Let’s Discuss Dignity

Twenty-two years ago I spent two days laying face down, crying into my living room carpet . Everything I had tried just failed.  Big things, a thousand small things, all of the things had slipped from my grasp and I was failing.

I had been psyched up to be a wife, and a young stay at home mother, and maybe someone who completed a BA down the road if I found time in my suburban dream. Instead, my relationship crumbled, Mervyn’s fired me (because I was obviously falsifying comment cards, it was impossible that I could be so good with people…but ask me about this another time), and I had 3/4ths of a degree in Physical Therapy with no way to get back into my life as I had known it.

When it “got real”, I pulled out the phone book, found the blue pages of government listing service and looked up the address to the Welfare Office. Bleakness.  I walked into to a dim green room where my shoes stuck to the floor and I will never be certain if the puddle in the chair next to me was apple juice, but I’ve decided to believe it was. In my hands I held a ten page, double sided application, and a pen. I could not fill it out. I must have made five trips to the Help Desk and I still wasn’t comfortable. I met with an eligibility worker who shamed me; pointed out that all the other white people on the building were employees, and send me home with a list of needed documents and a follow up appointment.  That was the day I walked back into my little apartment and folded onto the floor wondering if if I could ever get up again.

Twenty years later, or 2 years ago, I had my Bachelor’s Degree is Sociology, my own car, house, and no debt at all. I found my revenge on the County Welfare system by becoming an employee within it in a job that allowed me to do outreach work and volunteer in my community. My baby was off at  college, but a second child had arrived and I was still a single mother – only by this time I was doing okay. Education, house, career, and home life were all neatly checked off in the Success column.

   The floors of the Welfare office must never get washed.

I had this thought as I was lying face down in the lobby of the GAIN office in Burbank. Just seconds before I was walking a client to the door when the room spun and the floor ate my face. My doctors pulled me out of work and put me on medical leave.

Medical leave is nice and all, but waiting for Disability to come in so I could pay my bills and feed my youngest daughter was nerve-wracking. I had some concerns. I shared these thoughts with the front desk volunteer at MEND one Thursday morning in late January. I was in the San Fernando Road  office working on the silent auction for the Gala fundraiser my local non-profit throws to breathe life into their programs designed to help people survive in an impoverished neighborhood and find ways to leave that desperate economic strata. As we talked, Adela, the volunteer, walked me into the intake room and put me at a desk.  When a third person walked in, Adela said “This is Sonya and she needs to see if she qualifies for your program.” She smiled down at me and whispered “Come to my desk if you have problems with the forms” and disappeared down the hall. A week later an EBT card arrived in the mail.

This was the MEND effect.

Meet each need with dignity.

I was treated with dignity, and not because I volunteered for MEND, but because that is how MEND works. Some Saturdays I walk in through the floor to ceiling glass doors and stand by that reception desk just to watch the flow of faces. Little kids sit laughing at the tables, parents chat in the waiting room chairs, someone is always knitting in front of the clothing boutique, and bent senior citizens angle their grinning faces up to each other while they wait for food, or a medical appointment, or whatever special program is  offered that day.

Mend staff on Oscar night at universal stidios
MEND staff at their fundraising gala

The floor is not sticky. The room is not dim. The chairs are dry and clean. In my five years of volunteering for MEND, I must have had the opportunity to sit in every chair and even the one I broke in Lupe’s office was clean. I never intended to be a MEND client, even momentarily, and I never felt like one. I don’t think anyone does.

I’m used to volunteering at MEND

The MEND Effect is a design feature that started with the Rose family who just wanted to do a little something nice for their neighbors and then let others in on their idea until it grew into the community icon it is today.

MEND is not the heart of Pacoima. MEND is the limbic system that connects all of the other vital parts of the community ; politicians, doctors, dentists, tutors, teachers, schools, grocery stores, dance teachers, Health educators, financial institutions like Home Street Bank and Wells Fargo, ophthalmologist, dental and nursing students and their programs, the Welfare to Work program, courts, and more all touch and mingle in the bright beautiful building at Pierce and San Fernando Road and in the ETC nestled into the heart of Van Nuys Boulevard. MEND staff are likely to shake hands with a Board of Supervisors Member with the same warmth and enthusiasm they shared while clasping  hands with an elderly client.

Nene with “young volunteers “.

