Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Little House, Big Government...

When I first conceived of my Little House blog I imagined  that it would be like having a cup of tea and talking about matters regarding domestic life. Years ago I had a neighbor, and we would hoist our flannel nighties up high enough to step over our short picket fence between us with coffee or tea cup in hand to have heart-to-heart chats about the matters that concerned us. I would pack my needle and thread of course, and spend  much time coffee clutching. Occasionally we ranted to each other and found that sharing our issues would not only lighten our load, but often would move us into thinking creatively and solving problems that seemed insurmountable at the time.

Warning: I am going to rant about a subject that I think is not only affecting our household but many around the country. I have promised to not write about politics and will stick to that promise, but do need to speak about our big government as I think we are not the only ones that are challenged by it.

When I joined the Roman Catholic Church many years ago, I was wisely reminded by our priest that it is a very old church and as with any very old institution involving many years and many people, it is fraught with human  imperfections. I am quite human and well aware of my failings as well as those of others and tolerate both well, but I do struggle with institutions that loom larger than life. When big institutions are filled with humans, the errors seem to grow exponentially and dealing with them can be like fighting city hall!

Government has grown bigger and bigger as have the agencies under them. Years ago when I worked in special education we had a simple rule of thumb that I think applies to those that work in government offices as well as schools.  "Have one boy and you have one boy, two boys and you have half a boy and three boys and you have no boys at all!".  Substitute the word boy for government worker and I think you get the picture! It seems that the bigger government agencies become the more fallible they become as well and please, this is not meant to be any personal attack of those of you that do government work! I am sure that you have your frustrations with getting the work done as well with all the regulations that you have to follow.

Almost six years ago, I became too ill to work and needed to apply for disability and found the road hard and arduous to “get there”.  It took two years and a lawyer to navigate my way through the various channels that I had to go through to obtain my social security benefits that, as a worker I had paid into and was entitled to collect under the circumstances. The wait meant that my benefits accumulated, though I found that my lawyer was then entitled to a good portion of what was due me for his savvy in getting me through a complicated and dysfunctional system.

I learned then that government application forms are reviewed by those who work hard to follow rules that are apparently designed to eliminate the need of any common sense, which seems to have been replaced with a complex mechanical system of decision making.  I believe that thinking is reduced to a check list of boxes that do anything but clarify. Issues that aren't hard to understand become very complex and muddled. At the time this process skewed the total picture of who I was and why I couldn't work and needed my insurance to help.

I had worked as a nurse, teacher, special education consultant, as well as professional fishing leader tier. My skill set included working with my mind and body, performing various technical skills as well as making serious health, life and death decisions and judgments. At the opposite end of my talents, I was also capable of performing a job requiring only hand dexterity, speed and a bit of organizational skills. Boxes on my application were no doubt checked and the decision became complex and anything but simple. My work involved standing up, walking, sitting down and from complex brain functioning to almost comatose states, albeit, they all involved various levels of energy to be expended and I thought I made it perfectly clear that my medical condition was such that I had NO energy. Shockingly this is not what made them award me a disability status.

My lawyer had the brains to know how government operated that I did not and proved my need for disability status in such a way, that left me totally dismayed. His skill set to navigate through this complicated government system along with the judge's ability to understand that I had exhausted every possible work situation I could possibly do as my deteriorating health demanded over many decades, rightly proved to him that being disabled was the last thing I wanted and that my ability to think creatively had reached an impasse until my body was given the chance to recover, which was questionable then if I ever could or would.

I later was able to laugh about my trial which felt more like being a contestant for Queen for a Day, but I still have no humor about having to get and pay a lawyer to get me through a dysfunctional government agency to take care of my personal “business”.

My trusted dad had a similar experience at his local social security office which further confirmed my perception of governmental agencies.  He entered the office, at the right time of day when no one was there. and saw one of those “take a paper number machines” with a sign that said. "Please take a number, sit down and wait your turn".  With no one but him in the office, he figured that taking a number was not necessary. He had only a couple of short questions, and being a business man to whom "time is money", he used common sense and simply inquired at the desk about seeing someone.  He soon learned that it did not matter that no one else was there.  In order to get seen, he had to take a number, sit down and WAIT....

Recently it seems that government has grown even bigger and the service seems to be worse than ever. As my readers know, my husband was laid off from a long term job last January.  He was given several months severance pay.  He was told to apply for Unemployment benefits right away, though he was not eligible to receive benefits for six months.  Then he was told NOT to apply for six months to save himself as well as the Unemployment office the aggravation of filing and processing claims that would bring him no benefits. My husband preferred to work and hoped by applying fast and furiously for jobs he could bypass needing this government benefit altogether, as already he was getting the picture that nothing would be straight-forward and easy when involving the government.

