This morning, Ian and I drove about 20 minutes away to a doctor’s office in a strip mall in a town with a rough reputation. A form letter arrived two weeks with instructions to take Ian there to be evaluated by a government-appointed doctor at precisely 9:00am today to determine whether he really has autism and qualifies for government assistance. That was just the latest hurdle to get Ian qualified for social security disability payments.
Last Thursday, I drove to a different, yet also dodgy area of New Jersey, to get finger printed (no ink!) in another strip mall. Fingerprints were part of the laundry list of tasks that I need to do to get my substitute teaching license, so I can better support our public schools during their staffing crisis. The staffing crisis will be long over by the time I finish all the tasks necessary to get this license. On my chore list today, I have to sign up for a TB test and get transcripts from three colleges. I’ve been told that this whole process takes two months and costs $250 (could be more when I pay for transcripts), for a job that pays $115 per day.
Laid out on the trundle bed next to my desk are a half dozen manilla folders. On the front of each folder, I have a stick note with a list of tasks to be completed. I refuse to make paperwork my main purpose in life, so I’ll slowly tick through those chores throughout the month. Or sadly, throughout the year. Eventually I’ll get it all done.
Yet, I have to wonder why it’s easier for my husband to get a job on Wall Street than it is for me to get a job as a substitute teacher. With so much medical and education and whatever documentation on Ian’s disabilities, why must I start from scratch with a new bureaucracy to prove that he has autism and epilepsy? Why am I scribbling in little boxes on forms and driving to scary doctor’s offices for interviews?
These bureaucratic systems have not been modernized since 1963. I have to take a TB test to be a substitute teacher. Why? Are there really hoards of people in iron lungs beating on the doors of schoolhouses for employment? Why can’t one system talk to another? Why can’t the computers at the social security office upload data from schools and from the medical offices. Why do I feel like I’m filling out the same forms over and over and over again? It took less time for scientists to create a vaccine for Covid, then it will take to get Ian on Medicaid.
Why does all this suck?
Partly, it’s a matter of will. The system doesn’t really want to give out money to people with disabilities, so there’s no incentive to streamline the process. The system doesn’t want professionals or parents to take jobs as substitutes, so they made a system that’s so annoying that only people who are desperate for a job will complete the certification process.
There’s also a distinct lack of talent and brainpower in these bureaucracies, too. Good computer geeks are expensive. The government can’t pay them well enough, so only the worst geeks work in these industries. Bad computer geeks make bad systems. Good computer geeks use Facebook to listen to my conversations and then create ads for those products that appear relentlessly until I click, click, click and buy the item with my money slowly effortlessly from my bank account to theirs.
And there’s just good old bureaucratic rigidity and stupidity. Governmental departments have their own systems and set up high barriers to sharing information with each other, so it’s hard to get the department of probation, for example, to get information from the department of education.
There really should be an easier way to get people what they need – teaching certifications, drivers’ licenses, prescription drugs, housing vouchers, food stamps, mental health support. I’m getting through all this nonsense, and am trying to describe the process without looking for pity. For me, it’s annoying and time consuming, but for others, these lengthy, expensive, and cumbersome paperwork chores mean the delay of vital services. I know that I’m going through these systems with staggering privileges. In fact, I am going to use my staggering privileges to describe the situation in those scary strip malls and maybe get people talking.