Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Poverty Level—Really?

According to the Health and Human Services website, the poverty level for a single person living in the United States is $26,000.* That comes to $2,166 per month. I live on $1,228 per month, which is almost half that amount. One would think a person living that far below the poverty level would qualify for all kinds of assistance.

I get some help, but since I do not have any children living with me, it’s limited. There’s Medicare. I paid into that for over thirty years, but I can’t afford to use it. That’s because Medicare only pays 80% of each bill. I have to come up with the other 20%, and that can be a lot. Oh, and that does not cover transportation. I had chest pains last year and called 911. The ride to a civilian hospital cost me almost a thousand dollars. Well, actually, I still owe the Fire Department. I haven’t been able to afford to pay it.

After Medicare paid the hospital, I owed them another thousand, and I still owe several hundred to various doctors. I have no idea when I’ll be able to pay them. When I make it onto the New York Times Best Seller List? Get on Jeopardy and win? When my number comes up in the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes? When I remember to play the lottery and win? Get struck by lightning, sue God, and get a settlement?

And Medicare doesn’t include glasses or teeth at all. A few years ago, I had a bad tooth. Know how I treated it? A string, a door knob, and a good, swift kick.

You may have noticed above I said they took me to a civilian hospital. That’s right. I’m a veteran. At a time in our history when most people were spitting on guys in uniform, I said, “Hey, they didn’t ask to go over to some God-forsaken jungle and get all shot up. They need people to fix ’em up when they come home.” Besides, I wanted to be a nurse, but I couldn’t afford nursing school and I figured the GI Bill would pay for it when I got out. So I joined the Navy. I never thought the day would come when I’d use any of the other benefits that came with it—like getting care at a VA hospital.

But, I’m bi-polar, and that doesn’t make for a very steady work history. I was a bang-up temp. Everybody loved me, and clients would request me. As long as I didn’t stay in one office too long, I did a great job. But if I was anywhere for more than a few months, the cracks started to show. The depression set in, or I got to know people well enough to go off on them. That’s not a pretty picture, let me tell you. The thing is, the way to keep busy as a temp is to work for more than one agency. And temp agencies don’t provide things like health, dental, or pensions. They’re supposed to be stepping-stones to permanent employment. But I only made that transition once or twice, and each of those jobs only lasted a few years. So when I finally realized I was bi-polar and went on disability, I had no nest-egg. Nothing. No net. Try living on $1228/month and see how far you get.

So, let’s see what else is out there. The VA. Free medical care! Not quite. Since I never served in combat and I was perfectly healthy (albeit suffering from morning sickness and the exhaustion of pregnancy), my disability is not considered “service-connected.” I keep telling the VA a sailor got me pregnant, but somehow my honeymoon doesn’t count. But I’m well under the poverty level, so I should get free care. Right? Well, I can see my docs for free, but I have to pay for my meds.  That’s $8.00 per med per 30 days’ supply. I’m on six medications right now, so that’s $64.00/month. Unless I get a ninety-day supply of something. Then I have to pay $24.00 for that med that month. If I get an infection and one of my docs orders a seven-day course of an antibiotic—yup. That’s $8.00. If I can’t pay these bills, the Federal Government can and will garnish my Social Security.

Glasses? I luck out there. I’m diabetic and I have a long history of eye problems including a detached vitreous humor, so they do cover those. Teeth? Nope. Only veterans who have a service-connected disability of at least sixty or seventy percent get dental care. Or people who have retired from the military. Back to the door and string.

I do qualify for subsidized senior housing. Just barely. Actually, being a vet helped there. It moved my name to the top of a years’-long list. My rent is one-third of my income. I would either have to live with my kids or in a box if I didn’t qualify for this. That would mean having to give up my cats. Thank goodness this building allowed me to keep both of my cats.

I qualify for help with my energy bills. I get about $100 per year. That goes a long way. In the summer if I run my air conditioner, my bills can get up to $50 per month. The rest of the year, they average $30. I don’t use that much juice. The charge for electricity is somewhere under $10. The rest of the bill is the charge for “delivery.” I guess it costs a lot of money to maintain the grid. One of my neighbors pointed out that there are a hundred units in this building, and the electric company’s charging twenty bucks for “delivery” to each unit.  They’re collecting $2,000 from this building alone for one wire coming into the place.

Finally, there are “Food Stamps.” Today the program is called SNAP. I read the average person on this program receives $29.00 a month. Gwyneth Paltrow tried to live on $29.00 worth of groceries for a month. She didn’t even make it through a week. Remember, I’m at about half the poverty level for a single person? Yes, I get SNAP benefits. I get all of $16.00 per month. If I lived on mac & cheese and ramen noodles with tap water, that’d be plenty of money. You can get five packages of ramen noodles for a buck, and Aldi’s has generic mac & cheese for about 33 cents a box for weekends.

However, they’re made with wheat. I don’t have celiac disease, but I am “sensitive” to glutens, which are found in wheat, rye and barley. When I eat them, my fingers swell and hurt, I get bloated, gassy, and have other intestinal problems, and it exacerbates my fibro-myalgia, chronic fatigue, and depression. Not only can I not live on a ramen noodle/mac & cheese diet, the cheapest gluten-free bread I’ve found is at Aldi’s for four bucks a loaf. $16.00 in SNAP benefits might keep me in bread for a month, but nothing else. I’m also diabetic, so I have to watch my intake of carbs in general. That means I need to eat fresh foods—salads, fresh or frozen veggies, non-processed meats, etc. I have high blood pressure and a tendency toward high cholesterol, so I have to watch my sodium and saturated fats. Those foods are all more expensive than their processed counterparts.

As for tap water—ours comes out cloudy and tastes like chlorinated dish water. Most people around here either buy bottled water or have filtration systems. I don’t like water anyway. But I keep bottles of tap water in my fridge and make tea with lots of artificial sweetener. Everyone tells me I should use Stevia because it’s natural. Have you seen what that stuff costs? I’ll take my chances with cancer and stick with aspartame.

I would love to live at or even just above the poverty level. Two thousand dollars a month? I know of apartment complexes downstate that don’t charge much more for rent than I’m paying now, include dishwashers, and are larger than my place. They also allow my cats. I had to move out of one when I bought a newer car. I moved up to the Chicago area and lived with my daughter until she got engaged and moved in with her then-fiancé and his kids. That’s when I moved in here. There just wasn’t room for all of us. My bed was in the living room. I cracked up the morning their priest came by and woke me. He about had a cardiac arrest when he came in and realized he was in my bedroom. I said, “Take a step to the left and you’ll be in my office, Father.”

I just don’t get why the government sets the poverty level so high, and then sets the ceiling for assistance so low. It simply doesn’t make sense. And if the Tea-baggers get their way, there will be no Social Security, no Medicare, no SNAP, no Planned Parenthood, and no Head Start.

But you know who haven’t had to worry a bit about where their next meals were coming from, or how to pay for their meds, or whether or not they’d be able to make their rent for the past forty years? Charles Manson and his cronies. How is that fair? I served my country and there I was with a string tied around my tooth. Yet those people killed a bunch of people, carved a baby out of a woman’s abdomen, and they gets better care than thousands of veterans like me. What’s wrong with this picture? Think about that, Tea-baggers.

Thanks for visiting.

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