Eric Hovde's comments from last week about the news media and coverage of poor people applying for benefits is still getting plenty of attention one week out. Maybe that's why he's still talking about it and trying to walk back the comments as if it doesn't portray his true opinion. Yet, he's somehow raising money off of it & won't back down from the comments. Clearly, this is someone who is a novice at running campaign messaging.
Look, I'm not getting into all of the crap surrounding the story's timeline, because that's just what it is, crap. The billionaire candidate who "goes rogue" and says what he really thinks exposing how conservative he really is, probably isn't as catchy for newspaper, internet, and blog headlines. No, what I want to get into is what he was talking about, my experience with it, and how his comments were not just insulting, they were also not even referencing what what he was talking about.
I'm posing a serious question to Mr. Hovde, and in fact, every candidate running for public office at the State or Federal level in Wisconsin: Have any of you ever applied for Public Assistance, Food Share, or Heating Assistance in Wisconsin? Because, believe it or not, I have. I applied for Food Share in September of 2010 after joining AmeriCorps. I still have my card and the paperwork that I was sent as a reminder of what that process was like.(Unfortunately it is buried over at my parents house with many other mementos.) You know what Mr. Hovde, I'm a news-junkie, and while I have seen many public interest stories about people needing to apply for assistance, I've seen very few, if any, that accurately portray what it takes to apply for those services.
Fraud is an issue with the states Food Share program, and the MJS has been playing that up in articles such as this one. But if my experience, or those shared by other AmeriCorps members in my service group are any indication, it's easy to see why.
First, the paperwork. Filling out what was needed to even apply for the benefit was cumbersome and confusing. The website and way of walking you through the process was clearly not figured out by someone with an education degree, because it's set up like bunk. This link is the website to start filling out the benefit: https://access.wisconsin.gov/access/accessController?id=0.4553449883824301 It's not impossible to do, but it does take a little while.
Next, was the waiting for the phone call. Yes, the physical phone call that you had to have. I was told by many members of my AmeriCorps group that I was lucky mine only took 45 minutes as several commented that they were on HOLD for that long. My situation was more complex than most because I was in AmeriCorps and able to get food share, but things being what they were, it was a pain trying to go back and forth.
After that, it was the stack of paperwork that I received. This is all the "Can's and Can'ts" of using your Food Share card, and other information about every other state service under the sun that you may be eligible for. What I remember most though was the paperwork that showed a record of my Food Share benefits. It looked like it was printed in 1978 on a middle school mimeograph and had almost no hallmarks of what you would think a government document would look like. I would receive another one every few months as they were "checking up" on me and my progress.
Lastly, the stigma of using the card. For those who may think otherwise, it does exist for MANY people. I was certainly one of them. I would shop at a Copps Foods store and you always had to tell them you were using EBT, but often times you had to just say "Food Share". More than a few times you would swipe the card and they wouldn't catch the fact I showed them the card and would have to "re-swipe" it. I'm sure there are those who don't feel that stigma when they go into the store and swipe their cards, but I wonder why that is and what we have done as a society to create that. I can only imagine that people who have had those benefits in the past or for extended periods probably have heard so much negative talk of the program they feel defiant in using it their way.
Whatever the case, looking at that card when I took it out of my wallet because I was no longer in AmeriCorps was the last time I hope to ever have to utilize that card. Maybe one day I will hold it up as proof that yes, I have some knowledge about what the system was like for people using it in 2010/11, who knows? But the fact remains, Eric Hovde wasn't talking about me when he made his comments about journalists doing human interest stories on people applying for government services. He was talking about seeing stories of people who NEED to apply because their family has fallen on hard times. I wish I had the wealth and assets Mr. Hovde does, as with it comes the security of knowing that you won't have to rely on such social services. But please sir, shut up right now. Just say "I'm sorry if I offended anyone with my comments" and move on.