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      (MANDOS POST, people who don’t want to read things they disagree with please stop here) I don’t normally watch horror movies, but I made an exception and recently watched the horror film Get Out. It’s a horror-satire movie that constructs its underlying trope from the concept of racist microaggressions, and it’s one of the best films […]
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By request: Unemployment Chronicles

2091340338_3618420daf

(Photo source, Darth Dragon on Flickr)

When I wrote that I was laid off for the second time in 3 months here, Laurie recommended the following:

Laurie, on January 24th, 2009 at 4:30 am Said:

SM plz keep us posted. If you can, do an unemployed diary. You know, where you have to go, what forms you have to fill in, how long you have to wait to get food stamps. What food stamps look like, what kind of food you get for them-can you get organic? How long the line is etc etc

I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to write about this.  Being unemployed and having to ask for help to feed your family because you can’t find a job is demoralizing and embarrassing.  I’ve worked my ass off all my life, from working as a cafeteria clerk serving food at a hospital, cleaning offices, to paying my dues in the marketing advertising world, then becoming the first female and Latina COO of a small marketing firm, to then quitting because I was overworked (12-14 hour days, 6, sometimes 7 days a week) and not get overtime (and figured I could make the same amount of money and try to at least participate more in my daughter’s life) to then enjoying the luxury of freelancing – and then as of two years ago… SPLAT…  living off the nest egg, working whatever project came ever other month, to then working minimum wage PT jobs while the next big project comes, to being laid off completely with no new project in sight.  And no nest egg.  It royally sucks.

I know I could’ve done it better.  I coulda would shoulda… but I believed in that American dream of entrepenurialship and ultimately got f__cked while getting there.  I’m not a homeowner.  I’m a single mom and  I don’t live excessively out of my means.  I learned to live modestly according to my income to cover the bills & make sure no matter what the fridge has food, rent was paid on time, utilities were paid for the month.  All I wanted was a chance to spend more time with PUMA cub while working – and found that opportunity by freelancing.  I did it successfully for almost 6 yrs.

The only reason why I’m doing it is because this experience is now a nationwide crisis.

Some Conflucians are going through the same thing I am.  Others are lucky enough to miss a layoff wave at their jobs- at least this week.  Some are lucky enough to have that nest egg still there.  What we can’t ignore is that we are living in very precarious times – and I can bet that employer abuse will continue and will rise.  This is why I wasn’t celebrating the Ledbetter Act, because without the PayCheck Fairness Act, women are still vulnerable.

But I digress…as usual.  Let’s get to topic.

To answer Laurie’s first query, the state of Florida cut funding for the Dept of Children and Families (which is where Floridians apply for Medicaid, Food Stamps, Cash assistance for Rent & expenses, etc.)  Everything is done online here.  If you go to an office to apply, what you’ll find are computers and phones where you can call someone on the other side of a wall.  You do not speak to anyone face to face.  Only in rare cases, such as child and elderly abuse investigations, you’ll see a social worker’s face.

If you are a person with zero computer skills, you’re SOL.   They have to find someone to help them fill out the application online.  There is a phone number that you call, but this is the ONLY phone number that is available for the entire state of Florida which is the 4th most populous state in the nation.  It’s a 1-866 number, and it’s always busy.

If you get through the application, you’ll either get a phone call or a notification in the mail requesting proof of loss of income, any financial help you may have received from friends, proof of child support payments, etc.  Sometimes they won’t ask for anything at all, it just depends on what category the computer classifies you as.  Yes, a computer determines whether you are eligible or not.

I just got my letter today asking me to provide loss of income and proof of child support to receive Medicaid.  The income limit in Florida to receive assistance is roughly $1,500 per month.  I laughed when I read this, because this past year, I’ve made much less than $1,500 per month & didn’t think I would be able to qualify.   So far in Florida, you may qualify for MedicAid and Food Stamps even if you have up to $5000 in the bank, own your own home and own your own car.   Your actual present income is the determining factor, then minus your living expenses.  I think this all changed because of the foreclosure crisis and out of control inflation costs, rising cost of oil & bubbled property values.  Before, it wasn’t like that.  The income index levels for qualification were much lower than this.  So some of you out there reading this, you may qualify right now in your state and not even know it.

Food stamps aren’t actually “stamps.”  They are now in Debit Card form which every month, your approved amount is electronically transferred.  You can only use this for “food”, and thanks to supermarket UPC scanning, you can’t sneak a pack of cigarettes, wine or Bounty paper towel roll and charge it against your Food Stamp EBT card.  And you can’t exchange it for cash either.   Back when I was in college in the late 80s-early 90s (aka Bush 1.0 years), I used to PT as a clerk at my cousin’s bodega.  Food Stamps were actually coupons you tore off of a book.  The policy was to accept them for any item that was the equal value – no exception.  So the EBT card does work to prevent misuse of Food Stamp Funds, which is great.

