The McCoys

One family falling through the cracks

by Norm Winick

Politicians of all stripes have been claiming credit for welfare reform. It's taken thousands of people off the tax rolls and made them work. But it hasn't worked for everyone. Wendy McCoy is one of those who's fallen through the cracks.

The Galesburg mother of three has worked as many as two jobs, collects her child support when the state doesn't garnish it, and still gets deeper and deeper in the hole.

Wendy's story is not a pretty one. She was in a serious car accident in 1998 and off work from March to June. The Illinois Department of Public Aid paid the medical bills and $400 a month to support her family. After she was back to work, the held back all but $50 of the child support she should have gotten to reimburse the state for the money paid out after her accident.

In August of 1998, her son, Brenden, was diagnosed with cancer, neuroblastoma and a malformation of the skull. She was off work again to take care of Brenden. He's has a multitude of surgeries.

''The care at the St. Jude Affiliate in Peoria and Children's Hospital in Chicago has been great,'' says Wendy, but I can't even afford the travel expenses to get there. All I had was liability insurance on my car so I didn't even have a car after the accident. We have to pay all our own expenses. The cost of the brain surgery exceeded his medical limits and we had bills from that.''

With the assistance of Lane Evans office, Brenden now gets Social Security disability but each form of aid affects another. ''Public Aid cut our food stamp amounts because Brenden receives SSI. They won't pay child care for my other kids while I'm in the hospital with Brenden.''

McCoy works at the Victory Circle gas station/convenience store in Knoxville. She held two jobs for a while but needed some time with her children. ''The state will pay for a sitter when you're at work but not when I'm at a doctor-- even if it's in Chicago. Then they threatened to cut off my assistance altogether because I had quit a job-- even though I still had another job.''

She's also been frustrated by the ''60-month rule.'' ''Public Aid says that after you collect assistance for 60 months you can never get it again, ever. I'm not there yet but I'm afraid of what will happen when I am. They make an exception, only one, for battered wives. I don't understand why they'll make an exception for them but not for mothers with sick children. It's not like I don't want to work. My kid, who's 2-years-old, cannot even walk. He's getting a wheelchair. He has five physical therapies at home a week. He gets a cat scan and an MRI every other month. All this costs a lot of money.''

McCoy has worked with state agencies of all kinds. She's especially upset with the attitude of a lady at the Department of Rehabilitation Services, DORS. ''How can someone who drives a Mercedes understand what it's like to have no meat in your house, to have no milk. From April through the end of May, I went with nothing. It took them two months to get my aid going. They don't realize how hard it is to live on nothing. The state was keeping all but $50 of the $130/month child support taken out of my kid's father's paycheck to pay back money they had spent on me. I have no phone; I have no cable TV.''

A while ago, they had a benefit for Brenden. It raised about $5,000 which bought the family a car so they could get to out-of-town doctors and a helmet to protect his fragile skull.

''Even when I'm working, I go deeper in the hole every month. Our food costs about $350 a month and I get only $130 in food stamps. Adding up all the bills, and I'm not extravagant at all but I do have three kids, I need about $1,200 to live on. And that's not paying off any back bills or having a phone or cable TV. With my income, food stamps, Brenden's SSI and child support, I have at most $1,100 a month in income. I go deeper in the hole every day. I sure wish that every time one agency agrees you deserve help, another didn't cut you off.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website June 18, 1999

Back to The Zephyr home page at: