2016, Women are STILL Falling Through the Cracks!

It’s 2016 and women are STILL falling through the cracks!  The era of we girls being a 2nd rate citizen is not over YET!

What has happened that this can still be said?  And how do we as a society fix this problem?  I’ll admit I don’t have all the answers, but I think myself and other women who have served as worthwhile mothers, wives, and working women deserve more consideration from society instead of being thrown aside as worthless in midlife.

Our worth may not be measured in work hours as entered into the system by social security, but that does not mean we have not held an esteemed place and that we have not contributed to society in many ways.  Personally, I’m very angry about how I am currently being treated by the system.  And I’m angry about what I felt I needed to do to care for myself.

When the economy tanked in 2011 my husband was first canned from his job at Pendum and then he became very sick.  It reached the point where we were just waiting for him to kick the bucket. It really was that bad.  We exhausted his unemployment.  We exhausted his retirement, we exhausted our savings, and everything else we had.  We filed for VA compensation, pension and health for him, and we filed for social security for him.  The VA came through with help eventually, and social security turned him down.  We are very thankful to the VA for helping us through this very tough time.  A program that was put into place by the Obama Administration helped us keep our house by first making house payments for a year for us while we tried to get our ducks in a row, and then another new program through the local Neighborhood Works helped us to negotiate a new mortgage with our bank so that we’d get lower mortgage payments (via a lower interest rate).  Really and truly we got a lot of help from a lot of places during this trying time.  Before all this good help came along, we were actually hard up enough to go to family services and ask for help, and were happy to receive any help we could get.  They basically told me I had to get a job, and I basically told them, no they were not going to make me do that.  What I knew at the time is that I had some sort of social anxiety.  I’d been living with it all my life, but it seemed to have gotten worse and I wasn’t sure I could maneuver working on any terms other than my own– I’m a loner type, who does better without intense supervision.  I need to dress comfortably because so much of being out there in the world is so uncomfortable for me.  I was at that time volunteering for two organizations, but I’d found a way to be helpful on my own terms.  I didn’t have to deal with big groups of people, I could be trusted to do my job alone and unsupervised, and I could work when it was comfortable for me.

The state of Oregon sent me to to see a doctor and we talked about what my problems were, how they affected my life, and how I adapted.  I do not know exactly what her report said, as I signed a release to let the report go to my doctor and then forgot to mail it back.  Part of my ‘disability’ is my memory issues.  But, the long story short is that I was found disabled by social security and put on the SSI program, and into OHP (Oregon Health Plan aka Medicaid). I had the mistaken impression that I would be in these programs the rest of my life.

As it stood, the State of Oregon was trying to help us to cobble together some income, enough to live on and keep us off the welfare rolls.  This worked for us, neither of us was interested in being on welfare at all. I am unsure just how long I was on SSI, but probably between two and three years.  In late 2015, My husband’s court date over his SSDI claim came due, and he was found disabled as of his 50th birthday.  So, he was placed on SSDI.  Social security called me, shortly after,  and let me know that I was going to be taken off of SSI because it was expected that my husband would support me through his SSDI income.  His income was enough to do that, I did not have an issue with that.

In 2016, Social Security contacted my husband and asked him to come to a meeting.  During the meeting it was said that they would provide more income on my daughters behalf (his step-daughter).  Her biological father has never helped in terms of income, my husband has supported her from age 3 or 4 and on up until now.   So, social security is basically making child support payments on her behalf. Keep in mind that during this meeting with Social Security, their employees made it plain as day that the money was to be used on my daughters behalf, not for our behalf. We could charge her rent, and that would help, but it would not have fixed my dilemma in terms of health insurance. I reported the income and made it clear that I was not the payee of the monies, and yet the good people at OHP counted the income as mine instead of hers and kicked me off.  As I started running numbers I realized that my husbands income would keep me off of OHP (by less than $200.00 a month) even after my daughter turned 18 in  5 months, and her extra income was gone. (Her turning 18 essentially turns a 3 person household into a 2 person household.)   The new Obamacare program wanted a tax return.  We’ve not had to file on in nearly five years! Because none of the income was really mine, there was no reason for me to file one this year.  Having no tax papers to prove my income created the bottom line that ObamaCare insurance was going to cost me nearly $600.00 per month, plus co-pays, and my deductibles were close to $5K per year.  Believe me the less that $200.00 per month did not begin to cover the cost of  health insurance, deductibles, co-pays and other medical costs.