I don’t qualify for unemployment insurance because I filled out W-9 forms – which means that taxes are the employee’s responsibility.  When I was making bucks, I had to submit my earnings every quarter to the IRS, pay my taxes -and then wait to get all my 1099s for the year to file for the year.  This year, I made enough money to exempt me from filing taxes.  Can you believe that shit?  For the first time in my adult life – I am actually exempt because I was under the tax index level.  I know owe the IRS about $1800 from 2 years ago and I haven’t been able to pay that (hello, survival mode here!) and they told me, just pay 25 dollars a month if you can.  So I have.  But the IRS knows what I’m making (or not making).  They know I can’t afford to pay them now – so they leave me alone until I can.

Here’s the Unemployment Insurance qualifications depending on the state you live/work from a link at the US Dept of Labor which explains more:

Eligibility

1. You must meet the State requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established period of time referred to as a “base period”. (In most States, this is usually the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to the time that your claim is filed.)

2. You must be determined to be unemployed through no fault of your own (determined under State law), and meet other eligibility requirements of State law.

I don’t qualify under these perimeters because I am considered a “contract” employee.  But let’s say that I was pre-eligible.  I would have to file an unemployment claim, then based on the reason why I no longer am working, Unemployment will determine whether or not I could receive unemployment benefits.

Here’s more from the US Dept of Labor:

Benefits

  • In general, benefits are based on a percentage of an individual’s earnings over a recent 52-week period – up to a State maximum amount.
  • Benefits can be paid for a maximum of 26 weeks in most States.
  • Additional weeks of benefits may be available during times of high unemployment (see Extended Benefits). Some States provide additional benefits for specific purposes.
  • Benefits are subject to Federal income taxes and must be reported on your Federal income tax return. You may elect to have the tax withheld by the State Unemployment Insurance agency.

With regards to this, some of the work I did part time was helping seniors and disabled people on Medicare – and people on Unemployment Insurance –  apply for Food Stamps and Medicaid.    All the people I helped were mostly working class people who couldn’t afford to pay the 20% that Medicare doesn’t cover, or were people who were referred to the office because they didn’t have computer skills to apply online.

Some of them were earning 800-1000 a month from their Social Security pension and had to pay 200-300 dollars a month for medicines, doctor co-pays, lab exams, etc.

But there were many people that were the in-betweeners, the 45-60 something yr old laid off workers from blue collar jobs.  The only income they had was unemployment insurance.

I remember a Cuban gentleman who was 61, got laid off from his job in a food processing plant and has diabetes.  He spent 300 dollars a month buying insulin and other diabetic supplies, but unemployment only paid him 160 dollars a week.  His wife (57 yrs old) came down with MS shortly after he got laid off.  She stopped working and is in the process of getting disability from Social Security.  They spent all their savings (about 10,000) on medical expenses after COBRA ran out.

When I asked him to show me all his documentation to fill out the application for Medicaid/Food Stamps, he started to cry.  This is a macho Cubano man  crying.  In front of a much younger woman.  This is a sin in my culture.  But he couldn’t take it anymore.  He told me the story of how he immigrated to FL after Fidel took over, he came first, then years later was able to bring his wife & young daughter over to the US.  He lived in Miami, then moved to Tampa after Hurricane Andrew.  He found a job at a food processing plant outside of Tampa and then – the entire company closed down last year.  He said that he never imagined that he had to live this way.  His daughter works at a day care center and moved in with them to help pay bills.  But everyone’s strapped.  His daughter makes 10.00 an hr.  Thank God, he says, his mortgage was paid off 5 yrs. ago, but how can he pay property taxes, house insurance, food & utility expenses, help his wife who was diagnosed with MS with her health needs, plus get his diabetes under control.  He told me he can’t die now, but if he didn’t get help from somewhere, he very well could be.  He sold his car to pay for the bills, so they rely on public transportation (which royally sucks in FL, how about waiting 2 hrs for a bus?)  He put his house on sale with hopes that someone will buy it, but there are no buyers.

About  week before I got laid off, the same man comes back with a box of candies for me.  He and his wife were approved for Medicaid and Food Stamps and he wanted to thank me for helping him (food stamps covers chocolates!)

I think about him & his wife, and the people I can no longer help because I’m laid off.  I think about the people who do not have a friend with a computer that can help them.  I think about the overwhelming and increasing cases of unemployment that have to depend on a now fragile and overextended system.  This is not the 70s-80s.  We have over 300 million people in this country – and shit ain’t getting better.

This is a song for the Cuban gentleman I mentioned and his wife, for all of us trying to survive.  This is the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz’ version of Gloria Gaynor’s I will survive.  The melody’s the same, but the translation in Spanish refers to a survival of spirit, of outliving bad times and facing the future with strength.

