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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation

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i need more well-meaning and clueless people around
children of dune - leto 1
I just realized I've become exhausted having to think up some kind of intimate, personal connection with something to be able to express a strong opinion on why something I may or may not be working on is bad for clients/persons/women/children/non-computer people/etc. For the record, there should somewhere be a saying or old wives tale or something that says; "Altruism is a-okay. That means you have a working sense of justice and a soul. You do not need to be personally traumatized by this issue to say you think this is an issue and should be fixed. Do not require other people to exercise their entire life history to get a connection of some kind so they can say it sucks."

I know, that's way too long. I'm just saying, I need more fumbling but well-meaning people who overthink things in my line of work. I keep hearing about them out there, wandering about being well-meaning and occasionally clueless and they do a lot of recycling and protect salamanders, and maybe some overemotional, overinvested people--God, I would love some of those--who actually never met a person on welfare/benefits/disability/SSI but have all these feelings about it and pop out feeling very much client-advocate like a Lifetime movie. I love those people. I am so very tired of making myself into a model because I have managed just enough mistakes in my life for legitimacy; that shit is exhausting.

We don't get a lot of people like that, actually; it's hitting me that this is a very necessary component to any given group.

It's not just the problem that comes up when you have to take depressing stock of your life to track down a reason--a reason that it tears your soul in a personal way, not in a I just think other human beings shouldn't deal with this shit way-- you think it's a terrible, terrible idea to say, not eliminate some somewhat deprecated extensions on files because some people still use very old computers and they have no idea how to rename a file.

Okay, that looks stupid written here (this is not even the difficult argument I've had for something so ridiculously simple), but I wrote a numbered fucking essay explaining how people who apply for benefits neither know nor care about deprecated extensions, they just won't get why the image of their documents that they scanned at the local library's ancient scanner that only outputs in extensions via 2000 aren't accepted. I was very self-consciously aware that I hadn't been to a library recently to check this out, but I've been to libraries with shitty computers, I have worked on truly terrifying appliances that mimicked computers and a ten second code change will ease my mind considerably if you just leave all those deprecated image extensions in there because seriously, some of them still had monitors at 800X600. The state uses some of them. So you know. Eww.

I was self-conscious about it, but I still carried on like it was a human tragedy instead of a business-based necessity of dealing with what some people seem to think is a strange, mystical world (Somewhere, they have no idea, like Oz, perhaps) that includes people who are poor, disabled, elderly, without easy access to up to date computers or any computers, and may not know they saved their scanned document with a deprecated extension. Because honest to God, I don't think anyone developing the code or writing up the changes has any clue this entire system is supposed to make getting welfare easier. That indeed, it is about the clients whose benefits come from it and the caseworkers who will use the system. I think they would be hugely surprised to find out their entire job is because these people exist. I kind of wonder sometimes what they think they're working on. It must be very strange.

I have in the last few years written essays with entire storylines to explain why something won't work. It's always personal. It's always true; I mean, it has to be, and God knows I can get into random chats about welfare policy at bars, clubs, friend's houses, the smoking area, and midnight cab rides home from the airport (and corrected a defect from that, too), because I have no real talent except apparently falling over people who happen to have used the system within the last six months and have had problems (I am disturbingly good at this, actually). But I would like, I think, the opportunity to say "I actually am in no way personally affected by this, nor did any cab driver become hostile speaking of a potential problem such as this within the last day. I just really think it is a shitty idea to do this because it's going to make X more difficult and sucky and in general, when people get food stamps or TANF or Medicaid, they do not lack suckiness in their lives, so let's subtract, not add to it." I have trotted out my own experiences as a client like a goddamn performance art piece, neglecting to elaborate I am the daughter of a woman who was a goddamn caseworker; I've known welfare policy from teh goddamn cradle, so trust me when I say, I have never been the average client. You would think that eventually would stop working--I mean, I cite my mother in some of my more elaborate speeches, not like anyone can't say work the math--but at least that gets me enough standing for it to be listened to and read and then given to someone who is aware the ultimate goal of all of this is to--again, such a surprise--make it easier for clients to get their benefits on time and for caseworkers to give them to them.

We like that. I mean, there are many horrific human beings that end up in social work--pretty sure some of them are the people confused by the entire poor/disabled/single mothers/neglected children existing thing I keep coming up against--but for the most part, my best days were the days I could hit approve and nudge them off to get their food stamps and medicaid cards. Approve-everyone days were terribly rare, like a no hitter or UT football players not being douches, but man, they happened. I told no pregnant women they were a tiny bit over the limit, I told no family that had a massive income cut they didn't qualify, and no elderly people wandered out without a Lone Star card tucked into their hands.

