Thursday, January 17, 2013

I have a caseworker.

I've been out of work since July.  When we ran out of savings we applied and received food stamps (which are no longer stamps at all).  Here in Colorado we have "workfare."

Workfare is a great thing--potentially.  Since Joel works full time he doesn't have to participate in the program.  I on the other hand...well, you know.  The first step of workfare is a job search class.  Although very poorly executed it had some good information and advice about job searching and interviewing.  Next we were assigned a caseworker.  To be honest, I was excited about meeting with a caseworker because I thought I'd be able to talk with her about the job search and get some ideas about what I could be doing better as well as have an additional resource for where to apply for work.  No such luck. 

"Joan" had at least 15 people assigned to her during that one class.  She reiterated that we were required to volunteer at one of the approved non-profit sites in proportion to the amount of food stamps we were receiving.  Hence, if we received $200 in food stamps, we would divide that by $8 and then be required to work/volunteer 25 hours a month.  Essentially we would be earning our benefits.  Not a bad thing.  Volunteering would help with the job search as it would give us an "employer," experience, connections, and help us to think about someone other than ourselves.  Joan then gave us approximately 6 more forms to fill out which gave us a copy as well.  Joan then scurried around the room signing our paperwork, sorting it into piles and sent us on our way with our next required "class."

The next class consisted of 15 of us gathered into a small room with Joan as we turned in our forms documenting our job search and volunteer hours and receiving new forms for the next class.  In addition to our group, Joan had another group of similar size in another room.  The class consisted of Joan signing forms and giving us new ones.  There was no time for one on one advice or anything else. 

Joan seems to be a wonderful woman, genuinely caring about helping us to move beyond our need for public assistance but she doesn't have time to actually assist or guide anyone.  Joan is not the only caseworker, after my first class there were 6 caseworkers taking new clients.  I think they have several introductory classes each week.  Their casework is far more paper pushing than assisting individuals.  Each time I've met with Joan (I'm required to go once a month) she appears stressed and exhausted.  It makes me sad.  Joan (and the other caseworkers) likely took this work in order to make a difference but between the inordinate caseloads and the flood of paperwork it is nearly impossible. 

Today I offer a prayer for all those who took jobs to make a difference, to help others move beyond a life of poverty, addiction, and pain but work in places that bureaucracy and paperwork make it nearly impossible to do so, that they may find a way to make a positive impact.  That they may be refreshed and renewed, finding relief from the stress and frustration of their work.  That they may indeed be blessed.  I pray too that we would find a way for the systems set up to help might be restructured and refined so that they could actually fulfill the intention of supporting and assisting people who need a hand up rather than keeping them dependent.

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