You will hear that MEND is volunteer run. Seasonal volunteers, like me, drop in for special programs like the Santa’s Workshop, Christmas in the Spring, and Head to Toes. Day to day volunteers answer the phones, pack food boxes, drive delivery trucks, teach English, send out mail, scheadule medical, vision, and dental appointments and perform the technical arts of Dentistry and Medicine. Volunteers are everywhere and they are hard to spot unless they come in the form of a Scout Troop. (It is safe to say that eleven-year-olds are not on the payroll.) MEND volunteers are trained, knowledgeable and efficient. This is not accident. Every volunteer is assigned to a department and each department has  staff members tasked with being an expert in their area and teaching their volunteers everything they know. Sharing their knowledge keeps the program alive and the volunteers take these skills back to the neighborhood where they are passed around again and the entire community is better educated, elevated and healthier.

The first time I used the EBT card (it is in my wallet as a reminder, ask and I will show you) was at Food 4 Less in Van Nuys and Glenoaks. The cashier leaned over and whispered “If you need more help than that, go to MEND”.

Volunteers at the 2017 Gala

 Poverty and food scarcity is only a paycheck in either direction. I donate money, time, and goods to MEND because I keep being reminded of this unfortunate truth. Through MEND, poverty can be survived with dignity.

Dignity will pull you up off the floor, not push you down in tears.

Poor People Shouldn’t Buy…

I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for all kinds of things. When my taxes are spent with the Military, I am not asked for an opinion about which brand of ammunition should be purchased. My Education tax dollars do not give me an invitation to decide which texts should be in the curriculum, the placement of desks in a room, the subcontracted uniform vendor elections. My say in how my taxes are used kind of end with me forking over the money and an occasional ballot item.

And then there is the views on Cash Aid and Food Stamps.

Everyone has views on how the recipients should be selected and how they might be allowed to use the funds.

“I don’t want Food Stamps to pay for steaks”

“Food Stamps should only buy fresh veggies, not frozen or canned”

“People on cash aid should have to spend every dollar they have and sell every belonging and become homeless before they are allowed to apply for cash assistance”

“Cash Aid should not be accessible through ATM machines in theme parks . . . because no poor people should ever go to Universal Studios or be gifted with a trip to Disneyland.”

“Medicaid funds should only cover broken bones and emergencies, I do’t want to supplement Big Pharma, Birth Control, dental care or anything more than a band aid for those poor people.”

“Why do beggars or buskers singing for money even have guitars?”


I am wondering…. do you think your say ends when you pay?

Why do we feel okay judging the worthiness of individuals because we actually see them use the program next to us in the grocery line and other public places? Do we judge because we associate poverty with being bad?


Please comment and tell me how you feel about this.

My @Walmart experience was bad.

I have a secret fear that I am  @peopleofwalmart material.
This is only 1 reason I don’t shop there, but I had a whim. I wanted to make my cousin an apron for the holiday weekend and it was late so I knew Walmart was my only choice. Also:Walmart in Panorama City is 7 miles away.

A quick trip became an exercise in frustration. I waited over 40 minutes for a service person to be found who could cut fabric. Apparently I waited for her to return from lunch, and then the hand scanner was broken. While waiting I called the store and another customer went to customer service to ask for help.
  When this last returned she let us know that she knew where the manager was and we would need to go to electronics to find them, a manager would not be coming get to 7 and we were absurd to suggest bothering  anyone.

40 minute wait,4 pages and a phone call before she appeated
See how.Customer.Service. is not listed?

When the clerk appeared, I had been on the phone for 1 minutes. At 25 mi sites my battery died and I left the store leaving my “would be” purchases in a cart by customer service. The lines at the registers were 20 people deep and not moving. I could not give this store my money.

Call to Walmart

Here is the number if you want to call Mr French, the store manager.
I usually avoid Walmart because of the credit applications given to new hires and their culture of forcing employees onto public assistance doles by under employing workers.

The 1 Walmart employee who cared

It’s impossible to cancel CalFresh


Envelope to DPSS mailed June 5

I am back at work. I don’t think I qualify anymore and don’t want a monster overpayment or for the county to think I’m committing fraud.  I guess my next step will be to file an appeal


I don’t see any way to get them to close the case. I can’t get a hold of her on the phone and the fax did not go through.

I don’t have time to go to the DPSS office (work and all takes up my day).

No joke. I have tried and tried but there are no “end service” forms available.
The system is unreachable and not enough access is granted to users.

It is a good idea but needs refinement.

And, as a GAIN worker; I have to tell clients to look here. They must not have read the mounds of mail to see the system is online.

If the County had a position to smooth this out and make it user friendly; I would apply in a heartbeat.

Los Angeles County DPSS is a mess


I am sure the system means well, but @countyofLA  @dpss_calfresh is freaking me out.
I can’t figure out how to close the SNAP case or update my information. I am locked out of the online system and calling this number ALWAYS results in a termination message of “We can not find your information. Good bye”.

I never had a chance to do more than request my Language choice before the system threw me out.

