'No One Decides To Be Destitute'

How One New Yorker Came To Commit the 'Crime' of Poverty

I've been waiting since February when I began my search, March when I began the forms, April when I began the long series of appointments and waiting. It's now almost the end of May and I've received absolutely nothing. I have managed to get a tiny bit of work, making $118 per week, which disqualifies me for emergency aid. How people on welfare, public assistance, or whatever we call this system survive is beyond me. Given a choice, this is not where I would be. Given a choice as a middle-aged woman, writer and artist, and wardrobe assistant, I'd choose to be working at a decent job, paying my bills with enough money left over to be able to make a thick sandwich.

But this is where I am momentarily. And most of the people on these long lines have similar stories. The minority are cheaters.

There's an attitude of indifference that permeates this system and that indifference has a source.

Tim C. Okamura

This morning, despite decades of work, I found myself in need, showed up for yet another appointment, heard my name called after an hour of waiting, signed my name on the form, then was told to go downstairs and wait for the form to be brought down (I couldn't bring it down myself). Downstairs I waited an hour and 45 minutes, then heard my name called again, signed two more forms, and was told to go to another building 25 blocks away to have another photo taken.

After the bus ride, I signed another form and delivered one. Grown men and women were holding onto these thin pieces of paper as if they were a small child's lunch pass. After waiting for an hour downstairs, a large group was taken outdoors, in a line, to another building. We were stripped of all dignity, walking through that street in a line.

Then inside we were taken upstairs, through a maze of desks and cameras, and told to wait outside in a narrow hallway. We stood there, against the wall, most of us women alone or with children, for another 45 minutes, until the names began.

I had another photograph taken and was told to go home and wait.

The woman in the photo looks tired and defeated.

Some people crumble under these circumstances. Many people crumble. And I'm wondering now if this is the plan.

May 16, 1999
Mr. Boyd
Supervisor, Section Six

Dear Mr. Boyd,

I wrote to you almost a month ago, asking why I have been denied food stamps. I received a call from my caseworker, Ms. D. Perez, and was told to come into the office on 14th St. again. I did and was then told to go to the 34th St. office and be photographed again. I did this also, on May 5.

When I had my very first visit with Ms. D. Perez, there was a great deal of discussion regarding the fact that I'm not a U.S. citizen. It was explained to me that the new ruling was that only U.S. citizens could receive food stamps. I have permanent resident status and am a Canadian citizen. I've lived and worked in New York for over 30 years. It was decided, after I brought in documentation to establish that fact, that I would be eligible.

But as you can see from the enclosed vouchers, I continue to be denied. . . . Would you please let me know if I'm doing something wrong, in order to be eligible. All I'm asking is emergency assistance with food stamps and Medicaid.

Sincerely,

Magie Dominic


Who's Who: Magie Dominic

Bio: Dominic, Magie, writer, artist; b. Corner Brook, Nfld., Can., July 15, 1944; 1 child, Heather Rose. Diploma, Art Inst. of Pitts. Prodr/dir. Children's History Theatre, Woodstock, NY, 1978-1984; freelance wardrobe asst. Met Opera, NYC, 1986-; freelance wardrobe asst. Broadway and TV NYC, 1986-; assoc. curator Caffe Cino Exhibit, Linc. Ctr. Libr. for the Performing Arts, Astor Gallery, NYC, 1985. Editor, author: Belles Lettres/Beautiful Letters, 1995; author (anthology) Outrage, 1993. Pushing the Limits, 1996, Countering the Myths, 1996; author words to final movement of "Symphony #2— Visions of a Wounded Earth," Internat. Symphony Orch., 1996; art work in pvt. collection St. Vincent's Hosp., NYC, the Malcolm Forbes Collection; created the Gown of Stillness installation, Toronto, 1995, NYC, 1996. Recipient Langston Hughes award Clark Ctr., 1968; Children's History Theatre grantee Am. the Beautiful Fund, 1979, '80, Shaker Found., 1980, '81. Mem. League of Can. Poets

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