Goodbye food stamps

November 26, 2018

Edit 11/27/18: I must apologize to all of you wonderful readers for the errors in the original version of this post. As it turns out, the income limit for food stamps was not cut in half. The person on the phone didn’t know what they were talking about and the appropriate information was missing from their web site (both of these issues have been reported.) So that part is good!

However, I have still lost my benefits for now. The reason is that in determining the income limit, medical deductions are not counted. WTF?!?! My income had gone up, and I am now $20 over the limit. Just $20!!! However, my income has since gone down again, so I can resubmit paperwork to get my benefits reinstated. It’s a lot of effort, but worth it.

But think about how hard it was to learn this. I got a letter with misinformation. I spent 45 minutes on hold to speak with someone who gave more misinformation. I spent the night thinking my benefits were cut off. Then this morning someone called me back and explained it all. Why wasn’t that explanation put in the original letter?! The system is broken in so many ways. Not to mention the part where I lose $172 every month in benefits because my income is $20 too high. If they want people to get off benefits, this isn’t the way to do it, because this just encourages people to earn less so they don’t fall off the benefits cliff! Now back to the original post….

Benefits in the U.S. (and many other places) are majorly screwed up. Today I’ll tell you how I lost my food benefits, which I just learned about a few minutes ago.

When I first became disabled, I wasn’t eligible for the SNAP program (formerly called food stamps) because my assets were too high – meaning I had too much money in the bank. But then they changed that, and I was able to sign up. For 4 years I have received money every month to buy food.

The limits are strict. I can only buy certain kinds of food – nothing from the bakery, for example. And only food – no soap or toothpaste or toilet paper. Still, it helps a lot!

Until this year, I was getting the maximum amount for a single person in Massachusetts. It didn’t cover everything, which was worrisome. I’m small (around 125 pounds) and sedentary. How would someone bigger and more active manage on that small amount? Luckily for me, I have savings, so I used that to make up the difference. Friends of mine went to food pantries. Sucky, but that’s our system.

Earlier this year my benefits were lowered by $20. That sucked, but I knew it would go back next year when I filed my 2018 taxes, showing less income. It still surprised me that with my low income I wasn’t getting the maximum anymore. Again, a very messed up system.

And then yesterday I got a letter saying my benefits were getting cancelled. Part of the reason had to do with me not being disabled. Of course it was a weekend, so I had to wait. In the meantime, I did some research. New guidelines came out on October 1, but even so, I should qualify. So today I called. After 45 minutes on hold, I got someone. She didn’t know much and I had to keep correcting her. Finally, well over an hour after I’d called, it was 5pm – time to quit. She said she or her supervisor would call me back tomorrow. But I’d learned one thing: the income limit she used was half of what I was seeing online. I said that, and she couldn’t explain it. So after we hung up, I did more research.

In many states, there’s no asset limit, but in Massachusetts there is. Here’s how it works: if you’re not disabled, there’s an asset limit (about $2000.) If you are disabled, then there’s a higher asset limit (about $3350) but only if you earn more than a certain amount. If you earn under that amount, you can have any assets you want. If you earn over that amount, there’s an asset cap. A house doesn’t count. Cars don’t count. But money in the bank does count. I have enough in the bank to cause a problem if they look at my assets, but my income was always low enough that it wasn’t an issue.

And I’m glad for that money in the bank! It’s there for emergencies. It pays for medical expenses when there’s a month where they cost more. It will pay for my new car when my current car dies. It pays for a dinner out with friends once a month or a new sweater or two from the consignment shop. It’s what kept me from having to move in with my parents while I waited for over 2 years for SSDI to come through. I worked my ass off for that money in the bank. I spent my career working in nonprofit, which as we all know, doesn’t pay very well. And I was living in Boston, one of the most expensive parts of the country. Saving that money was NOT easy! I cut back on a lot of things to save that money. As my friend Rob said to me a few minutes ago: “You’re being punished for doing everything right except being able bodied.”

Because now that money in the bank counts against me.  But it shouldn’t.

