Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Why do places think struggling people can bring materials in-person and do phone calls when no one else is expected to?

So I'm trying to apply for LIHEAP/fuel assistance. It's a great program, and I'm glad it exists; don't get me wrong. But come on, what year is it? 

ABCD does have an online portal for applications, though it was hard to find, as most of their e-mails and materials only have physical addresses and phone numbers. It's on this page, about halfway down.

The portal lets you register, then says it doesn't work if you've applied previously but didn't apply last year thus don't have a PIN. There is no way to reset this and have one e-mailed or texted. It says if you don't have a PIN to come in to the office or call. Also it doesn't appear to be a self-selected PIN where I would have it in my records. I can log into the IRS and access really sensitive information, since it lets you self-select, but not fuel assistance. Also, can I mention that the IRS, which is a notoriously "difficult" agency, but which deals with people of all income levels, does not require me to speak to anyone on the phone, go anywhere, or physically mail anything?* (*In general; I recognize there are sometimes situations in which people cannot e-file, though the IRS does accept faxed returns and documents). 

People realize that struggling folks in particular aren't going to be able to make phone calls during business hours or go into a place during business hours or ever, right? Also that there's still a pandemic and we're supposed to be minimizing unnecessary comings and goings in offices and such?

It's 2022, and we're approaching the third year in which we're in pandemic mode. 

Why can't this just be done online? Why can't this be set up by now that people can do it wherever they are, at 2am when they're finally free of work or caregiving responsibilities?

I did find an e-mail for them, though it was a generic "contact" one, and I e-mailed them asking if they can reset the portal. I'll update whether this happens. Also, I should mention that the go-into-the-office option assumes that poor people, or any people, have printers at home. I went through this last time, which I think was why I didn't end up applying. "You can bring the originals and we'll copy them." No Susan, "the originals" of my bills and financial documents are online, like most people's. 

EDIT 03/02/22: Someone at ABCD called me during business hours in response to my e-mail in which I explained that I can't take phone calls during business hours because of caregiving responsibilities. The person ignored me when I mentioned that I'd sent an e-mail asking to deal with this via e-mail since I can't take calls. There is no way to e-mail or upload documents. They require low-income families to have a printer or go pay for printing and mail the documents or bring them in. In 2022. They also don't seem to know there's a pandemic. They have e-mail, but said I can't e-mail the documents. "That's not our setup." 

I guess this becomes another year in which I'm eligible for fuel assistance but can't actually receive any.

EDIT 03/07/22: They're now willing to take the application via e-mail, but this was accomplished by calling me, insisting a "telephone interview" was needed, then when I said I really couldn't talk and needed them to e-mail me (was meeting with a healthcare worker at the moment, you know, the people who ding poor folks for "taking phone calls" rather than being available and attentive), said "OK I guess we'll just not be able to update your information and will have to go with the old information then." I now have the forms and am able to update them myself and e-mail them back along with my proofs of income. But why is this confusing in freakin 2022? People keep all different hours, and disabled people who don't communicate well or at all verbally are increasingly raising children and are heads of households. Can we not just have "don't call me" be one of the standard options for all the many folks who need this? (Especially when our families and our parenting are constantly judged by middle-class folks who don't have to use the phone to deal with their bills and affairs and will say they had no idea anyone gets phone calls these days that aren't spam.)


Oh, and this morning, I e-mailed a durable medical equipment provider for my family member. They responded, I responded, and then they called me just to say they had done what I requested and it was all set. An auto-confirmation thing was sitting in my inbox as I picked up the phone. I literally picked it up while in the zoom waiting room for a healthcare provider for my family member, 30 seconds before the appointment started, thinking there must be some problem where they needed verbal authorization or something. Nope, just a call saying the same thing as the e-mail. Why do people think I want to pick up the phone and talk to someone when I've been e-mailing them?!

Hey, I appreciate that phone support is available, since some people need this for various reasons. But this default-to-phone thing needs to stop. Text options need to be provided for deaf/Deaf/HOH folks, folks who might have a hard time with calls due to anxiety or autism or similar, folks who can't get to somewhere to make a private call about sensitive issues, working folks, folks with caregiving responsibilities, folks who can't do business during "business" hours, and I'm sure plenty of others. Oh, not to mention people who want a paper trail of their communications; I'm convinced this is really one of the primary reasons places want to insist on using the phone. But really, text-based-as-default would make it easier for businesses too -- don't you want a paper trail of whether your people did their jobs, and whether a irate customer is telling the truth or is making up some entitled-ass story?

I'm really hoping the next version of the Americans with Disabilities Act specifically spells out that businesses are required to have an e-mail/text/chat portal function for communicating with them. I continue to just be in awe that this isn't universal by this point. 

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