A drawing illustrates a long line outside the Department of Human Services' office.
credit: Dwight Harris

Applying for public benefits you must start early and plan to make almost a day out of it. A calm demeanor is a must because you have a million personalities and attitudes all with their own agenda. Sometimes even the employees seem to have a hidden agenda.

I try to have a positive attitude because some people feel a sense of shame and pride being there. But at the end of the day, we are there for help. Lots of paperwork and waiting. Without cell phones to occupy the time, it would be much worse.

Sometimes, people there with you will have psychotic episodes, unruly kids or be under the influence. The caseworkers wear many hats: psych doctor, therapist, and referee. There are times when violence occurs.

However, not all trips to the benefits office are negative. My caseworker proved to be very understanding and gave me three months of benefits that I did not know I was eligible for.

Now, with the new administration, you may have to take a drug test to apply for benefits. This will cut a lot of people out of the system. Things certainly seem like they are going to change. I think the new legislation will make a lot of people not even attempt to access benefits.

My experience with food stamps and Medicaid is an ever-changing thing.

Damon Smith, Artist/Vendor

It takes a long time to apply for any benefits, whether you need food stamps, medical insurance, energy, assistance, or SSI. When you go to these places, there is a line outside of the building. Then there is another line when you finally get into the building, just to receive an application. Then you have to wait until they call your name or number, sort of like the DMV. I can tell you that when I go to these places I often wait forever. But eventually, things are taken care of.

Shana Holmes, Artist/Vendor

I went to the Fort Davis center in Southeast to receive my food stamp benefits. The wait was four hours! But that did not bother me. I need the benefits, so I was ready for anything. After finally filling out the paperwork and showing my ID, I got what I came for. So, my wait was worth it!

Dave Johnson, Artist/Vendor

I agree that arriving early will reduce the wait time when applying for any benefit, but it’s crucial to remember that you can make an appointment or use the drop-off box for your application. I do not believe that any of the major social services contribute to the national debt.

Derian Hickman, Artist/Vendor

Waiting in line is an inevitable part of acquiring any form of assistance. The key word is patience: realizing that people assisting you are also assisting others. Being arrogant or negatively persistent is not to your benefit. Making your appointments is crucial! If you want options, you must learn to navigate the maze of public agencies AND nonprofit organizations.

Michael Craig, Artist/Vendor