I have attempted to email the worker I applied through at MEND. I also attempted to fax a SAR but the fax did not go



Why don’t we have an Ombudsman for these Federal-state County benefit sefvices?

How can I apply?

It has been my experience that the Board of Supervisors are wonder, effective people. All of the County Employees believe in the programs they work in. Somehow, there is a disconnect and the systems are set up for failure. Right now I feel like the failure for not being able to navigate the system.

Why Food Stamp Users are Angrier About Foodstamps Than You Are

Remember when I was out sick from  work for over a month? At the end of that time period I didn’t know if Disability would ever come in or when I would be released to go back to work. I went to M.E.N.D. and applied for foodstamps. This was in the beginning of March 2014.

It is now May 2014 and I just now received 3 separate pieces of mail.
1. I qualified for Cal Fresh (food stamps)
2. The card came in the mail
3. A pin number was sent to use with the card.

I am fortunate that when I was pulled from work that u had a pantry of food and WIC to provide fresh milk, juice, and fruits for Darla. Also, i have family i could borrow from. And yes, I went back to work and have been paid so I could grocery shop.

There is no way I could have survived for two months without access to food.
What is the County of Los Angeles doing this whole time?

Come on County, get it together.
Poor hungry people need these benefits as promised.

I no longer wonder why my clients have such bad attitudes. I am angry and I work in the system.

  1. The application process is confusing.
  2. There is a massive waste of paper in forms and mailed notifications
  3. There is no “status update” process
    4.forms to update the County of a change in circumstance are not easily accessible to the client. (I am fortunate enough to know how to ask for the forms…and then found out I should have notified the county within 10 days of returning to work even though it took them 50 or more days to notify me of my status.)
  4. No Users Guide is given to people detailing what is an eligible purchase or stressing the important fact that coupons can be used with food stamps.


Dear Los Angeles County and Department of Agriculture (they are responsible for the SNAP /foodstamps/Cal Fresh programs… Please think about what I am telling you.

And if you are infuriated at the store by someone using a food stamp payment because you think they are lazy scum who shouldn’t need your less than 2% of the Federal Budget , understand that even I qualified for food stamps. And yes, I know I need a job where I don’t qualify for WIN because as a County Contractor my pay is horribly low (especially since I have 3rd the caseload of anyone else here)
To see if you qualify : http://www.benefitscal.orgapply for California benefits

Hungry and Frustrated , Hey Los Angeles County: what gives?

Recently I became ill -( falling over in the office and having to be out of work for over a month kind of ill). On February 10th I had to take a leave from my job.

Absence meant I was without my usual paycheck and still had to pay for child care for my youngest daughter so I could spend several hours a week in medical offices. Being a single mother with successful and employed friends, day care remained my only option.  I still had housing expenses, medical co-payments, utilities, car insurance and gasoline as well as food and cell phone bills to pay. I have been living on credit card debt (before I had no debt, so there is a high interest cushion here ) and loans from my father.  As you know, I work as a social worker for an undisclosed county contracted company in the welfare services. My income is so low that saving is almost impossible and  I , like many of my coworkers, often qualify for the same services we refer clients to – such as WIC and Healthy Families type health insurance.

I took the time to apply for State Disability – I have not seen a dime. Eventually I received a notice that I was approved for a payment but it may go on a debit card and I should wait 5 more days for that to arrive. It has been over a week since then  and nothing has arrived.

I went to http://www.mendpoverty.org, where I volunteer,  on a Thursday in early March and tried applying for CalFresh and that weekend I broke out the internet and my document scanner to test drive the online DPSS portal I tell my clients about. I think I even said it was an emergency situation where we were about to run out of food.

Nada, Nothing, the only response I have from Los Angeles County Department of Public and Social Services has been several mailed notices of a PIN number for the online portal. I have not had a follow up phone call , voice mail, email, text message or paper notice. The online portal says “PENDING”. I scheduled an appointment to go to the DPSS office on Thursday, but I don’t have any sick time to keep the appointment.

There is a customer service phone number. It is a joke. Please, look up the phone number and call. The message you will hear, in English and Spanish, is that there is a second number now required to reach someone. I called the second number and spend 20 minutes listening to various phone ques and never reaching an actual person. Fortunately I am not on a limited cell phone minute plan as many low-income Los Angelinos are.

I have been back at work for two weeks now and I have not been paid in over a month. I had to return to work, there is no way I could remain housed if I stayed out and addressed my health. Child care tuition was due today and I did not have the money. I was hoping to qualify for some kind of assistance such as CCRC. Subsidized Child Care requires that i have an active DPSS case. I can’t have an active case until DPSS gets around to my application. I may not even qualify  – since a mythical Disability check is supposedly on it’s way for less than half of what my usual wage was.

