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Food Stamps and the Oregon Health Plan

October 24, 2009

Since losing our health insurance two months ago, I have been particularly stressed over the well-being of my family.  Although we rushed to make sure we were all tuned up and ready to go, it is still quite scary to be living in an age of high healthcare costs, but no way to pay the bills.  Listening to people denigrate the proposed healthcare reforms has made me particularly angry too.

This is good news.” Our DHS caseworker said. “Well, bad for you, but good too.”  Apparently we were so broke that we qualify for the full Oregon Health Plan Plus program – 100% expenses paid.  That is good news – except for the part where we are that broke!

What a roller coaster this last couple of months have been.  To be terminated in the middle of the worst recession since 1929 is not a recommended path.  Our faith has sustained us, but I have to admit the vacillation between discouragement, dis-empowerment, anxiety, and disillusionment has been a wild ride.

Also, because of your lack of income, you qualify for the full food stamp allotment of $600 a month.” Our very kind caseworker informed us.  Our kids were being entertained in the next cubicle by another kind caseworker.  I don’t know what you’ve ever heard about DHS employees – but I’m here to tell you they treated us very well – and were very kind.

I’ve applied for several jobs – some I thought would be fun, others would be challenging, and still others I could do while standing on my head. All have turned me down.  I sought to reinvent, redefine, and re-envision my purpose – I saw myself in roles I would never have imagined.  And still nothing.

It will take up to 90 days for your mortgage hardship case to be reviewed,” the nice lady told me over the phone.  But I don’t have enough money to last that long I explained.  “You can miss up to three payments before foreclosure proceedings start.” Whew! Another reprieve.

When we arrived in Portland we had three months wages in savings – as is recommended.  But it’s amazing how fast a family of four can burn through cash.  Because of a miscalculation in our escrow account, they raised our house payment $500 a month last year.  Then, because of the downturn in the economy, we were not given cost of living raises.  Poof!  In less time then you can say fiscal responsibility, our bank accounts were drained.  It was at that point when the termination came through.

Nationalized healthcare is socialism!  We are not a communist country!  Healthcare is not a right!  The state should not be responsible for taking care of people – the Church should be taking care of people!” And so the epitaphs would fly.  It’s one thing to argue against government supported healthcare, when you are covered by insurance.  But interestingly enough, the only people I heard argue against the currently debated plan, are those who have jobs and health insurance.

One thing that has become very clear to me in the last few months is how much paperwork is involved in being poor. Every agency, every time I turn around, has a form for me to fill out.  some are online, some are in arcane paper forms, and some are just over the phone.  There are phone cues, websites, and regulations to navigate.  It is a full time job.  I don’t know how people get through this – especially those with less education, fewer resources, or those for whom English is not their first language. I don’t know how some people manage.

I’ve found it interesting that those who say the Church should be taking care of people, actually have nothing to back up those words.  The state just came through with the equivalent of $1200 a month in assistance, but the Church has offered nothing – and we haven’t asked, because we know the Church doesn’t have those kind of resources.

Of course, the fear of losing our house loomed large.  But, in the bigger picture, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  My real fear was to move into a one, or two-bedroom suburban ghetto apartment complex and the influence of the others on my family.  It’s not like we can lock our kids in the apartment all day – but then again, there are scary things happening in apartment complexes.

But this week has been a week of victories.  We now have full health insurance coverage!  We have a larger food stamp allotment than we generally spend on food!  And, it looks like we may be able to squeeze out a few more months in our house – without a foreclosure!  I believe we’ll make it.

Earlier this week, I met up with an old friend who was coming through Rainier.  He’s a former paramedic and firefighter.  He asked me why I didn’t recertify as a paramedic.  To be honest, he’s not the first person to ask me this – but he is the first who actually knows the score.  Later that day I made some phone calls and sent out some emails – and this actually looks very doable.

So, stay tuned.  We’ll see what’s next on the agenda.  But, I just wanted to take a few moments to praise God for sustaining us through these difficult times – and for the light at the end of the tunnel.  The Walter family has hope today!