Losing his job was only part of the loss, as it came with good health care benefits. In applying for what he hoped would be temporary, inexpensive health insurance through the government, he was required to list all of our assets and was encouraged to apply for government assistance just in case we needed it following his six month severance package.  He fortunately had a second “hobby” job on the side of his “career job” and being nervous about not working, he picked up extra hours, though it wasn't a viable substitute for the full time career job he lost. It became a more real option as this employer offered him a promise of a viable salary to come.

Like I said people are human and complex, as are institutions that employ them.  The salary never materialized, the unemployment benefits he was eligible for were revoked as the reviewers of the government health insurance and unemployment benefits office wrongly viewed this low paying, per Diem work as gainful and also wrongly assumed his severance pay was a dispersion of his retirement account, though he is NOT retired or of retirement age. His inexpensive health insurance was revoked as what they considered his "retirement dispersion" that he didn’t receive, pushed him out of his Medicaid status, which had been granted for several months in error, later forcing him into applying for The Affordable Healthcare Insurance that cost more, covered zip and has a deductible enough to drive anyone into poverty!

He was found  NOT to be eligible for fuel or food assistance due to his "alleged" retirement dispersal that never happened. He was also told that he can't quit his present per diem work without losing his Unemployment benefits, despite the fact that by Unemployment standards and rules he is allowed to refuse work that is way below his income status. He worked at these low wages only as he was promised a viable salary to come in the near future. His only option for collecting his entitled Unemployment benefits is to cut back his present work to apply for other work, though he is not allowed to refuse suitable work, which this job is now deemed? He did take his recent Christmas break from work to apply for other jobs and it seems that the most promising of jobs that may become available soon are due to the fact that that employer is cutting the hours of his present workers back to 25 hours/week so as to not pay them un-affordable, Affordable Healthcare Insurance required by government?

It is possible that if he took a job of 25 hours/week at low wages, he would have a better chance of being considered for a full time job with benefits that will likely open up soon.  This would be a job that would be a better match to the job that he lost, though likely still at a much lesser salary.  It may also avail him to his lost Unemployment benefits as initially he would be working less hours, allowing him to apply for other work and claim a few hours of Unemployment on the side, in case he doesn't get the full time job at a better salary?

It would be funny if it weren't all true. It is all so ridiculous as to cause many in similar circumstances to consider suicide as the only viable option for being so desperate as to simply want a job that will pay them a sufficient salary. I did fail to mention that less than two years before his company laid him off, he was recognized as one of their outstanding employees and honored for twenty years of dedicated service?  Go figure...this is the reward of those with successful careers, not quite ready to retire either by age or by choice.

Fortunately we have significant health assistance through our local hospital during this involuntary lapse and gap in his health care insurance, that was applied for and obtained by careful documentation by us of our present need. It is fortunate too that he will be eligible for Medicare in six months, and that retirement is only 18 months away, though we will soon have to spend into our retirement savings perhaps permanently closing the door to any sort of assistance until our savings is gone, and making it such that we will never afford to fully retire until we die.

Our grounded perspective is that anything and everything outside of God and the Pope is fallible and we know that the Pope is only considered infallible by the church in matters of church doctrine, and so we are clear in expecting that all other institutions will be imperfect--including government! I do believe however that this proves that less government works better for the majority of us, as the bigger it gets the less brain it has and no matter about all the wonderful policies set up to help those that have fallen on hard times, it seems that for many, like us, government seems to get in the way instead.

We will be like others that have to smarten up and figure out ways around what we can't change. I know that many believe government should provide what is lacking in benefits to all, but I am scratching my head and wondering why it isn't working for us hard working people who have suddenly lost a good long term job likely due to the pressures put on them by the government to fix what wasn't broken for us. It wasn't a perfect system, but with big government trying to make it better, we seem to be much worse off than we were before!?

God help us!  It is a good thing that He will, as our Big Bro Government is not!! May I get you another cup of tea or coffee while I listen to your ideas of how to "get around" some of these apparent "no-win" dilemmas, and as for me, I think I will have another shot of Vandermint Liquor in my hot chocolate to anesthetize the pain of all this!

P.S. I am sorry that I couldn't publish, under the threat of blackmail, the picture of my daughter dressed up for this tea party...complete with a pair of shorts I made for her when she was a small child, out of comic book material and worn on her head, with her gold glittered holiday shoes and carrying a silly looking hand-knit bag with her winter jeans and sweater outfit!  My daughter retains her child-like spirit and loves tea parties that used to be held on a Christmas Santa tablecloth on the living room floor complete with games. Her humor cuts through any serious business around here and makes me laugh, keeping me sane (was I ever sane?)!