I am learning so much about making sacrifices to makes ends meet while my husband looks for a full-time job and consults twenty hours a week with no benefits. Due to not being able to afford CORBA payments from my husband's previous employer, I am paying 50% of my paycheck for health insurance costs on a bi-monthly basis. It is outrageous and unfair that I am now bringing home a lower amount in my paycheck that comes out to $ 10.00 an hour minus the costs for health insurance. If I was single with a child, I would be eligible for extra help from the government to help cover the costs of my health insurance. However, since I am married with a child, my spouse and I can't get any help. Last year, I worked a part-time job while I collected partial unemployment benefits on a weekly basis. My husband took the brunt of paying for some of my bills which dwindled our bank account. Presently, we are working with a debt consolidation company to get lower payments for our credit card acccount.
I am not asking for pity or shame but an understanding how these trying times are teaching me to empathize with some of my clients (who do work) who are also financially struggling as well. I do feel the system cheats these individuals but favors some of the poor clients who know how to get benefits illegally. These individuals are very smart and keen in knowing how to dupe the system to get entitlements to support their families. Enough said.
Here are the lessons I want to share with you:
1)I am learning to understand why a client can't come to bi-monthly sessions because they can't pay the co-pays.
2)I am learning why some of these clients take second jobs, particularly, if they are single and divorced, due to their significant other not paying enough child support or working under the table. Also, many of our colleagues who don't have a secure job in higher education, have to work a second job as well. This includes me who works very part-time in private practice.
3)I am learning to empathize with the pain that some adults, particularly, women feel when they have to move back in with their parents if they get divorced and/or their significant other loses their job.
3) I am hearing about the financial stressors that some families are experiencing due to both parents working but not able to pay their bills. Due to increases in insurance costs and cost of living expenses in general, many of my familes are not able to pay all their bills.
In Massachusetts, working individuals are forced to take their employers' health insurance or pay for expensive COBRA costs due to the state law for mandatory health insurance. Prior to 2011, familes and individuals were able to purchase a state plan at affordable costs. However due to the increase in individuals and families being on Medicaid, working individuals now pay the brunt of these costs for a system that promotes dependency and unfairness to individuals who work hard in their jobs.
What can counselors do?
1) Empower your clients to advocate for specific programs and services that may help them with their financial issues.
2) Refer or teach your clients how to make a budget to help them pay their bills. We need to be aware that we can't teach them how to spend their money but to provide insight on how they spend their money and their reasons for doing so.
3) Encourage your clients to write to their politicians about their struggles during the recession. Legislators need to hear from them both on the state and federal levels in order for them to advocate for fairness in the system.
4) Promote a balance between work and home to prevent burnout and emotional exhaustion.
I have learned to live paycheck to paycheck by developing a strict discipline of buying things we need to live on such as food, medical, and housing costs,and waiting patiently to buy things for leisure enjoyment. My patience level has strengthened my inner awareness of prioritizing our needs and making sure that our baby's needs are met first before ours. I do take self-time every day to get grounded and to take care of myself during these difficult times. Our baby is our life where we realize every day how blessed we are to have a little one in our lives. He helps us handle the daily challenges that come into our lives where we learn to not "sweat the small stuff" after all. I welcome your comments.
Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, "Miller Chat" in Massachusetts.