  1. October 24, 2009 11:12 am

    My prayers are with you and your whole family. I know how tough it is making it on state assistance, you’re going into it humble unlike I did. I think you’ll do well and everything will work out ok for you and the family.
    Good luck re-certifying as a paramedic. You’ve already got the calm demeanor down pat, you just need to remember all the little details that make triage medicine so important to saving lives 😀


  2. October 24, 2009 11:21 am

    xoxo to all of you


  3. Steven Walling permalink
    October 24, 2009 5:15 pm

    “One thing that has become very clear to me in the last few months is how much paperwork is involved in being poor.”

    Yes, my experience exactly. Hang in there my friend.


  4. October 24, 2009 5:42 pm

    And can you imagine doing all of the paperwork and meetings if you’re poor AND holding down a job? I’m very glad that the safety net is there for you — and us, and many others. And I’m glad you’re feeling hope.


    • October 24, 2009 7:13 pm

      Thank you my friends! Your empathy and support mean much to me – seriously.

      You’re right @Chris, humility is a learned trait however. One of the things I look forward to about returning to EMS, is to not be testosterone driven and addicted to adrenaline. What would it look like to not have anything to prove?

      Thank you @Cami!

      @Steven and @Kathleen – I can’t even imagine folks who not only have less education, but are ill, working 10 hours a day, depressed (I mean seriously/clinically), or are single parents. It makes me want to start a center just to help people through the “system.”


      • October 25, 2009 11:40 pm

        “What would it look like to not have anything to prove?”

        That is now my daily mantra! I’m going to strive to just live life the most me I can. Brilliant! It’s a shame you can’t get paid the thousands you deserve for just telling it like it is.


      • October 26, 2009 7:52 am

        Thanks Chris – High praise indeed. Humility is underrated and arrogance is misunderstood.

        Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our > addiction (struggle, relationships, depression, careers, etc) – that our > lives had become unmanageable

        (BTW- I accept PayPal! 😉 )


  5. October 24, 2009 7:13 pm

    From Facebook:

    Matt Payne:
    Praying for you guys!

    Therese Allen:
    It is very interesting to read about someone going through this for the first time, and I can understand your frustration, confusion, and the like. However you have rightly noted that this is a full-time job, and you have to know how to play the game i.e. being poor enough, etc. I don’t have much of an education, but I have had to learn how to live this way. It has nothing to do with education. People in survival mode learned very quickly if they are going to make it, as you are finding out.

    KC Robertson:
    Read it twice ! Soldier on, you’ll find your way through it.

    Melanie In Orygun:
    Most times things turn out for the best if you work to make them happen. You’ve done so, and the proof is in the outcome – you’re insured and fed and wheels are in motion to assist you with your mortgage.

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed that a good job comes along for you and that you can get your family back to self-sufficiency as soon as possible. As a fellow DHS attendee (last week; the kids are now insured, but not me or my guy, sadly) I understand what you’re saying re: hoops and red tape. But it’s worth it when you need it, that’s for sure.

    Kathy McComas Parish:
    Gary, we are going to make you and your family a matter of prayer. God had something out there for you, but what?? Hope you get a chance to listen to the Focus Broadcast I just posted. I thought of you as I listened.

    Kristina Tijunait:
    We have been going through some of these same things this past year…so when I say I feel your pain I really do, and it is a bit scary. But the Lord has been building our faith even more during these times. And as your blog shows He always makes a way when there seems to be no way. Praise God!


    • October 24, 2009 7:31 pm

      Thank you @Matt – that is the best!

      @Therese, I can’t imagine you’ve been living like this for years – good on you girl! Being in a wheelchair on top of all of that – someday, I’d love to hear your story!

      @KC – I know no other way, but in my old age, I’m learning to let go and let God be God. Very relaxing!

