*Author’s Note: This entry was originally handwritten in one of my journals and I am now adding it here for posterity…and well, since that had been my intention all along. If the attempt at retro-dating fails to work, the original was written 16 July 2010.*

So this is the second journal entry of the day. This one is, in theory, going to make it to the computer. I suspect a large part of that will depend entirely on how the rest of this day goes.

On Bureaucracy
At this moment, I’m sitting at Gwinnett Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and boy is that fun. I came in and got a number (67). They just called 50 a couple of minutes ago. Oh hey, a couple of people must have given up; they just called 52. So, why am I here? Well because they don’t answer the phone…or return voicemails when you manage to get through to a VM box that isn’t full. Sitting here in the office, you can sort of see why. Of course, all this illustrates, on some levels, how flawed this system really is.

Theoretically, you receive information in the mail. Those letters say, “If you have questions, call your casework at the number listed above.” You call and in some cases, you get a switchboard and in others, you get an automated menu. At any rate, you frequently find yourself hearing a message about a full mailbox, so the process begins again. Frequently, you give up in desperation and travel to a busy county office where you wait. If you’re lucky, they’ll treat you like a person. Most of the time, they treat you like you’re a giant pain in the ass.

Most people, contrary to popular stereotype, don’t want to be here. The average person you see here looks harried, frustrated, and worried. The mothers who are unable to find somewhere else for their children to go try to keep them entertained. (Gwinnett at least has a small play area and a TV on Disney. Thank gods for Phineas and Ferb.) Many come either from work or on their way to work. In short, most of them are people trying to survive. The current state of the economy has increased work in these offices well beyond the point of capacity, several workers have admitted that.

There is, in theory, an online system; however, it is not universally implemented. They do not assign you a log-in and show you how to use it. I can’t access my info via Compass – I’ve tried. In the past few years, they made a Metro Change Center to try to handle calls simply regarding the necessary changes you have to report. I suspect it has had mixed success. If they explained it a bit better, they might have more luck, but they spend as little time as possible explaining anything. They are just as tired as we are.

Do I think there are people who abuse this system? Yes. People will abuse any system, even ones that benefit them. Do I think the welfare stereotype is an accurate portrayal? Well…sometimes. You see, it is more beneficial to have multiple children: the system is based not only on need, but number. A family with three children receives more benefits across the board. So, do I think there are cases where desperation to survive creates situations where the number to need ratio is exploited? Yeah. If with one child, you make “too much” to receive benefits, but with two you squeak in? I’m not just talking food stamps here. Medicaid is the same way, and ya’ll, medicine is expensive. (It’s Medicaid that has me here in the first place. My meds are expensive. K needs dental work done.) So, yes, I think there are cases where that is exploited, but not so much with malicious intent as with desire to survive.

Frustration is the name of this game…and you are at their mercy. The system is flawed. And yes, I believe there should be government aid available. Yes, I think there should be limits, but I think the ones in play are inane. I suspect the whole thing could be reworked to help train people to exist better, but no one wants to consider that. Some of that comes back to education…another flawed system. What we learn as we grow is what we know. We should help people while working to break some of these patterns that put them there in the first place…but that’s another soapbox entirely.

On Travel
The drive was actually pretty good. The kids slept the first six hours, so I didn’t stop until the gas light came on. After that, we had lunch. They stayed awake pretty much from that point on but kept themselves amused.

Outside of Knoxville, K told me she had to go potty…about a minute after I passed the rest area. After going about 10 miles with no exit, when I saw one, I got off. HUGE mistake. I went sixteen miles down a winding mountain road that was wretchedly paved. When I was hitting the point of being ready to knock on someone’s door, I found a doctor’s office. The kind, older nurse looked pitifully at me and tried to figure out how I’d gotten there. She (of course) let the kids go to the bathroom and told me the fastest way to get back to the highway was to simply backtrack the way I had come. *insert teeth grinding here* So, I lost about an hour in my 32 mile excursion. Adding insult to injury, if I’d gone about two more miles, I’d have found civilization. Fun, fun. Oh! And I freaked out several people on Facebook, my Mom included. That was fun…especially since I was in the bowels of No Cell Service. o_O

Other than that, it went well…until I hit 285. Ah the joy that is Atlanta traffic. On a funny note, about the time the log jam broke up, we found Troy in traffic. The kids perked a lot and turned into traffic commentators, trying to keep up with him…while I resisted the urge to drive too fast just to get home. (We were in traffic for over an hour.)

I could have stopped a few more times, but every time I thought about it, I found one more thing I wanted to outrun. And while on the trip up, Rin had amused the kids for a couple of hours at a Cracker Barrel so I could catch a nap, that wasn’t an option this time…so I did the drive as fast as safely possible. 🙂 I suspect the trip back will be interesting…

Dramatic Interlude
So…I was at DFCS for an hour. When my number was called, the gentleman at the desk showed me a list of documents they had supposedly sent to me, and explained that since I had not filled them out, I’d been denied benefits. I explained I’d never received them. He even said they’d apparently been returned. He also said they had been mailed to my old address. Um, what the hell? He said it was the only one in the computer. Again WTF? After all, the refusal letter had gotten to the new address just fine. He told me to use the lobby phone and call the caseworker. I asked, slightly tetchily, if I’d get an answer or if I’d get a full VM box. He went to tell her I’d be calling. I walked to the phone and called the extension. She answered and we exchanged a brief conversation in which I learned that since I’d not filled out the forms that I had never received, they had closed the case. I explained that I had called at the beginning of June, and had been told the case was still under review, but had been told NOTHING about owing information. She was faintly apologetic but said that there was nothing I could do. She did tell me that the letter had, in theory, arrived at the new address, but still, in spite of having never seen it, I was screwed. My ONLY option was to start over – again. Guess what else starts over? You guessed it! The FORTY-FIVE days of review they are allowed for Medicaid cases. So, while I at least now have an answer, I still…well, really don’t. It’s just one more thing. Don’t mind me; I’ll be over here banging my head into the wall. Oh. Right. I’m not supposed to. It makes the wood uneven. :>

Back to Travel
I’m not sure when I’m heading back up. Obviously, not tonight. *sigh* Stupid bureaucracy. Tomorrow is Mr. Monkey’s birthday party which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, it could be fun. On the other, bowling alleys are loud and bowling is very much on the “Not Allowed to Do” list. When holding glasses is tricky, hurling heavy objects down a lane is kind of a no. *wistful sigh* I will likely try to get some things together tonight and head out at some point tomorrow, but I’m really not sure at this point. I don’t really feel like doing much, if anything at all, tonight. Apparently major emotional upheaval saps your energy. Oh. Wait. I already knew that.

*sigh* So many unanswered questions…it kind of leaves me wondering if a hope and a prayer are going to be enough…