Lia Sophia, Part II

This is the second in a series of blog posts by our good friend and colleague, Lia Sophia, who has had both the experience of being a social policy researcher, and of being a new mom trying to navigate the system of public programs. We are delighted that she has offered to write some advice for others who may be struggling to get help. She tackles a number of topics, which we will post over the next two weeks. Thank you Lia Sophia!

Having trouble getting public assistance but you are almost certain you qualify?

Applying for public assistance can be daunting. Not only is the application long and tedious, but you may also wish you were not applying in the first place. As someone who has applied for public assistance, one of the reasons why I postponed applying as long as I could was because I wanted to avoid having to deal with a caseworker. Over the past 10 years, I have found myself in situations where I needed to apply for SNAP and Medicaid. The treatment I have received from the workers assigned to my case has varied considerably. The first caseworker I ever had was not very helpful and made me feel uncomfortable. When I went to the DHS office for appointments, he avoided eye contact at all costs. One time he even walked out on one of our appointments. When I asked him were he was going, he said he was done and had nothing further to discuss with me, even though I was in the middle of asking a question. He always seemed annoyed with my presence and my inquiries. He made me feel unimportant and inferior. In an effort to avoid further visits to the DHS office, I would try contacting him over the phone. Despite leaving multiple messages, he never called back. I understand caseworkers are often overworked and underpaid, however, this is no way to treat a client. I know that now because every other caseworker I have had since then has proven far more personable and helpful.

So what do you do if you get stuck with that caseworker that makes you feel like he/she is looking down on you? First of all, keep your cool! Getting angry at your caseworker is unlikely to improve the situation.  Although it is possible to request a new caseworker, it is highly unlikely this request will be granted in the short-term. Keep in mind that the reason why you are applying in the first place is to receive much needed assistance for your family. As such, you need to try and communicate with the caseworker you are assigned so that your case can be processed expeditiously. In order to accomplish this, make sure you provide all the documentation requested in a timely manner. The quicker you provide your documents, the quicker your case will be processed and the sooner you can start receiving assistance.  Moreover, it is helpful to know that you meet eligibility requirements before applying. If you have access to the Internet, you can look up requirements on your state’s Department of Health and Human Services website. This is helpful because in case your caseworker says you are not eligible for a certain assistance program, you can question that decision based on your knowledge of the eligibility requirements for the program.

That being said, if you get to the point where you feel you just cannot communicate with your caseworker then you should request to speak with a supervisor. Be aware that this does not mean you will be assigned a new caseworker; the supervisor may simply try to ease your relationship with the caseworker. This may or may not ease tensions. If you remain unsatisfied then you could request a new caseworker. Regardless, don’t let a caseworker make you feel ashamed of applying for benefits. Public benefits exist to help people during times of need. With some assistance, whether it be food, cash, or medial public assistance, hopefully you and your family will be able to surpass this difficult time you are experiencing.

Lastly, if the issue that is preventing your communication with a caseworker is a language barrier, ask for an interpreter. Your children should never have to translate for you; this puts your child in an unfair and uncomfortable position. DHS needs to provide you with an interpreter. If one is not available at the time, DHS needs to make arrangements for adequate interpretation.

- Lia Sophia