Many of the Poor in Ohio are hiding in Plain Sight

By Marjie Defede  (Rayland, Ohio)

I have been laid off from my career for almost two years, and during that time, I’ve come to believe two things:  there IS an Amish Mafia and there IS a Secret Poor Peoples’ Network.  Anything you want to know about the Amish Mafia, you can find on the Discovery Channel.  The Secret Poor Peoples’ Network is harder to discover; that’s why I dubbed it a “secret.”  But mark my word, it’s there.  And maybe it’s time to uncover it. 

What is the Secret Poor Peoples’ Network?  Simply put, it’s the loosely organized group in every community that is well served by social programs; those who not only know where to go for help when they are in need, but also find themselves sought out by the service providers, to offer them help they might not need, but can get anyway because they’re poor.  Just a perk for being part of the inner circle of the low-income world.

Don’t think for a minute that I’m part of the outraged conservative crowd that claims entitlements are bad and lazy people are ripping off the social system.  Well, some are, but anecdotal information I’ve received from those leading such programs indicate the number of cheaters is small.  There are those “professional victims,” folks who come from a family with generations of afflictions and a knack for working the system.  My situation – and that of many of the “new poor” lands us somewhere in the middle.  We hold our heads high and try to survive, but there comes a time when we have no choice but to reach out for help.  Trouble is, where do we go? 

There’s no support system for those of us who have not traveled down the road of need before.  There are no social service professionals reaching out to help us.  We have to find them, because we’re not part of the Secret Poor Peoples’ Network – the group that’s so easy for those professionals to reach.  Where is the resource network for those of us that need help, but our income is a few dollars over the poverty level, and we can’t qualify for home energy assistance,  food stamps, Medicaid, home repair grants, prescription assistance?  The list goes on and on for the programs that have turned me away.  Falling through the cracks is no fun.

 So, I say to all of you who work to help those in need:  what are you doing to assist the “new poor?”  Do you think the “new poor” even know you and your programs exist?  And will you consider leaving your social service agency/food pantry/mental health center – to reach out to them?  We might not look like we need your help because we look good/smell good/speak well – but we are right under your nose; we are the ones you are missing; we are the “new poor.”

POSTSCRIPT:  Since I wrote this, I came down with a nasty head and chest cold, and have been fighting a terrible infection, something quite common to those with the compromised immune system that goes along with my “signature” chronic illness, Crohn’s Disease.  That prompted me to give our state’s assistance system one more try and apply again for Medicaid.  A polite call from a compassionate caseworker ensued, who sadly told me there is no medical help for any adult in Ohio, unless one has children, is over 65, or is disabled.  It does not matter if you have absolutely no income.  So, there’s that.  It also brought to mind reports that Governor Kasich continues to call for Medicaid expansion in Ohio.  You know, Governor, you can do that without vying for legislative approval.  Just ask the Ohio Controlling Board to allot more federal dollars for expansion.  Or, try these two words:  “executive order.”  It’s that simple.  Are you up to it?  We’ll see.  Meantime, I’ll be trying to get healthy and trying to find a job that can allow me to lead a productive life.  Maybe I can get a job with the Amish Mafia. 

Copyright Street Chronicle October 2013 Cleveland Ohio.