Hitting the Oregon Trail

I have just begun receiving food stamps for the first time in my life. This is something I have resisted doing for a long time. However, two weeks ago my unemployment insurance was taken away from me. (It has recently been restored.) That gaze into the abyss put the fear of God into me.

In Oregon, you get food stamps from the Department of Human Services. You would think that their Eugene office would be in the downtown area, which people can get to easily. No, their office is located in an office park out in the middle of nowhere. If you don’t have a car, you would have to take a long bus ride out to this place. The people who run this state apparently think that unemployed people have nothing better to do with their time than take long bus rides. I must say, though, that the people who worked in the office were kind and helpful to me. I liked the fact that some of them were very cheerful. When you’re struggling to get by, it’s nice to be around people who are cheerful.

It’s curious how people still refer to it as “food stamps”, when it’s now a plastic card that they give you. In Oregon, it’s called an “Oregon Trail Card”. (I swear, I’m not making this up.) The face of the card features a depiction of a covered wagon facing a mountainous landscape. I suppose that the example of those hardy Oregon pioneers is supposed to inspire me to better myself.

I took the card to my local supermarket. They told me that in the deli section, one can use the card to buy cold food, but not to buy hot food. Well, that makes perfect sense! We certainly don’t want to encourage people to eat hot food now, don’t we? I’m sure those Oregon pioneers never ate hot food.

Years ago, when I lived in L.A., I did apply for food stamps during a prolonged period of unemployment. I spent a whole day sitting in an office waiting for a counselor to see me. At about four o’clock in the afternoon, I got disgusted and left. This episode fits into a pattern in my dealings with the state bureaucracy in California. Their philosophy seems to be: “If we make things as difficult and as unpleasant for people as we can, then maybe they’ll go away and leave us alone.” I remember when I moved there in the 1990’s, they refused to give me a driver’s license, because, they said, the copy of my birth certificate that I had was not an “official” one. (Funny, this was not a problem for me when I got licenses in New York and in Massachusetts.) I had to apply to Los Angeles County (where I was born), to supply me with an “official” copy. I waited three months for them to mail it to me. During that time, if I had been pulled over by a cop, I could have been fined for having an out-of-state license while being a resident of California. (They’re very strict about these things in the Golden State.)

All I care about now is finding a job. However, the economy is in the toilet. I may have to go to the DHS office, just to have those people cheer me up again.

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4 Responses to “Hitting the Oregon Trail”

  1. purple Says:

    Good luck.

  2. Andrew Coates Says:

    It sounds a lot worse than the Dole in the UK.

    You may be interested in contributing on your experience to Ipswich Unemployed Action’s Blog (it gets scores of comments, some very robust, but don’t be put off):


    Your film reviews are much appreciated.

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