Falling through the cracks

She’s hung on for about ten days so far, but likely won’t be alive much longer. Annie is the spouse of Nansi, a same sex couple in the Amish country in Pennsylvania. They live in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, which is not too far from Allentown. If you’ve heard Billy Joel’s song about Allentown, you have a pretty good idea of what Lebanon is like.

Nansi is in her fifties; her spouse is in her sixties but has been on a disability retirement for a long time. Annie required so much care (she was effectively immobile) that Nansi had to quit her job just to take care of her. Lately though Annie has been in and out of hospitals. This time her condition is terminal. Her body is going through a slow process of shutting down. Ridden with bedsores, Annie is at least blessedly in a coma. She likely won’t be alive much longer but frankly she’s lived about a week longer than they thought she would. Her breathing is shallow and she is turning blue.

My wife is a good friend with them. I’ve met them a few times over the years. They lived in what can charitably be called the most ramshackle house in Lebanon, but probably the state of Pennsylvania. It became too much to manage. They moved into an apartment nearby and the house was demolished. Nansi worked when she could but wages in Lebanon are bargain basement. Since she quit her job, their income has been Annie’s disability retirement, which amounts to living in poverty. They have no savings. Alas, poverty is hardly unfamiliar territory for them.

Sadly they are poster children (well, maybe poster adults) for our age of neoliberalism: the idea that we must all be self-supporting no matter what. When Annie’s joints gave out, she qualified for a disability retirement, something the neoliberals would like to stop. She was frequently in and out of hospitals.

It’s not too hard to predict that Annie will soon be gone. And also gone will be her disability income, at least much of it. Nansi should get some as a surviving spouse, only possible because the Supreme Court said same sex marriage was a civil right, which allowed them to marry at last. But it will be a fraction of the income they have now which was already insufficient. Of course, Lebanon was deeply distressed before the pandemic and recession. It won’t be much longer after Annie is planted six feet underground that Nansi will have to try to find work. Oh, and pay for funeral expenses. She’s called around and it looks like the cheapest option available is cremation, which costs more than $2000 that Nansi doesn’t have.

According to neoliberal ideology, Nansi is not working hard enough because if she tried she could pull herself up by her own bootstraps. Instead, she hangs around the hospital at all hours, exhausted, holds Annie’s hand and waits for her to pass on. But she should be out there trying to get a job, any job, to support herself and to pay off those looming funeral expenses with money she doesn’t have.

These days we deal with the dichotomy of trying to live up to the neoliberalism ideal with actual facts on the ground through GoFundMe. It’s a website where you go to plead to friends and families to send you money you don’t have, generally for expenses that are wildly overpriced. Nansi had no time to set up a GoFundMe, and I don’t think she even thought of it. But my wife did. With lots of cursing, wailing and gnashing of teeth she set one up for her. Friends have contributed about $6000 so far. That should get Annie a cremation or maybe Nansi will spring for a casket.

She’d best go for the simple cremation. She will apply for survivor benefits, but at best it will take a few months. Meanwhile she gets to grieve while trying to find a job in one of the most hard pressed places in the country, find $1000 for the rent for the world’s smallest apartment, plus feed and walk the dog several times a day.

In short, the GoFundMe balance is likely already spoken for. At best it will carry her through until survival benefits come in, but those benefits won’t be enough to live on. She can’t plead for her own disability retirement as she is still mobile, and she’s not old enough to draw from Social Security. Obviously her family is not of much help, what’s left of it. She’s estranged from many of them because she happens to be a lesbian. So she has to scour the job market for a job that likely isn’t there, and if she can find one almost certainly won’t pay her a living wage.

GoFundMe turns out to be a neoliberal’s and capitalist’s dream. It profits off the misery of others. Yes, some people use it for more benign purposes, like to start a small business. But mostly the site is for people who have fallen through the cracks to try to eke out something resembling survival while GoFundMe does its best to take a cut of the contributions.

The default “tip” at GoFundMe is ten percent. We contributed $1000, so GoFundMe would have been happy for us to pay $100 for the privilege of giving Nansi and Annie $1000. But you could also give them 5%. If you look for it you can select your own “tip”. That’s what we did. I chose to tip them nothing.

GoFundMe also made it devilishly hard to for Nansi to get the money. Its site is kind of cranky. My wife uses Firefox for her browser. She was able to set it up easily with Firefox, but the next day when she tried to do something with it, she couldn’t login. She just got a spinning wheel.

As someone who previously made her living fixing Windows computers, she knew what to do and tried all the obvious stuff. