for sure not easy, forcing us to resort to pawn shops, to pay all the monthly bills. We have survived until now in this economy. But it has been a tough road that primarily affects the most vulnerable families. Contrary to what the public sees, government policies seem to be set up to crush people like me trying to get ahead. We need to have a more accurate picture of hunger.