      @Melanie – We do live in interesting times. I went through this when I was in high school. The recession of the early to mid-70s killed my Dad’s business. We lost our house and everything. But because of the complexities, we received no assistance. It was a miracle we survived.

      @Kathy – thank you for the prayers. Those who have been on the inside of the pain and injustices, have been praying. But for the most part, we’ve been made to be pariahs. Thank you.

      @Kristina – Praise God that you have family nearby – that is an awesome blessing! Thank you for the encouragement!


  6. October 24, 2009 7:20 pm

    From Twitter:

    Wow, that bit about being poor = a full time job. Ain’t that the truth! Congrats on the health plan coverage!

    Recessions suck RT @gwalter Food Stamps and the Oregon Health Plan

    So sorry to hear of your situation. I’ve been there. So glad u are getting some help now. Hope paramedic works out! Sounds good! And I totally agree on health reform. People who don’t like public option shouldn’t pick it, but don’t keep it from rest of us!!


  7. Wayne Blakely permalink
    October 25, 2009 9:45 am

    I pray to God right now that He bring help ASAP. Something very important is in this trial. As usual, : )… We don’t generally see it until the trial is over. Perspective…It is surely much about perspective. While I spin over the church recognizing same-sex afflicted individuals really wanting to God’s will in the wake of disbelief, suspicion and expectation of falling, others simply are trying to stay afloat.

    Ultimately for me, It is only my relationship with Jesus that matters. For you Gary and your family, this has to be nearly an unbearable crisis. I am racking my brain to try and figure out how to help or bring help your way. God has so many resources. I pray He will reveal them. The church above all at this time most sincerely needs to be there for you and your family in helping provide for all your needs. Financial, spiritual and emotional. Don’t let anything keep you from asking. It may seem unimaginable when you have not been at this level of need before. But I believe there are not only lessons in this that you will take away, but there very well could be lessons in the church family that need to be realized in reaching out and sharing with others as Christ would have us do.

    Please… above all… do not hesitate to call or email me with anything I can possibly do to help or support you during this hopefully brief juncture in your life experience.

    Please dear Lord give Gary, his wife and children the strength, faith and trust they need to get through this stage in their life.

    A brother in Christ,


  8. October 31, 2009 2:15 pm

    Yes, it is time consuming applying for help. We just went down that path as you know. Now we have the task of paying our portion of my hospital bills and find providers that participate in the state program. Very time consuming.

    Even with my social work college degree I am overwhelmed by everything. Now I have to steer the disability/social security path– as we apply and re-apply over the next few years. Icky!!

    So glad states have health care plans for times like these. We are shocked by the number of people who are applying for unemployment or have had their hours cut (benefits too).


    • October 31, 2009 9:03 pm

      I know Carrie, your situation humbles me – and frustrates me even more over the lack of good, affordable healthcare (or insurance) in this country.

      Just when I think we are in dire straits, I realize we don’t have it too bad.

      You have had an awesome attitude through all of your trials! God bless you!


  9. Teresa (PDXsays) Boze permalink
    November 2, 2009 6:17 pm

    First, I’d like to say, Man, Daddy Doode – it took *serious* teabags to out this issue. From the comments, it looks like you not only lanced a social boil, but you drew a lot of the festering from deep in the community. Talk about relevancy!

    And you have some truly fortunate kids. Not many a Dad can be such a man in the face of such adversity. When things are better and they are teenagers, payoff city.

    Well said, too. Not to be over analytical, but your writing style takes the reader on a slippery breath-holding ride of suspense and tension, and then you let them breathe right where they should. Not every blogger can call themselves a writer. It’s time you do.

    What is more, me and a whole lot of other people are just damn proud to call you friend.

    Look to your future, enjoy the moment. Be well, and enjoy.


    • November 2, 2009 8:39 pm

      Thank you for your kind comments Teresa!

      I learned a few years ago, that the best way for me to make the world a better place, was to provide my kids a solid foundation in which to launch. I’ll do whatever I can to make that a reality. I really appreciate the affirmation.



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