Tag Archives: poverty

Stories from the Grocery Store

Carol A. Hand

Going to the grocery store is not my favorite chore. In truth, I typically avoid it as long as possible. It sometimes feels as if I’m entering the twilight zone or the aftermath of a zombie invasion. I encounter people blocking the aisles as they talk or text on cell phones or, as if in a daze, stare glazed-eyed at the colorful shelves stocked with chemical fare or off into space. They move at such an unbelievably slow pace, seemingly oblivious to everyone else. It feels like I’m in a different dimension, moving at a different speed.

grocery store 1280px-Fredmeyer

Photo: Super Grocery – “Fredmeyer” by lyzadanger – flickr.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

I repeat an inner mantra. “Be patient, be kind.” But I try to zip thought this task and escape as quickly as I can.

These days, the major impetus for facing this task comes from the need to prepare for my granddaughter’s visits. I doubt if she would be willing to eat only the odd concoctions I come up with from my frozen garden produce and the remnants in my cupboards and canisters. Often, I bring her with me even though her requests for candy and junk food are gently ignored.

But with my granddaughter or alone, people do sometimes share their stories about the hardships they’re facing. The stories they share tell of the difficult times ordinary people are facing now and the choices they’re forced to make.

Yesterday, as I neared the dairy section, I saw a man eyeing the choices for eggs.

“I wish I could afford to buy the organic cage-free eggs,” he said as he looked at me, “but look at the price. I can’t afford them because I’ve been laid-off from my job for the winter. I have to be careful about how much I spend for food. I have to buy cheaper ones even though I’m afraid the antibiotics in them have been making me sick.”

Just before Christmas, during a trip with my granddaughter, the gentleman who was bagging his groceries at the next aisle told us his story.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m only 55 but I had to quit my job because of my health. I suffered congestive heart failure and spent a long time in the hospital. My prognosis isn’t good. The medical bills have taken all the money my wife and I were able to save. Now, I have to rely on Medicaid. The State put a lien on my house for half of its value. I worry about what will happen to my wife if I die. She’s blind. I’m the only one she has to depend on, and now, the house we worked so hard to pay for won’t provide enough to cover her care if she needs to sell it.”

My granddaughter was so sad when she heard his story, and amazed when he made a point of wishing others a merry Christmas and putting a donation in the Salvation Army collection bucket on his way out of the store. His story made me think about federal Medicaid Estate Recovery policies.

“State Medicaid programs must recover certain Medicaid benefits paid on behalf of a Medicaid enrollee. For individuals age 55 or older, states are required to seek recovery of payments from the individual’s estate for nursing facility services, home and community-based services, and related hospital and prescription drug services. States have the option to recover payments for all other Medicaid services provided to these individuals, except Medicare cost-sharing paid on behalf of Medicare Savings Program beneficiaries.” (Medicaid.gov)


“Affordable Care Act of 2010. Estate recovery will be forced on millions of people who might have otherwise gone without insurance. Why? Because the plan is that millions more Americans have health insurance. That would be accomplished by expanding Medicaid and implementing premium assistance (subsidies). When a person is found to be eligible for Medicaid, they will be automatically enrolled into their state’s Medicaid program. Those forced into Medicaid will, due to the federal law, also be forced into estate recovery. Their estates will be partly or fully taken over by the federal or state government when they die.” (Medicare for All.org)


“So here’s the deal: since 1993 there has been a federal law requiring states to recover at least some of the costs of Medicaid-covered medical care for anyone 55 years old and up, from the estates of those covered.

“States enforce this law, with their own laws and policies added in, differently in every state. But the general principle is there. Up until now the usual consequence has been things like this: Medicaid puts a lien on the house of someone in a nursing facility who has run out of money, and after they die, the heirs find they have to buy the house back from the state if they want it.

“We haven’t had lots of people younger than 65 on Medicaid, because in most states simply earning less than the Federal Poverty Level did not qualify one for Medicaid.
And we haven’t had many people with lots of assets on Medicaid, because in most places you have to have less than around $2400 to your name before Medicaid will cover you. You can keep your house and your car, but Medicaid reserves the right to put liens on them and take them when you die.

