As poor folks, we don’t participate in things like Black Friday because there isn’t a sale good enough that I magically have a hundred bucks to throw down on some electronics.
I need that money for the car payment. Stupid priorities.
What I do have access to at this festive time of year is LIHEAP. (That’s the low-income home energy assistance program for those of you new to the acronyms.) It’s a program for poor folk to get help with their electric and gas bills. The money is available yearly on a first-come first-served basis with a few application priorities in place.
September: Open to the elderly.
October: Open to people with kids under 13 or 10 or something like that (I can’t remember exactly.)
November: Open to general public.
The thing about the offices – our local office, anyway – is that my husband has been in there three times trying to apply and being turned away for various reasons since October.
A Secret About the Working Poor
It’s really difficult to apply for assistance, even if it’s available and you know you qualify. Twice my husband was sent home from work early due to weather, and both times he waited three hours before being told they weren’t going to be able to take him that day. Today he showed up at 7am to wait for the office to open at 8:30am. If he’s first in the door, his application is sure to be taken and he might get out of there by 10am. Even though the grant will be worth from one to five days of my husband’s working time, we are mature and know not to risk the job in the hand for the aid in the bush. That being said, if someone called off an already unstable job to apply for a grant that might take care of their energy bills…I don’t see how anyone could judge that. If my husband made minimum wage, that grant could be equivalent to a week or more of full time work.
So that’s where my Black Friday joke comes from. He’s waiting out in the cold first thing in the morning so he can be first in line to apply for the grant today. As long as the grant funds aren’t gone (The grants do tend to get disbursed pretty quickly. I, honestly, will be both shocked and happy if there are funds still available.)
Government offices have government hours which also happen to be the hours my husband works. He only has today off because they have to move scaffolding at the site so only the laborers will be working today. He goes back tomorrow, as long as the weather holds. Or, as I’ve become fond of saying, the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.
A Secret About the Unemployed Poor
You have to have a working car and enough gas to get to the place where they take the application. So, even though you might be awake and have the time to go to the office, you can’t get there. That makes it difficult to apply or receive aid. Even if a person has enough money to catch a bus, that bus has to pick up and drop off within a reasonable distance from their home (or where they are staying) and a reasonable distance from the office they need to get to. That can be serious business if there are no sidewalks or other ways to get from the bus stop to the office.
Where there is a will, there is a way only works if you are healthy enough and young enough. If you don’t have insurance or access to good medical care, you’re looking at having a much harder time than someone who eats and sleeps regularly who could just hop on a bus and walk a few miles.
On the spot update: It’s 8:55am and Mr. Brickie was sent back home after being told he was unable to apply at this time. Since the checks from his work are printed (and thus dated) Tuesday night (but not handed out or able to be cashed until Wednesday at the job site) he was told his information was not current and to come back with the current paycheck. The paycheck he will not receive until tomorrow when he goes back to work and thus totally unable to be at the LIHEAP office to apply for the grant.
So even after making sure he was first in line by waiting outside for an hour before the office opened, armed with all the information he has available, he was turned away.
Thus continues the saga.
On the bright side, since we live in the Chicagoland area nothing gets turned off in the winter so we will have a chance to either apply again or make this up when we have more money. No one is going to freeze. I think that’s why I’m not more frustrated. Mr. Brickie, on the other hand, is very frustrated … having just waited in line an hour to find out that even though he brought in everything he could possibly have right now it wasn’t good enough.
I’m not down about this. One of the upsides of knowing you’re doing all you can is that you don’t feel particularly anxious or stressed about it when little setbacks happen. We could end up homeless, sure, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I have an excel spreadsheet with the calculated date of when Mr. Brickie gets his next raise (which will make us ineligible for SNAP but be just enough to replace it) and the one after that (which will allow us to pay rent somewhere after we move) and all I can do is update those and adjust the plans accordingly. The timeline is tight, but I still think it’s manageable.
If it turns out not to be manageable, well then, I’ll just have to come up with a different plan!