The entire deprecated extension debate actually occurred--I actually wrote about it here a few months ago--but it's also currently a stand in for three separate problems I ran into head-first, one of which hit on Tuesday, and one today directly before lunch while I sat outside and smoked (yes, with the lingering traces of Bastrop in the air) and bounced between "but this will be fixed" and certainty that I missed something because of course that's not going to happen to breaking into tears because the extension thing, I get it on a theoretical level, everyone has blind spots, but this is a huge ass blind spot and it's the third time a weird insane blind spot has come up and all I can think is the fact that this thing has gone through numerous people and I am smart, but I am not a mary sue surrounded by dullards in an afterschool special, at the best of times I am not a genius of insight, so how did this get through anyone before me? And it bothers me even more that it took until lunch before I had a moment of "Wait, what?"

I'm not actually being uninformative about it to be mysterious; it's a combination policy thing that requires me to actually work a case in front of someone to get a visual and only in certain specific households. I'm worried because there is no way to identify this kind of household because it's only going to come up in very specific circumstances and only if they actually tell you voluntarily or if they apply for this specific program and they need good cause. Yes, it's that complicated. I'm not even sure I'm right. Except I'm not only an essay-writing model of a former welfare client who can trot out combination personal pain and policy Broadway-style, I am also cluelessly well-meaning and I want to be told in very small words very thoroughly that I am wrong. It's not like there are a lot of other people willing to take up the job and who don't mind looking like idiots when they're wrong. I love when that happens in this job. That means things are working.

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I have not had the misfortune to need your services but two of my aunts and three of my cousins have. The girl I grew up with and the one who moved away that I met again twenty years later both did. All of the other girls who worked in the same office in Dallas where I worked for three years.

This may not help you but I appreciate your work. I appreciate the thought you put in. The time you take to say, "no, wait, stop. This is not right."

I work in another public service field, except that unlike your field, everyone hates us, but needs us. So I understand getting down about it....

I work in a fairly different field (NGO that does health care development in low-income countries--mostly sub-Saharan Africa), but I get your point. If "poor, disabled, elderly, without easy access to up to date computers or any computers" are your end users, the system should be designed with them in mind. I'm sorry your coders don't understand their user-base.

I'm still fighting with our graphic designers about making website content available for people who are lucky to get dial-up access. I don't care how freakin' gorgeous the slideshow is. If I'm in rural Ethiopia, I'll never be able to see it, so I need to get past it to get to the resources on how to check a woman who has just given birth for postpartum hemorrhage. No, really, they don't want to see the 10 minute video about our new 5-year plan. They want to stop women from bleeding to death.

It kind of reminds me of Bill Gates in the 90s. When a new version of Windows required more processing power than was on most people's computers he asked why people wouldn't just buy a new machine. They were only a couple of thousand dollars. The idea that having a couple of thousand dollars laying around was a pie-in-the-sky dream for most of the world hadn't occurred to him. (Now he's doing the whole Gates Foundation thing, so I can't hate on him as much, but day-um he use to be clueless.)

I'm glad there are workers out there who care about helping. When I dropped out of college at 20 to take care of my mom and 2 younger siblings because my mom got too sick to work, no one would approve us even though I could prove we qualified. I was working at WALMART, it was our only income, and they said my income was too much for us to get food stamps, or for my younger siblings to get medicaid. I also couldn't cover them on my employer insurance, since they were siblings, not my own children. I showed them their own numbers, that even though they were required to count my income because I was related and under 25 (stupid, stupid rule, by the way, since that didn't make me legally obligated), my income was still well below the maximum for receiving aid for a family of 4. My brother and sister (and sick mom) had no medical insurance, we were eating PB&J three meals a day, and I had to let the gas get turned off, which meant we had no stove but since we were only able to afford cheap sandwiches anyway, I guess we didn't need it. I had to default on my student loans to keep a roof over my younger siblings' heads, and 11 years later am finally close to straightening that out so I can go back to school. And if they had helped as they were LEGALLY REQUIRED to do, I would be done by now.

So when I read your comments on here, that you actually care when things get messed up for your clients, that you like approving people, it helps remind me that there are decent people out there.

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