One of the most exacting pressures while raising my mentally disabled grandchildren has been the financial limitations placed upon me and my grandchildren through my having no choice but to become a social assistance recipient.
For a younger adult, raising children while working outside of the home is stressful enough, but trying to do both as a grandparent raising grandchildren with mental disabilities would have been physically impossible. Each grandchild came to me at a very early age, just a few weeks, and they were born remarkably close to each other with two being born in the same year, just eleven months apart. And, due to their mental challenges, they did not give up the bottle or become toilet trained as early as most toddlers, which meant I had to buy baby formula, diapers and wet wipes for a longer period of time, often for more than one child at a time.
The struggles I had paying for all their needs over the years has been astronomical often forcing me to ask people to lend me money for groceries – a very humiliating experience. It wasn’t until their disabilities were identified and I could apply for disability income to help me with their extra needs, did I find things a little easier – I repeat little! I have to add that if that income hadn’t been forthcoming we wouldn’t have made it as a family and the children would have to be placed in foster care – that’s how impossible it is to live on social assistance for any length of time, and how ludicrous that if we had been a non-disabled family it would have been financially impossible for us to stay together.
Frustratingly, I only discovered I could apply for disability for the children’s extra needs by accident. Someone, I believe it was a doctor, had informed me of respite hours I could apply for through a local organization who would send workers into my house for a couple of hours a week to give me a break from taking care of the children. After filling out the application, I noticed an area at the end of the form that asked if I received disability benefit for the grandchildren which, of course, got me wondering. So I called their office and was informed of my right to apply for a disability benefit. So if I hadn’t applied for the respite hours I might never have got the financial help we so desperately needed. But the contrast between what a respite worker earns when taking care of my children compared to the paltry sum the government paid me for actually raising the children is mind-blowing – $30 per hour for the worker vs. 0.97 cents per hour for me, with considerable claw backs because the government is afraid any extra income might actually result in my feeling like a purposeful human being.
Food banks can be a help but I remember going to a food bank in my area and seeing cans of baby formula on the shelf and asking the volunteer if I could have two cans instead of the compulsory one, but she became very agitated voicing her ire at me for even contemplating the thought – “What are other families going to do, if you take ALL THE CANS?!” she growled, when I had simply asked for one extra. I felt like Oliver Twist facing the spiteful cook. But that wasn’t the reason I stopped going to the food-bank, the long waits just became too tiresome especially when ultimately faced with almost bare shelves and the decision whether to choose the unwanted, lonely jar of marinated artichoke hearts left sitting on the shelf over the canned jumbo pickerels in spicy sauce! I mean, do people actually eat those things?
I have a question – who do all those toys go to that people donate to local charities at Christmas? I mean, thousands of dollars worth. When I registered for a Christmas hamper and toys at my local food bank one year, after waiting hours for my number to be called I dutifully followed the assistant who placed food items in my shopping cart, then directed me to the toy section to select a toy for each of my grandchildren, where I was amazed by the junk they were giving out. You know, those pretend Barbies from the dollar store whose legs are made of pliable vinyl and fall off after five minutes of play, or wannabe Matchbox cars that are made of plastic with wheels that stay behind when you push the vehicle along. I couldn’t believe I was expected to be grateful for such rubbish, especially when I saw newscasts on my local TV station boasting of warehouses full of expensive, fantastic, USABLE, toys that kind-hearted people have donated!
Then there are those complaining taxpayers! Oh boy, what a joyful lot they are – “It’s people like you who drain the system!” … “I work hard for my money, why should I pay your income!”… “It’s your problem, you chose to raise your grandchildren!” Goodness, it’s endless! Even the children’s grandfather, my ex-husband, complained when I called to ask if he would consider buying our eldest grandson new shoes. His response – “Can’t welfare pay for them? I pay enough Goddam taxes to support welfare families!” All to whom I say – Imagine the amount of money I have saved taxpayers by taking responsibility for my family instead of turning my back and allowing them to be raised from babies to adults in foster care. Possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars!
“The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life.. the children; those who are in the twilight of life.. the elderly; and those who are in the shadow of life.. the sick, the needy, and the disabled.”
Hubert H. Humphrey