Editor’s note: This submission represents the personal opinions of the author and should not be used to characterize the opinions of the Pioneer Tribune.
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It all comes down to $37. That’s what stands in the way of a Michigan college student receiving help from the state to pay for food. Jamie Diel’s (fictitious name) story is a complicated one – but it illustrates the unexpected difficulties people go through to get a few months of help when times are tough. Food assistance is not the easy way out – sometimes it’s the toughest road traveled to a better destination.
Twenty-nine-year-old Jamie Diel wants to become a medical laboratory technician. She hopes to one day be part of the state police forensics team. Jamie is putting herself through college and she only has enough money to pay for rent so she turned to The Department of Human Services and the Food Assistance Program.
“I’d go to food pantries to get food, my dad would help,” said Jamie. “Without my family I would have gone hungry.” But she didn’t want to burden them anymore, so she applied for food stamps. She first applied in December of 2012, but kept getting denied because her caseworker said she never received Jamie’s paperwork. Finally, Jamie called The Center for Civil Justice’s Food and Nutrition Program helpline and met Attorney Holli Wallace.
Holli discovered that Jamie was going to school part time and was also taking care of her sister’s two children so her sister could keep her job. Holli continuously called Jamie’s DHS caseworker, the caseworker’s supervisor and the program manager to no avail. It wasn’t until March that DHS let Jamie know it finally found her paperwork and she would get FAP retroactively.
But that was just the beginning of Jamie’s problems. Because DHS took so long to find her paperwork, Jamie re-applied yet again for FAP, and something in her new application triggered another problem.
This time in the application, she said she was employed, which changed all the rules. Jamie found out that because she’s a part-time student between the ages of 18 and 49, federal law says she’s not eligible for FAP except under certain circumstances, one of which is being employed. She is employed through DHS which pays for her to watch her sister’s children. However, it turns out that she doesn’t make enough money to be eligible for FAP. DHS pays her $1.35 per hour, per child, to take care of her niece and nephew through the state’s Child Development and Care Program. That totals $108 for 20 hours of work. The Food Assistance Program rules require that she make minimum wage - $7.25 an hour, 20 hours a week which totals $145. That means she’s $37 short of being eligible for food stamps.
But Holli doesn‘t give up, she brings in fellow attorney Judi Lincoln to help. They both discover that if Jamie takes special online training she can increase her earnings by 50 cents to a tier two salary, putting her $3 over what FAP mandates for eligibility.
But the story doesn’t really have the ending you’d expect. The online training is ten hours long and it costs $10 per hour totaling $100 – money Jamie doesn’t have. So in despair she moves out of her apartment, moves back home with her mother and is continuing her education.
“I’m tired of fighting,” Jamie says. “I kept waiting and waiting … they lost my paperwork over and over - I turned it in three times.”
Jamie still calls CCJ once in awhile to check in with Holli, who refused to stop fighting for her.
“I’m so happy with how Holli worked, she really helped me out. It’s all on me. I just don’t want to keep fighting with them (DHS),” says Jamie. She says she’s staying with her mom until she finishes her education and finds a decent job because one thing she’s not going to give up – is her dream to be a forensic technician.
CCJ’s helpline receives calls like Jamie’s everyday from people who are frustrated by their inability to get through the system. CCJ works to ensure that people receive the help they need to get the benefits they deserve.
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The Center for Civil Justice Food and Nutrition Program Helpline is a statewide service available Monday through Friday at 1-800- 481-4989 or www.foodstamphelp.org.