“Brittany” and her father, both unemployed, are currently living in an extended stay hotel in Georgia; rent is paid in part by Brittany’s boyfriend Drew, and partly by whatever odd jobs Brittany can scrounge up on Craigslist and other job posting sites. She also works occasional day labor on a construction site.
Brittany’s story starts when she was thrown out of high school for taking the fall for a fellow classmate who brought a weapon to school. She developed agoraphobia and became housebound. Not only were her benefits cut off when she didn’t show up personally to renew her food stamp benefits, she and her father were told they had to repay the previous month’s benefits because they hadn’t renewed. She has been without food assistance since, and is afraid to re-apply because they don’t have the $300 to pay back the California debt.
Now twenty, with her agoraphobia under control, Brittany and her father have relocated to Georgia to be closer to her boyfriend, Drew. the two met online, in a role playing game (RPG), and are now trying to make a life for themselves, starting with this move. Her father used to be a machinist and mechanic, but a series of injuries and an allergic reaction to industrial chemicals have left him out of the full time labor force for years.
Brittany recently tried to sign up for benefits in Georgia, through the state and then through United Way, which has a contract to process welfare applications using contracted ‘case managers’. The biggest shock came when the case manager told her the best thing she could do is become homeless, get rid of everything, live on the streets for six months, and then come in and apply. The message: any success would count against her, and help is only available once you have hit absolute bottom.
Brittany is a bright, thoughtful and articulate young woman who has given a lot of thought to the reasons welfare programs fail, and she is also very realistic about what happens to people who end up trapped within them. As determined as she obviously is, we find ourselves convinced that she will find success and work her way out of poverty, and yet even she admits that her odds are slim.
Is this the best we can do? Here is a young woman whose whole life lies ahead of her – young, ambitious, bright, and hardworking, it is hard to understand how it makes any sense to put obstacles in her path and drag her into further poverty. Better to reach out and give her a hand up so she can take care of herself and her ailing father. She knows what that hand looks like – it’s the hand of an employer welcoming her aboard, not the hand of a social worker.