You see, until October 1, the income limit was 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL.) That comes out to $2023. That’s a tiny sum in this part of Massachusetts. Especially for someone who is disabled who could easily spend hundreds every month in health expenses. I was under that amount, so my assets were irrelevant. Then on October 1 they changed the income limit to 100% FPL. That comes out to $1012!

Think about that for a minute. In an area where a 1 bedroom apartment in lousy shape will cost at least $800 per month, the income limit is $1012. So if you earn $1015 and pay $800 for your apartment while you’re on a waiting list for Section 8 housing, you now have $215 to pay for food, medical expenses, transportation, and anything else in your life. It just can’t be done. So you have to dip into your savings. Let’s say your assets are just a bit over the limit, around $4000. How long do you think that will last you? A year if you’re lucky? Probably less. At that point you can now get on benefits. And if you have an problems where you need savings, you have spent them all and you’re now entirely fucked.

Or maybe you earn more. Maybe you earn $2000 and you have $10,000 in the bank. That’s plenty of money, right? Not really. It’s hard to live on $2000 in this area if you’re able-bodied. If you’re disabled, it’s not enough. You’ll have to take money out of savings each month. As soon as you have to pay for a car repair or two, or a couple of large medical expenses, your savings will be gone.

There’s no perfect answer. I get that. But to cut the income limit in half is cruel. To do so without warning anyone is heartless. To send out a form letter that doesn’t explain any of this and just cut off people’s benefits is both.

You know that safety net everyone is always counting on? Watch out, because the holes just got even bigger.

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Will today be the day to go outside?

November 20, 2018

On the one hand, I knew that going out 2 nights in a row might be too much. On the other hand, I thought I might be ready for it. And how would I know if I didn’t try? So I tried. And it could have worked. Could have, but didn’t.

Now, it’s not like I was out clubbing until 2am both nights. The first night I went to play board games, and got home just before 10pm. That would have been fine, except because I was out, I didn’t take my melatonin, and so I felt too awake to sleep. I ended up going to bed at 1am and only sleeping 6 hours. Yikes!

The next day I rested all day, then pushed myself to go out at night. I recently began volunteering for an organization I really care about. I do small things from home and attend meetings once a month. So far, I had only been able to attend by phone, but it was important to me to attend in person. So I went. I was tired, but once I was there I felt good! Still, I hadn’t finished the dinner I brought with me, and the small appetite should have been my warning. I got home before 10pm, but slept badly.

I knew I was pushing my limits. During the meeting I would occasionally cough. Just one little cough every 10 minutes or so, not the kind you get when you have a cold, but the kind that means I’m not breathing well. That’s because my lack of sleep the night before meant I hadn’t used my CPAP enough. After a second night of poor sleep, my sleep apnea was really causing problems. I woke up the next day feeling really blah. Was it my regular autoimmune stuff? Was I coming down with a cold? Was my autoimmune stuff preventing me from fighting off a cold? Only time would tell. I did the smart but boring thing – I stayed home all day to rest. So much for the errands I wanted to run and things I wanted to do around the house.

The next day I clearly had a small cold. Damn. I canceled my date and stayed in. Again. More tv. I wished I was reading a novel instead of an interesting-but-too-much-brain-power-required nonfiction book. I felt sort of queasy after eating, but not in the usual way, or in a really sick way. More in a my-body-is-trying-to-do-too-much way. Weird.

The next day I still had a cold and was still having mixed results with food. Time for more rest!

And each night I was sleeping badly. I was congested from the cold, so I kept having to take off my CPAP mask during the night. You know what’s worse than not sleeping? Sleeping without my CPAP. It’s true. I’d be better off staying awake. Too bad I didn’t. The exhaustion was crushing.

Still, after 3 days at home I was feeling better. The cold seemed to have cleared up much faster than usual. I took a short walk! I washed my hair! I put the pajamas and towels from the last few days in the laundry! I wanted to run errands, but figured I should rest. Instead, I cooked a nice but relatively easy dinner. I was on the mend!

