Jumping through hoops is a full-time job

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And for my next trick …

My daughter has been in daycare for three years. This means for three years I have had to go in for dehumanizing assessments in order to receive and maintain daycare subsidy. The Toronto office I am made to deal with is known for making people feel like trash. Clients of that office say this, people at other offices say this, and the expressions on the faces in the office waiting room say this.

My first visit there, all the information I have is a letter I received after applying. After getting to the office I am shuffled between receptionists until the right one is found. She asks me my client number, which was not on the letter. I say I don’t have one yet, to my knowledge, and that I am applying for subsidy. I am not sure who I should be asking for, but I have this letter. She asks me again for my client number, I show her the letter and explain again. This happens one more time before she rolls her eyes at me, raises her hands in the air, and says, “Someone else deal with her!” I am seen and told to sit and wait. Visibly upset a few people tell me this is how everyone is treated here. Sure enough, the next year’s reception is just as unpleasant, but I am prepared. In the first year, my daughter is made to change schools because the daycare that will walk her to and back from school does not qualify for subsidy. After a lot of desperate searching I find somewhere- I am extremely lucky.

This year was a bit of an adventure. For whatever reason my mailing address was not updated in the system. That kind of stuff happens. My e-mail and phone number were correct on the system, but these forms of communication were not utilized because, why should anything be logical? Us poories can’t afford logic! I did not receive a letter to schedule my annual assessment, because of this error.

I don’t know the protocol, maybe they had a look at my tax return and were aware of my financial situation, so a new appointment was unnecessary. Not the case. Because the daycare supervisor at my daughter’s daycare is wonderful, she let me know that my subsidy was about to be cut unless I visited the office at X date. Luckily I was on break from school, which runs within the same time as government office hours, so I went into the office the next day. I joined the line up everyone else was in. One receptionist was dealing with the line, while two others were doing something else. I get to the front of the line and am directed to someone else. I explain my situation and she asks if I had all of the required papers. I am going off a daycare supervisor’s letter, which does not contain such a list. I say I brought everything I have, can we go from there? She gets annoyed and says they won’t see me. I get annoyed and say I need to see someone and I am not going to let them cut my subsidy.

I’m eventually allowed to see someone. He is condescending to say the least. He keeps reminding me I need to update them with my address and I keep saying I did. I say I understand workers are people, and things happen. I don’t mind. But since they mind so much, they should try to get things straight on my file. He clearly doesn’t believe me. Then he lectures me on not updating them that I am in school, before he looks at his screen and sees that it says I am enrolled in school. He then tells me that I should be going to another university. I explain why I chose the university I am going to. I tell him the hell the university he recommends put me through during the application process, and he tells me surely what I am saying is untrue. OK.

He says I should not live where I am living because it is far from everything. I am -shockingly- not living in the most expensive part of the city. I get angry after a while, say something about being sick of jumping through hoops, how it is obvious no one sees us “clients” as people, and thus do not care about us. He then treats me like a person, gives me a list of things to bring to my next meeting and we set a meeting date. This date ends up being rescheduled over the phone the next week, which is fine.

A week before my appointment I have two voicemail messages. Both by a woman whose name I am not familiar with. Since caseworkers are changed often, I figure she is my new worker. It turns out she is not and I still have no idea who she is. In the first message, she asks me to call back to schedule an appointment for my assessment. She leaves me the number she calls from, which when I call back gets disconnected. The next message she tells me to e-mail her. She says we can pick a day that best suits my schedule (yay!), she leaves no e-mail address. I call the office and get passed around from one extension to the other. One person tells me to simply wait for her to call again. I reply that I am well aware that if I miss a call I’ll be reprimanded. I ask for her phone number and e-mail, which he provides eventually after some hemming and hawing over how he doesn’t know who I am talking about (to be fair she only left me her first name). By the time I get the information she has e-mailed me, saying my failure to comply in meeting will result in my subsidy being cut.

I call and leave angry messages, and I write an e-mail to both this mystery worker and my caseworker – who I have never met or heard from. I write about a person’s value not being based on their income, and how chasing people down to have an annual assessment has become a third time job for me. I mention how I do in fact have an appointment scheduled, but if I am able to pick a day that works best for my schedule, as was offered, then X day is my day off from school; I’d rather not miss class. I get an e-mail back the day of my scheduled appointment saying I am not able to make another day. At this point I figured I would miss a day of school, but roll my eyes as the late reply and inability to deliver something that the office offered.

Why am I sharing this? To vent for sure. But also to say, everyone was nice to me when I went in! The receptionist was kind, and so was the worker who did my assessment, she spoke to me like an actual human. I am sharing this because, unfortunately, when it comes to stuff like this we are forced to be aggressive. Make sure you know your rights, and keep all the necessary information handy. If you haven’t heard from anyone and you feel you should have a scheduled annual appointment, don’t wait for them to do their job and schedule one yourself.

Tips (in my experience dealing within Toronto):

  • As of last year, you may be a student and receive childcare subsidy for four years. Anyone who started school before last year will be grandfathered and allowed to attend school as long as needed.
  • If you live with a partner, you may do so for up to three years before their income is counted against your subsidy.
  • File your taxes on time!
  • Have proof of employment, proof of where you go to school (one year a timetable was allowed, this year I needed an official letter from the school’s office), your birth certificate, your child(ren)’s birth certificate, and proof of where you live (a utility bill, a lease, a letter from your landlord, from the same year you are being assessed).
  • You are not allowed to miss over X amount of days. Check with your worker to clarify how many. If you have some time off and want to spend it with your child, you may not be able to. It will depend on how many sick days have been used, holidays, or in cases like mine, time your kidlet(s) have spent with their other parent.
  • Update every change so they can’t “get” you. A lot of people in charge of your fate have a “you’re stealing from hardworking taxpayers” mentality.
  • Constantly update information regarding your address, phone number, income, work status, school status, and relationship status.
  • Get confirmation, if you fax anything, keep the fax record, don’t delete sent e-mails, follow-up call. Keep and record everything!

Being poor requires a lot of labour. Weird, cos people below the poverty line surely aren’t working hard enough, right? Right?!

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com