Story Bank: Moriah Geer

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Moriah, 37, Old Town

Moriah is a full-time student and mom of two young children. When her marriage ended, Moriah moved back to Maine, her home state, and decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Maine Orono. She was eligible to enroll in the Parents as Scholars (PaS) program and her family was eligible for Temporary Assistance for needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and child care assistance.

To maintain benefits through PaS, Moriah was required to work a minimum of 20 hours in addition to attending school full-time. She worked at the university at a work-study job in a department that wasn’t open in the summer. When the summer came around and the department closed, she had to find work or a volunteer opportunity. She was looking forward to working as a student researcher in one of the psychology laboratories at the university, but because this opportunity was not a TANF-approved site, she had to forgo her hope.

Moriah could not find a job before the summer began. Her only option was to volunteer at an animal shelter for 20 hours each week. “It was super frustrating because that was time I could have been looking for a job, and it’s time that I could have spent on schoolwork or with my children which would have been nice for a change because I have been going to school and working since they were really little,” said Moriah. “Instead, I volunteered at the local animal shelter and cleaned cages and changed litter boxes.”

Because she was volunteering, and her income dwindled drastically, Moriah had to take out multiple credit cards in order to buy groceries for her family for the whole summer. “TANF is not enough money to actually pay your bills,” said Moriah. “And because I wasn’t getting housing assistance, it wasn’t even close to enough money to pay the bills.”

Moriah would have been happy to volunteer with the university or an organization that would have given her experience for her future career. “I have no problem with volunteering, and I am glad that I had that opportunity but there wasn’t anything useful for my life and for my future that I learned from that experience,” said Moriah. “Also, it’s not like the animal shelter has a hard time finding volunteer. They have a full staff so it’s not like I was contributing to my community either. It was really just a way to spend time in order to check off a box to say I did the thing that I was told to do.”

A week into her junior year, Moriah was diagnosed with a parathyroid tumor and needed surgery to remove her parathyroid gland. The surgery required a three-week recovery time. “I couldn’t focus on anything,” said Moriah. “It was horrible. There was all this pressure of, ‘I’m going to fail school’ and it was awful so I had to wind up dropping a class.”

Because Moriah was no longer enrolled in classes full-time and was not working or volunteering during her recovery period, she was dropped from PaS. She has not been enrolled in the program and has not been receiving TANF since.

“I thought about all the anxiety and frustration and the way that they made me feel with having to get my professors to sign a sheet every week saying I had done all of my classes,” said Moriah. “I would rather take more out of student loans to pay for the cost of living than go back to that, so I worked more hours and I took out more student loans. It put me in a position where all of my professors knew that I was a low-income, welfare mom…I shouldn’t have had to do that. I felt like I had to work harder in order to prove myself and it was humiliating. It’s one of those super stressful things that like hangs over you all the time.”

Today, Moriah is on year away from completing her master’s degree program in social work and is working part-time at the university. She does not have access to sick days, vacation days, or health insurance. She also works part time as a home visitor with a community organization that works with children with developmental disabilities.

“There are so many ways that the system could work better,” said Moriah. “It’s not designed to work for the people who need it it’s designed to work against them. It’s designed to push people off of it make their lives more difficult. The program exists for a reason and it exists for people to create a better future for themselves and if people feel like using it is worse than not using it then it’s not actually helping.”