I totally understand that there are rules and that the Los Angeles County Department of Public and Social Services has 30 days to evaluate an application – but please explain that to my child care worker or my family.

I am fortunate because I can borrow but many of the citizens of Los Angeles County can not. Who is providing oversight? I hope that the Board of Supervisors, whom I’ve experiences to be intellegent and highly effective, realize that this program has some serious flaws and that they address them soon. I will be happy to tell them about my experiences over lunch, but only if they are buying – I won’t be paid for a week.


I will not tell you where I work , only that I am a fan of the work I do and my coworkers are great. 


We Need To Get a Few Details Straight on Welfare

What is with the hate? I am not sure that you and I are thinking of the same things when I talk about Welfare. I read all kinds of stupid and angry posts about Welfare Queens, and Lazy Dogs who don’t know their fathers applying  and qualifying for welfare (No joke, my own Grandmother FaceBook Liked one of these this morning).

So here are some numbers from the  US Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Commerce, CATO Institute in September 2013.

70% of families on Welfare leave the system BEFORE the 5 year lime limit.  BEFORE. Either they are dying or finding employment. Seeing as I have only had one client die in the almost 7 years I have worked in welfare: I am going out on a limb and claiming these moms and dads found work. I speculate they found these jobs because of a little program called Welfare To Work = aka GAIN.

GAIN is where we talk about how to find meaningful employment that will offer a paycheck large enough to lift an entire family out of poverty. GAIN is where we sent moms and dads to training to jump the skills gap and land the much-needed jobs. GAIN is where we hold their hands and teach parents how to find reliable child care and how to speak in a job interview and how to compact their stress ( Specialized Supportive Services) into manageable bundles so they can take on and keep employment.  The best way out of Welfare is through the Welfare to Work Program.

Please note that there are many white people on Welfare. This is not a program for minorities. It is a program for low-income moms and dads.

Welfare does not remove the incentive to find employment – are you kidding me? I have signs everywhere in my office to remind folks that my entire job is to have them find good paying employment that will get me out of their lives or at least off their backs.

Welfare Statistics  
Total number of Americans on welfare 12,800,000
Total number of Americans on food stamps 46,700,000
Total number of Americans on unemployment insurance 5,600,000
Percent of the US population on welfare 4.1 %
Total government spending on welfare annually (not including food stamps or unemployment) $131.9 billion
Welfare Demographics  
Percent of recipients who are white 38.8 %
Percent of recipients who are black 39.8 %
Percent of recipients who are Hispanic 15.7 %
Percent of recipients who are Asian 2.4 %
Percent of recipients who are Other 3.3 %
Welfare Statistics
Total amount of money you can make monthly and still receive Welfare (ummm – what’s this, Sonya asks because family size comes in to play) $1000
Total Number of U.S. States where Welfare pays more than an $8 per hour job 39
Number of U.S. States where Welfare pays more than a $12 per hour job 6
Number of U.S. States where Welfare pays more than the average salary of a U.S. Teacher 8
Average Time on AFCD (Aid to Families with Dependent Children)
Time on AFDC Percent of Recipients
Less than 7 months 19%
7 to 12 months 15.2%
1 to 2 years 19.3%
2 to 5 years 26.9%
Over 5 years 19.6%

SCAM * EBT Card Smart Phone App

There is no approved app to check your assistance $
There is no approved app
to check your assistance $

Beware of Fake Smart Phone Apps

  • The State of California does not offer a smart-phone application (app) for EBT. If you want information about your EBT benefits, please visit the California EBT Client Website at www.ebt.ca.gov or call the toll-free California EBT Customer Service helpline at (877) 328-9677.
  • There are illegal phone apps that try to get your personal information and get access to your EBT benefits. Never give out your EBT card and/or personal identification number (PIN) in any website or smartphone, except your local county website or the EBT Client Website: www.ebt.ca.gov.
  • One scam is tricking smart-phone users into using fake apps that asks for your banking information, ID, password, card number, and/or your PIN. If you are a smart-phone user, DO NOT use apps that ask for personal information.

Recent Internet Scams – PLEASE BEWARE

  • Scams offering a “free government cell phone” or “free gift cards”. They ask for your personal information, card number and/or PIN.
  • New benefit recipients are contacted by a “protection plan” company that says they are part of the state program. They ask for personal information from cardholders, getting enough to steal benefits from the cardholders’ accounts.
  • People who say they are “concerned citizens” posting warnings about EBT card security. They give a telephone number that is close to a real customer service helpline telephone number (maybe one number is different). A cardholder calls the number, and then is asked for personal information, account number, and a PIN. 
  • ♥♥♥ from http://www.ebtproject.ca.gov/