What I did not know is that after a year of not getting SSI payments a person automatically looses their disability ‘rating’.  A person is no longer considered officially disabled and this means that any special help that a person received because of that stops right then and there.  To top it off, there seems to be no place for anyone to go to get that ‘fixed’ as it were. Where do we turn for advice on these matters when we are low income?  Part of my disability is that I am easily overwhelmed. Tears did not help.  Nor temper tantrums.  Neither did the fact that I threw paperwork into the garbage. My problems both mental, and physical are not better, and the physical problems are instead worse.  My guess is that I’ll be ‘disabled’ the rest of my life.  (Mental issues include: PTSD, & Depression. Physical issues include: sick sinus syndrome (a heart condition), diabetes type II, diabetic neuropathy, an inherited foot condition that makes it painful to stand or walk for any period of time, and so on). I only learned that I lost that rating at the same time that I lost my OHP coverage (Oregon Medicaid). I did not like loosing my disability rating but I was unsure that it really mattered either.   I learned I’d have OHP for about another two weeks.  Try having a heart condition and learning that you no longer have insurance.  Put your self into that place and try really hard not to panic.

So, loosing my disability rating has cost me health insurance which with a heart condition is a possible and probable life or death issue.  And this is how I equate it to ‘women falling through the cracks’:   My daughter, aged 17 years and 7 months old, kept her state insurance.  My husband is now on Medicare, of course he keeps his.  The state decided to care for the other two, but not for me, and it’s because I lost my disability rating which I’ll have to fight to get back and because my husband’s income was too high for me to stay on OHP for. None of this really makes sense considering the child is still on OHP.  Should she have been kicked off too?? Oh wait, she’s a minor, that’s why she gets to stay on right? Or maybe because they considered her income as mine, she is still low-income enough to have the insurance??  Someone explain this to me please!!

I have taken a drastic step, and I am angry that I had to consider it, and I am even more angry that I felt the need to follow through.  If I thought for one minute that I’d work at some really dependable job where I made enough money to support myself and my conditions I would have not considered this. But, I really don’t see that as being a reality.
I filed for divorce which can be final within 4 to 6 weeks in Oregon as long as both parties come to a complete agreement about all issues and then actually sign off on the divorce.

My 17 year old will stay with him so she can finish her final year of high school at the school she’s been attending since grade school.  Hopefully, social security will still send him the support for her.

I will pay him rent and stay in his home (although it is my home, its never been in my name) and then I can sign up for state insurance again, and work towards getting my disability rating back.  We have not discussed our final arrangements in terms of separation just yet, as I haven’t the income to go out in the world anyhow.  But, let me say that I really just keep coming back to the resentment I feel that I felt compelled to take such a drastic step in order to keep state insurance.

There is nothing new to this decision.  I remember being a youngster and overhearing a conversation about my grandmother Rowe who had just divorced her 2nd husband.  She divorced at least in part so that she could draw social security off of my grandfather’s work record.  And I can tell you for as long as she was married to my grandfather (25 years, it ended with his death), and for as many children (8, 7 who lived) as she bore that man, then she should have NEVER had to divorce anyone to claim what should have been rightfully hers to begin with!   At the time, I have to admit I knew nothing of the laws, and I didn’t know what to make of it.  Over the years I had forgotten about the move she felt she had to make in order to have some sort of income for herself.  So, this is the first, but not the last time I’ve heard of women having to make such hard decisions in order to survive in this world.  I have to say, at this point, thank you to my grandmother for making the decision, and following through, and then thank you again for allowing the discussion to be heard.  My grandparents, none of them were perfect people, and I can say without a doubt that they all worked hard in their way, even if the hours didn’t show up on their work record for social security.  What my grandmother did in the 1970’s was an act of basic survival, as are the very same decisions that women are making today in 2016.  Forty years later, and somethings just never change!

So, here I sit, some of my vision of the world, especially my little world is shattered.
I am again a divorced woman.  But, I am still living, at least for now, with my best friend.
And while he can not support me in terms of insurance and my medical needs he most certainly supports me emotionally and no one in my life has ever done a better job.

