It was time for the annual renew-the-food-stamp-benefits phone call.
I received the bi-annual notice in the mail that it’s time to renew my benefits. It came a bit too late to fill it out and mail it before the deadline, so I took it downtown on the city bus with Rosie in tow; Rosie turned somersaults across the dreary carpet as I waited my turn, waited for photo-copies, accepted my receipt, and left. The bus back to our house only comes to that part of Steubenville once an hour at that part of the afternoon, and we’d just missed it, so we walked to the thrift store with the fifty-cent toys, shopped, and walked back to the bus stop. By the time we’d gotten home, I’d spent an entire day just trying to turn in paperwork.
The next notice came in the mail, a few days later: it said that since I’d turned in my paperwork on time, I had been scheduled for a phone interview to review my benefits. If I missed the phone call, my case could be denied. The call was scheduled for rather early in the morning, considering my chronic fatigue syndrome and that I often do my day’s work at night, but I set my alarm and woke up for it. My husband handed me the tracphone and took Rosie to play downstairs so that I’d have a quiet room for the call.
I waited. I checked the phone every few minutes. I paced back and forth for five minutes, praying Chotki. I went to the bathroom. I set the phone down on the side of the sink so I wouldn’t drop it. Approximately forty-five seconds later, as I was leaving the bathroom, I looked at the phone again.
I saw that there was a missed call.
I double-checked the ringer; it was turned on. The phone hadn’t rung even once. Hours later, I remembered that every time Job and Family Services has tried to call the tracphone, the call has not gone through for some reason; the old phone I had before this worked fine. But I didn’t think of that at the time.
I called the number that had just called me.
“Welcome to the Department of Job and Family Services,” said a robot. The robot listed several different options, none of which were relevant; I pressed zero until I got a receptionist. The receptionist transferred me to a voicemail box which promised that someone would return my call within twenty-four hours.
I’ve never gotten a call back from Job and Family Services voicemail, not once in all the years we’ve been stranded. Still, I left a polite and apologetic voicemail and sat in my room for over an hour, praying they’d call back.
When they didn’t call back, I informed my husband that he was going to take over homeschooling for the day.
Michael was concerned. I was just pulling out of the late-summer CFS flare-up that had left me bedbound for over a week. But neither of us could think of anything else to do, so he mixed up my various vitamins and medications for me, gave me a strong cup of coffee, and put on Star Wars for Rosie.
I caught the bus downtown. I walked to the Department of Job and Family Services. I waited in line for some time, then they sent me to wait at a table for quite a bit more. Then a social worker took me back to her cubicle to conduct the interview in person– and she was perfectly professional and kind to me; none of this was her fault. But I was concerned at the answer to the question I asked her.
“I didn’t know what to do except to come downtown. Was there a simpler way to make sure I still got my interview?”
“No,” she said, as she printed out yet another form I was to take home, fill out, attach other papers and return. “You did exactly what you should have done.”