The Vine

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Texas Food Stamp Privatization Scams Clients, Taxpayers

I was denied foodstamps on April 29th. They sent a letter on April 26th that had one thing on the back, cryptically, a time and date April 28 2006 2pm. That is all, no instructions or information. The letter itself arrived on the 28th some time in the afternoon, I don't know when, because I was at work. What I was supposed to understand from this is that I was going to get a call at 2pm on the 28th for a phone interview. They say my housemate took the call and said I was not there, so my whole application was denied. I asked Homie about it and he remembers getting the letter that afternoon, and he was home, but there was no phone call. I am spitting mad. I'm not the only one.

I have been reluctant to blog about this because some of you know where I work and might be unpleasantly surprised that the owner of a successful small business needs foodstamps. Well I do. Business has been bad as much of retail here has experienced a downturn over the years. We can't afford paychecks often anymore. I have been surviving on about $500 gross a month since last June.

I have all my documents. To begin this process I went to the food stamp website to self-screen. It is a very nice website and makes it all seem very pleasant. Just you wait.

It was pretty clear that I was probably eligible for emergency food stamps. I rode my bike down Airport to the office and began the process, after calling to find out what verification documents I would need. I filled out my application on February 7th, and at the end of the process, Sandra Lee Rodriguez gave me my receipt of application and told me to call the call center line, 211, on the 10th or 13th. So I did, on the 13th of February. The call center operator had no idea, my application had not made it into the system. This didn't really surprise me, but they had told me to call so I did. When I told her that I had applied for emergency food stamps, she got confused and said that they should have given me my stamps on the 7th. We agreed that It would be best if I went back to the office the next day to see what happened.

That's what I did, on Feb. 14th. That is where they told me that on the 7th I had been denied emergency food stamps and that the regular application would take up to 30 days to process and that I should call the help line every day. I asked a) why was I denied, and b) why didn't you tell me I was denied. Ms. Rodrigues just said that based on the information I had submitted I had been denied. Another office mate of hers asked if I worked and had an income. That was why I was denied, even though the self-sceening process make it clear that working people can be eligible based on an income/expenses formula.

I called 211 either the next day or the next, and they said the same thing, it would be up to 30 days to process the application. They said there was no need to call back every day, I would get something in the mail.

At that point I just waited. I had heard about the food stamp backlog caused by the newly privatized system. Other people have kids and stuff and probably need help first. I called again some time in March (Stacy ref. #73359) to check on things, and she told me that I had been told in a previous conversation that I had been informed that my application had missing documents and I had been told that I had to fax this stuff to them but that I had not done so by the deadline so my application had expired! I informed her that no such conversation had taken place and could she tell me who I had supposedly spoken to and the reference number for this alleged conversation, and did I have to apply all over again? Then she made some changes on the computer to un-expire my application. She told me what I had to fax, all stuff that I had brought to the office for my original application, but the staff had not seemed interested in these required documents.

Birth Certificate
Paycheck stubs for the last 3 months
copies of utility bills, car payment, insurance payments
copy of rent check
bank statement
And now, a new requirement: a finger image

Finger image? I would have to go back to the office and get them to fingerprint me. I was beginning to get an idea of what finger image I would fax to them. But I behaved and faxed everything, except the finger image. This is really the only non-obedient thing I have done in the whole process. They have my social security number, birth certificate and all of the other private, rectally-retained personal and financial details of my life. It had become enough of a humiliation. I have been fingerprinted before. It happens before they put you in jail. So after faxing this stuff, I called the next day to confirm that they had gotten it. They said they had, and I asked if they had everything they needed and they said they did, and that it would take up to 30 days to process my application. Another 30 days? I was having the clock re-set because the office staff had not bothered to put my docs in my file, or they didn't know they were supposed to, or as I was beginning to suspect, there is a systematic policy of getting people to mess up their apps and cause delays and even fabricate conversations in order to achieve a denial of benefits.

Today, I spoke with Shamay ref. #73223 about two letters from Texas Health and Human Services Commission. One was dated April 26th, recieved on April 27th regarding the finger image, and basically it means yes, I have to get the fingerprinting done at the local office. Shamay told me that now EVERYONE has to get fingerprinted. The letter gives me a deadline of May 7th to do this. However, further down the letter it says that if the info is not submitted by Mar. 10th, my case may be denied.

The second letter that Shamay and I discussed was much more cryptic. Also dated April 26th, it was received (my Homie remembers) on Friday the 28th. It has my name and address and -finally- a case number on the front. The was another page that was blank except for "306" printed real small sidways on one corner. But, as I noticed today reviewing it, there is something on the back of the address page. It says:

04/28/2006 Friday/Viernes 02:00 PM

(512) XXX-XXXX(my phone #)

02:00 PM 02:30

That is exactly what it says. Shamay told me what that meant was that I was supposed to have had a phone interview at 2pm on Friday the 28th. Checking further into my information, she found that I had been called at that time and that I wasn't home, so I was listed as a "no-show" for my appointment and therefore my application for food stamps was denied! A letter of denial had been sent on April 29th (they're working Saturdays now??) and that I had the right to appeal the denial. She did not seem sympathetic or even interested in the fact that I could not have known to be there for the appointment because the letter regarding the appointment didn't mention that there was an appointment and was recieved after the appointment time! In fact I was at work, and they have that phone number also and my Homie was home that day and did not get a call, nor were there any messages from that day. So they made it impossible to make this appointment, and they called (or lied about calling) out of the blue during working hours and denied my application!

Let me tell you what will happen. If I appeal the denial it will take up to 30 days to process the appeal, unless they can trip it up and drag it out for longer. Then I will re-apply for food stamps, and THAT process will take up to 30 days unless they can foul it up.

The reality is that this new private company has a policy to not pay out benefits in Texas, that food stamps are virtually unavailable in Texas, and that this corporation has created a maze of gerbil wheels to keep people from figuring out that he heads of this private corporation are buying lots of computers while eating our food stamps.


At 9:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Call your local State Representative AND Legal Aid.

Call THEM daily until something is done.

A finger image is NOT required for a Food Stamp application that a phone interview is done for.

Many MANY clients statewide are being denied in error. Local caseworkers are doing all they can to help, but their hands are tied as well.

If calling Legal Aid and your State Rep don't help you, start calling your local newspapers, TV stations- workers in the local offices can talk about it all day (how unfair it is) but until clients start raising a ruckus, nothing will get done.

Good luck to you.


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