And just so everyone reading this understands, I realize that had I worked more when I was younger in jobs that paid better that I would not be in such a place now financially.  During my first marriage he and I wanted me to stay at home and care for our children.  That is not anything that I consider a mistake. But our society finds no value in a stay at home mother, so I did not build up work hours. I spent nearly 10 years as a single mom.  During these years I eventually went to college and got a degree and was certified in computers.  I worked any job that I could land, and most of them were low paying jobs. I started my own business and had worked myself up to being able to pay my own rent (in Sonoma County even!).  To do this I worked up to three part-time jobs plus I ran my business.  For all the work that I did, I never racked up the hours needed to get SSDI payments.  But, while I was working those three jobs, and working at being self-employed, I was a mother of a disabled ( bi polar with psychosis) child, along with two other children, plus another part time, who was not even my child, yet I was caring for her.  I worked three jobs, ran a business, raised four children during the hardest years of their lives, plus I volunteered at my local historical society—and yet I never accumulated enough hours to have my own work record.  And yet, they were jobs that someone had to work, and all the jobs I did, including that of being a mother, seemed worthwhile to me. Obviously they were not worthwhile for social security purposes.

I was rarely still.  I was always busy.  I worked on one project or another until the wee hours of the night.  I got up early and started my day and marched on.  And none of that mattered to anyone but me.  It certainly did not matter to the powers that be in government.  And that is why I say women are still falling through the cracks. I worked, and I worked hard! One job I had, I was on my feet. I literally walked from one bathroom to the next cleaning in a mall in Santa Rosa, CA.  As I walked, I literally got blisters on the bottom of my feet.  This doesn’t even take into account the inherited condition where the walking was just plain painful for me.  It doesn’t cut any ice with social security.  It doesn’t matter to the folks who decided to let my disability rating lapse, and it sure doesn’t matter to the state who took away the state insurance that I totally rely on.

Marriage means something to me.  It is a spiritual and soulful walk that two people make together.  We choose to move along in life together.  We promise our love and support.  In my mind, marriage is meant to be forever, and I suppose that deep down even people and their laws can’t really take that bond away from me.  But, the piece of paper, and the ceremony were symbolic of the union – a very sacred union.  And I am angry as hell, that was taken from me and my best friend!  It is little comfort knowing that there are thousands and thousands of other women in the same place.  I don’t care what anyone else says–it’s 2016, and women are still falling through the cracks!

Things I’ve Learned

“To remain indifferent to the challenges we face is indefensible. If the goal is noble, whether or not it is realized within our lifetime is largely irrelevant. What we must do therefore is to strive and persevere and never give up.” – Dalai Lama XIV

I’ve been in a women’s group called, “Seeking Safety”.  It is a group where a group of women are working through and processing the effects of PTSD in their lives. Today, 2016, PTSD is something that is considered curable, this little fact is new knowledge for me.

The group teaches self-compassion, self-care, learning to ask for help, etc. etc. This is my first round through the curriculum.  It is expected that each survivor goes through the curriculum twice. There is no actual processing of the trauma–rather this group or class focuses on controlling the damage and making life a little less bouncy (in terms of emotions) for the survivor.

Today the discussion turned to the fact that violence in families, addictions, and more is very, very much generational.  It moves from one generation to the next.  This confirmed my theory that I’ve held for several years after discovering a pattern of violence running through my family from one generation to the next.

Back in 1992 or so, I made a very conscious decision that I was going to put my foot down and stop the violence at the very least in my family tree. My thoughts at the time was that I wanted to protect my children and grandchildren.  My thoughts never really went farther than that.  Today in group, I commented on my frustration because I didn’t think that I had succeeded in the least.  Our group leader told us that it takes 2-5 generations from the time that one decides that the violence is going to stop and actively works towards that end.

So, my message–this time a short one– is that my frustration at seeing lack of results was unfounded.  I may never see the results.  What would it have mattered anyhow if I had, it had never been about me, it was about the future and helping those who come later.

So, one little piece of frustration can be lost.  To keep my eye on the goal I will continue to work through my issues, and practice patience.  I will continue to try and educate as many as I can about these issues, and with any luck at all, my great-grandchildren will see a violence free life.