Wednesday, March 16, 2023
This was originally published in the Albuquerque Journal.
I became pregnant when I was 19. I grew up in the foster care system and didn’t have any family or anyone I could ask for help when I aged out of that system. A homeless shelter in Albuquerque helped me apply for TANF, which is a small amount of cash assistance for low-income families with children. I really needed the help and have applied more than once over the years, but there has always been some kind of barrier stopping me from actually getting it for more than a month or two.
When I first applied for TANF, I had to go to the Income Support Division office in person. My son was only a couple of days old and had health issues, but they didn’t let me conduct the appointment over the phone. I had to borrow money for the bus and worried about sitting on the bus and in the waiting room with a tiny newborn. I waited there for about three hours, then staff canceled my appointment. I lost TANF benefits that time because I couldn’t provide a birth certificate in time. I didn’t have one because you don’t leave the hospital with that document.
I applied again, but my case worker said I again failed to provide required paperwork. I tried to dispute it … but, when you call Human Services, you’re stuck on the phone for about two hours waiting to speak to somebody. … I was sanctioned and was off the program for a whole year right at a time when I really needed it.
I tried again when I had my second child. I was working 30 hours a week. They told me I didn’t qualify because, at $8.50 an hour, I was making too much money. They wanted me to cut my hours to 28 or 25. My boss said they could not cut my hours, so I had to quit.
Now with my third child, I still had trouble getting and keeping TANF because they insist I go after the father for child support. Bothering him could hurt my family and I won’t risk it. I wouldn’t get anything from him, anyway, because the state keeps most of your child support when you’re on TANF. I had to file an appeal because they sanctioned me for not pursuing child support against this father. It took five months for me to finally win my appeal and for the agency to believe me.
TANF is not a lot of money, but families like mine really need it. Senate Bill 267 would make important updates to the TANF program that would help families like mine.
Micaela Baca, Albuquerque