“But now we have the Affordable Care Act, and its expectation that everyone in the lower tier of income will end up in the Medicaid system. To accomplish this, they have dropped the asset test. So now we will have lots of people ages 55-64, who have assets but not a lot of income right now, for whatever reason, on Medicaid.

“The kicker of it is, if you make the right amount to qualify for a subsidized health insurance plan, your costs are going to be shared and subsidized by the government. But if you go on Medicaid, you owe the entire amount that Medicaid spends on you from the day you turn 55.” (Daily Kos.com)

Passing ones wealth and property to the next generation is only a privilege for those who are obscenely rich. They’re the ones who have the power to suggest legislation that judges those who need assistance as free-loaders – the very working class that sustains their wealth through under-compensated labor and advertising-induced over-priced consumption. The State is only too willing to be an accomplice in recovering any assets the working class has been able to accrue.

Writing this reflection has made me wonder about the significance of trips to the grocery store. Grocery stores may be place where we are forced to confront the consequences of corporatist policies, exploitation, and social inequality. Many may simply see it as reduced choices in their lives that make it difficult for them to feed themselves and their family healthy food. Maybe distractions help shield them from that thought and the realization that they will have to make do with few healthy options.


Photo: Fruit

From now on, it will be easier for me to remember to be patient and kind during my infrequent visits to the store. It’s so easy for me to forget to avoid judging other people. They’re often doing the best they can to merely live. We’re all caught up in a system that gives us very little room to do otherwise.


Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Grandmother’s Reflection

Carol A. Hand

As the holidays approached, I felt the annual dilemma of what I could give my daughter and my two grandchildren, Aadi, my grandson who is now 14, and my granddaughter, Ava, now 6. I know that my grandchildren cannot help being caught up in a society that values things. The rampant consumerism that rises to a frenzied pitch during this time of year always reminds me of the need to keep things in perspective. I ask myself, “What really matters?” The answer, for me, is to be mindful of others’ suffering, to do what I can to ameliorate it, to do what I can to prevent it in the future, and to refuse to allow the pressures of conformity to dictate my giving, even for my grandchildren. What I give them is my commitment to do what I can, small though it is, to remember what matters. I can give them stories that remind them they are loved and special. And I can share stories that remind us that we all have much to do to create a world that values all of our children.

In the spirit of remembering what matters, I am sharing this excerpt from Jonathan Kozol’s Amazing Grace: The lives of children and the conscience of a nation. He describes the neighborhood in South Bronx where poor families are forced to live in appalling conditions that have no doubt deteriorated since Kozol’s 1995 visits.

During these days I walk for hours in the neighborhood, starting at Willis Avenue, crossing Brook, and then St. Ann’s, going as far as Locust Avenue to look at the medical waste incinerator one more time, then back to Beekman Avenue. In cold of winter, as in summer’s heat, a feeling of asphyxia seems to contain the neighborhood. The faces of some of the relatively young women with advanced cases of AIDS, their eyes so hollow, their jawbones so protruding, look like the faces of women in the House of the Dying run by the nuns within the poorest slum of Port-au-Prince. It’s something you don’t forget. Seeing these women in the street, you feel almost ashamed of your good health and worry that, no matter how you speak of them, it may sound patronizing. ‘The rich,’ said St Vincent de Paul, ‘should beg the poor to forgive us for the bread we bring them.’ Healthy people sometimes feel they need to beg forgiveness too, although there is no reason why. Maybe we simply ask forgiveness for not being born where these poor women have been born, knowing if we had lived here too, our fate might well have been the same. (p. 71)

Like Kozol, I am grateful that neither I nor my daughter and grandchildren were born in this neighborhood. I wonder this holiday season how I can give my grandchildren the gift I wish all children should receive – a world that sees each and every being as unique and irreplaceable, worthy of respect and compassion, deserving of a safe and healthy life. A world, in the words of Sweet Honey in the Rock, that acknowledges “We Are — One.”