By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Over the weekend, Joanie spends most of her remaining food stamps buying fresh fruit and two boxes of Hoffy smoked beef sausages, plus some cash on bus tokens. She also breaks down and has a manicure -- $9 at Queen Nails at 42nd Street and Broadway. "I looked over my money, and I couldn't afford to do it. But a manicure makes my hands look so much nicer, and it helps me keep my spirits up," she says. "After this, I'm not going to spend no more money. I have $21 in cash left, $3 in food stamps and two bus tokens. I won't have enough to pay my rent ahead, but with that $21 I can pay the phone bill in advance as soon as it comes. That'll at least give me a little more security. Because, you know, I need my phone to make job calls."
On Wednesday, April 28, Joanie walks to both Hollywood Presbyterian and Children's hospitals in the morning. "But it didn't work out," she says. "The people in the personnel offices said neither of them are hiring." She also calls the personnel office at California Hospital. "I didn't get it. I was pretty sure, but I still thought it was good to call. It'll help them remember me if another job opens."
KELLY PECK WAS UNTIL RECENTLY THE DIRECTOR OF Sodexho Marriott Services, the outside contractor that handles nonmedical hiring for California Hospital. "In filling these entry-level positions like housekeeping, we look for a strong customer-service focus," explains Peck. "In other words, someone who will smile readily and who presents themselves well. In addition, the candidate needs to be able to understand and speak English. And there are also some physical requirements. They must be able to push or pull between 25 to 50 pounds, and be able to stand or walk for eight hours at a time."
When Joanie is described to him, he allows she probably hit all of these marks. "But, everything being equal," continues Peck, "we look for a record of continuous employment. If the candidate has a break in their employment of a couple of years, we have to wonder why." Peck frowns at Joanie's dilemma. "You see, there has been so much downsizing in the health-care field, we get 45 good candidates for each one of these slots, most of them with a lot of work experience. Yet, all that said, if we knew she was on General Relief, that would've given her a real edge, and we might have hired her, because we get a tax credit every time we hire somebody off of welfare. So I'd hope that during their training, these GR people are being told this tool exists."
Jennifer Miu, deputy director of the Metro Special GROW office, blinks when the issue is mentioned. "All our job recruiters are supposed to tell employers about the tax incentive," she says. But what about the GR recipients themselves, the ones actually applying for the jobs? Are they told? "They should be," she says doubtfully, then concedes that the information is nowhere in the literature. "You have to understand, the GROW program is still very new," she says.
IF ECONOMICS ARE THE STANDARD, JOANIE MURRAY doesn't contribute much to the society in which she lives. She certainly hasn't chipped in her fair share of the national tax base; in fact, she has mostly taken away. But if the standard of value is reckoned in human terms, Joanie lands well into the plus column. She is, in fact, a good woman leading a decent and deeply ethical life. She's active as a volunteer for ACORN, the welfare advocacy organization that has aided her on occasion. She has a natural generosity of spirit that makes her more likely to offer a favor than to accept one for herself. Yet she doesn't hesitate to interfere if she feels a friend or family member is heading in a destructive direction. She has worked hard to be a good mother, and now works equally hard to be a patient and attentive grandmother and aunt. "Just because you're on assistance doesn't mean you can't make yourself useful in this world," she says.
On Saturday, May 1, with eight more days until check day, Joanie's nerves are on edge. She has run out of certain basic food items such as bread. "I need to diet anyway," she says. "And I'm going to a barbecue tomorrow at my baby sister's, which means I'll be bringing lots of extra food home with me." Of course, she'll have to use her last two bus tokens to get there. "But that's okay, because my sister always gives 'em back to me."
Joanie busies herself straightening her apartment, which is already very straight. "You know," she says, "I been thinking: I haven't been going to church as regular as I used to." For years, she says, she steadfastly attended a Baptist church called Peace Chapel located at 76th and Avalon. "I used to go every week, no matter what, and it was a big help to me -- especially during the years before I got my own place, when I was fighting bad with my mother. I'd go to church on Sunday and just sit there and cry the whole time. And I'd always feel better when I left. But now they got this new minister and I don't like him as well, so I stopped going as much." She looks worried. "I've been wondering if that was a mistake. Maybe if I start going to church again, good things will happen for me. I think that's the way it works. I really do."
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