Para Don Avelino y Doña Carmen, and for everyone:

Saturday: We’re in the basement

The B-52’s Legal Tender:
We’re in the basement, learning to print
All of it’s hot!
10-20-30 million ready to be spent
We’re stackin’ ’em against the wall
Those gangster presidents
Livin’ simple and trying to get by
But honey, prices have
shot through the sky
So I fixed up the basement with
What I was a-workin’ with
Stocked it full of jelly jars
And heavy equipment
We’re in the basement…
10-20-30 million dollars
Ready to be spent

Walk into the bank, try to pass that trash
Teller sees and says
“Uh-huh-that’s fresh as
grass.”
See the street pass under your feet
In time to buy the latest
model get-away Jeep

So I fixed up the basement with
What I was a-workin’ with
Stocked it full of jelly jars
And heavy equipment
We’re in the basement,
Learning to print
All of it’s hot
All counterfeit

I’m in the basement today trying to finish this sucker before the Superbowl tomorrow and Brook’s Birthday on Monday.  There’s a brandy new TV to pick up.  The old TV works just fine but I’m frequently forced to watch Josh and Drake for hours on end and I can’t take it anymore.  Brook now has an art studio and there are 3 packs of boxes in the car from Ikea with nifty cubbies for all her stuff that I can now get out of the living room.  But before that all goes in, there is flooring to put down and trim to paint.  I don’t know if I can face another brush and can of paint but I must have courage.

In the meantime, I’m still thinking about the impact of the Lilly Ledbetter act, that will allow women to sue for wage discrimination.  In order to make use of this law, you have to be able to prove that there has been wage discrimination in the first place.  But the disclosure provision wasn’t included in the Ledbetter Act.  It is included in the Paycheck Fairness Act, which took a dive.  SO, let’s recap:  You can sue provided you know you’ve been screwed.  But your employer has no obligation to let you see whether you’ve been screwed.  I guess you’ll just have to put on your sleuth hats and investigate whether your colleagues are living well or not.  For example, does your male colleague at your level have a stay at home wife when you can’t afford one?  (we *all* need a wife)  Is he taking vacations when you  take staycations?  How many new cars does he have?  Are you living in a townhouse while he lives in a single family dwelling?  Listen to him at lunch.  Does he complain about having to mow his big yard on the weekend?

Meanwhile, Alegre had an interesting statistic the other day.  For women such as myself who graduated from college in the mid 80’s, it is estimated that we lag our male colleagues by a cumulative amount of of ~$440,000.  I suspect this is the real reason the Paycheck Fairness Act didn’t get passed.  It was probably one of those “Oh, S%^&!” moments for American employers.  They’d be in a heap of trouble if they suddenly had to start paying that money.  But then again, paying women less and reducing pay disparity overtime by keeping men’s wage increases small has been a real hallmark of movement conservatism’s free capitalism.  Wages have been sort of stagnant since the mid-seventies when women started to enter the workforce in large numbers.  As this post points out (h/t lambert), the whole conservative argument boils down to one thing: keeping wages as low as possible.  Every conservative argument can be reduced to that goal like physics can be reduced to F=ma.

Heidi Li writes that it is time for a new emancipation movement focused on women.  After all, traditionally, by the time women get equality in any area, everyone else will have already preceded us.  So, why not just cut to the chase and emancipate women first and the rest will fall into line?  It’s stupid and frustrating that we even have to do this in the 21st century.  But the forces of feudalism never die seemingly.  It’s going to be another protracted struggle against greed and tyranny but getting women on an equal footing is going to have short and long term benefits for everyone.  And let’s face it: right now, “we’re in the basement”.

What is Feminism?

feminism1

Here’s a thread to continue the discussion about feminism that is going on in the last thread. I can’t even comment on it anymore–there are almost 400 comments, and it doesn’t work for me.

What, in your opinion is feminism? And what is a feminist? Here are some basic definitions and a few questions to ponder.

Wikipedia:

Feminism is the belief in the right of women to have political, social, and economic equality with men. It is a discourse that involves various movements, theories, and philosophies which are concerned with the issue of gender difference, advocate equality for women, and campaign for women’s rights and interests.

Dictionary.com

1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2. (sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
3. feminine character.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy:

The term ‘feminism’ has many different uses and its meanings are often contested. For example, some writers use the term ‘feminism’ to refer to a historically specific political movement in the US and Europe; other writers use it to refer to the belief that there are injustices against women, though there is no consensus on the exact list of these injustices. Although the term “feminism” has a history in English linked with women’s activism from the late 19th century to the present, it is useful to distinguish feminist ideas or beliefs from feminist political movements, for even in periods where there has been no significant political activism around women’s subordination, individuals have been concerned with and theorized about justice for women. So, for example, it makes sense to ask whether Plato was a feminist, given his view that women should be trained to rule (Republic, Book V), even though he was an exception in his historical context. (See e.g., Tuana 1994)

Questions:

1. Are you a feminist if you attack other feminists and say they aren’t ideologically pure enough?

2. Are you a feminist if you support a politician who can empirically be demonstrated to be a misogynist?

3. Are you a feminist if you claim a demonstrably misogynistic man is a feminist?

4. Are you a feminist if you attack and lie about female politicians who don’t share your particular ideology?

5. If you are a feminist, is it reasonable to attack and tear down men who support equal rights for women simply because they don’t agree with your notion of feminist ideology?

6. Can you be a feminist and still support a demonstrably misogynistic man over a demonstrably feminist woman for high political office?

Please discuss.

UPDATE: Another way of expressing what the quote at the top of this post says: “A feminist is a woman who doesn’t want to be treated like sh&t.” — quoted by Afrocity on The View from Under The Bus