A Futile Attempt to Make Money Foiled by Social Services

by Jack Bragen

The social services systems in California punish success and punish efforts at raising one’s standard of living and personal security—at least, that’s how it seems in my case. Even if your earnings are literally tiny, Social Security, the IRS, county food assistance and Medicaid all insist they need to know, and insist they all get their share.

As hard as I work at my two to three little-paid writing gigs, Uncle Sam and his gang still need to know every little detail.

State and federal governments use what amounts to intimidation tactics in an effort to keep people hiding and cowering in the shadows. It’s more of a dominance thing, rather than taking  away every scrap that poor people can get: The designers of the system want poor disabled people to remain in their place, with no hope of things being better.

Apparently, we are considered a population of rejects. It’s not clear what social purpose is served by keeping us down. Yet, in a past conversation with a person of privilege, when I mentioned college ought to be accessible to poor people, they said something to the effect of “Then everything would all be equal,” and objected to the idea. 

When we embark on paid work, we put our benefits at risk the moment we enter our Social Security number in the system. Our data goes into various databases, and Uncle Sam will know. If we work for cash without it being documented, we are suspected of fraud . 

When we work part time, which could be all we can handle, we might be no further ahead than if we made no work attempt, because Medicare and Medicaid take a portion, as does Social Security and—if we use it—permanent supportive housing. In addition, we pay tax and work expenses. We’re also regularly questioned about our disability status and face reviews. 

It is very simple: The social services systems do not reward work—they punish it. 

And aren’t we punished enough? We may be from backgrounds in which we were abused while growing up. There are many forms of this: Even verbal taunts are abuse. It could be worse than that. When does it end? When can we be free?

My housing is linked strongly to the social services system. Everything is documented. Everything is recorded. There are many surveillance cameras here. Big Brother is here. 

This makes for a difficult home environment. It isn’t about any resident being a bad person. It is about living in a cubicle; not feeling close to anyone; living in crowded, congested conditions; the inability to find a parking space; the high costs associated with living here—and the stress of all of this put together. 

I continue to need health care. My health is not great because of several medical conditions that I’ve been ignoring. I can’t keep it up. I am better off if I can document my health problems, which helps the  “system” work to my benefit. 

Still, the health care systems, Medicare and Medicaid, are like rocket science to me, and I have not taken the time to read the material and understand how they work. I can only do so much. It seems to me it will be a grand exercise in tedium to comprehend all of the rules of Medicare and Medicaid. 

My disability is invisible but it’s real and well documented. People don’t believe I am disabled because I can do things that require intellect, like writing books. But I still have to deal with a condition that requires medication and talk therapy. 

Much of my time is absorbed with trying to get my symptoms under control, making me very inefficient at accomplishing needed tasks. If I can’t control them well enough, I’m prone to making poor decisions. And I have seen myself do this and have seen the awful results of this in my life. 

I’m fighting for my life, and it feels like I’m losing. I might have made a name for myself by publishing a lot, but I have not devised a method for turning this into cash. So, I continue to be dependent on the government, and this is no way to live. I’m in constant fear that the government will cut me off. This could be irrational, or the fear could be realistic. Since I don’t know what the government thinks unless they tell me, I have no method of validating or disproving my worries. 

But I do know that some government workers exercise their power in a bullying manner, and that there are others who genuinely want to help. It is a mix, and on a good day, you could get something that can help you survive. 

I am disabled and 59 years old, and even though I may have hoped to rise above the poverty line, it might not happen. Trying to work, with the social services systems as they are, seems like an exercise in masochism. 

The government has its rules. In the news we see examples of how the rules apply differently to people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. If you are mega-rich, you might get a six-figure fine for your violations, which you can pay by selling a little bit of your stock. If you are poor, you might be picking up trash at the side of the freeway, or you might be thrown off benefits without any method of support. 

I’m still at it; I haven’t given up. I hope to someday improve my circumstances. As I close in on 60, I don’t see millions of dollars coming my way thus far. The hope could be futile, or if I get a few lucky breaks, I might have a comfortable old age. 

Jack Bragen writes fiction and commentary and lives in Martinez, California.