Except after dinner I felt a bit queasy. And by 8:30pm I was falling asleep on the couch. I slept on the couch without my CPAP for half and hour (d’oh!) and then went to bed, where I watched a movie on my phone for an hour and a half. Finally I was able to sleep. And for once, I shut off my phone. The new Android update makes it hard to shut off all sounds, and too often a ding or a ring comes through, so I shut it off completely. Then I slept with my CPAP for over 10 hours! I can’t remember the last time I did that. 9 is a lot, but 10!? Unheard of for me.

I woke up feeling somewhat rested. But still tired. Still run down. I didn’t get out of my pajamas all day. At one point I was going to. I took off my bathrobe. Then decided changing clothes was overrated and went back to watching tv.

In the past 5 days I have crocheted a bunch of stuff, finished the book I was reading, and watched a ton of tv. I haven’t gone grocery shopping, gotten a haircut, brought in my phone to be fixed (there’s a problem with texting that really needs to be addressed), booked an AirBnb for an upcoming trip (I’ll get to that in another post), or done a bunch of other stuff that really needs to be done. I WANT to do all of that, but I just haven’t felt up to it.

And then today I woke up feeling…. normal? Normal-ish? I don’t know, but I definitely feel more like myself. I’m tempted to try going to the grocery store. I really need food. And I especially need the food I promised to make for Thanksgiving.

But I haven’t left the house other than that short walk since Wednesday. Today is Tuesday. And someone is dropping their dog off tonight for several days of dog sitting. She’s a darling and fairly easy, but I’ll need to walk her before bed and again first thing in the morning. I should probably save my energy for that. I want to go outside. I really do. The snow is pretty and the fresh air would be lovely. But on the other hand, I’m still a bit tired, so maybe getting out of pajamas and taking a shower will be enough activity for today.

My friends get a cold and they push through, continuing to care for kids and pets, going to work, running errands. I wish they would stay home so they didn’t spread their germs. I’m the opposite: I got a cold so I stayed in and kept my germs to myself, then had to deal with the autoimmune fallout and was stuck at home for another 3 days – and counting! It’s just one more of the countless frustrations that come with chronic illness.


Wanting to do so much more in a day

November 4, 2018

It’s the constant struggle, isn’t it? Even my healthy friends want to do more than they can in a day. With chronic illness, the struggle is just that much more intensified.

Some days I can’t do anything at all. One day last week all I managed was to change out of my pajamas into a clean set of pajamas around 4pm, to browse Facebook in the morning and to watch tv and movies in the afternoon. Oh, and to eat. That was it.

Other days I do lots. Today I too a walk, went to the gym briefly, answered emails, did a couple random little things at home, wasted too much time online, and did part of my monthly financial review. Not bad! It’s just that I want so badly to do more!

And I never know which days will be which energy levels.

I look at my mother and wish I could keep up with her. She does so much in a day, and I wish I could do the same. I wonder how much I will (or won’t) be able to do when I’m here age?

I see my friends, who manage to do more than me in addition to working full time and raising kids.

It’s not fair to compare. I know that. Of course I know that. But still, it’s hard not to. Because I want to do more! I want to get all of my chores done so that I can do more fun things. I want to do more of the fun things. I’m so tired of doing one fun thing and then being too tired for anything else. I’m trying to make plans with someone this week, and I feel that I can’t see them Wednesday night because I have physical therapy Wednesday afternoon and doing both would be too much. I can’t see them Friday night because I’ve got a meeting Friday afternoon and both would be too much. I want so badly to do 2 things in one day.

So mostly I’m complaining because I’m feeling frustrated today. Because it’s only 3pm and while I’ve done a lot, I want to do more, even as I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. Literally. The sun is shining for the first time all week, and we’re about to get several more days of rain. I want to be outside enjoying it! I want to go out with a friend. I want to clean up my apartment. I want so much but my body has other plans. My body wants to rest. My body isn’t able to do more.

And so I am sitting on the couch, with the laptop on my lap, looking longingly out the window and feeling sorry for myself. It’s not helpful. It’s not productive. But it’s where I’m at. And this blog is called Chronic Rants, after all, so some days I just need to rant a bit.


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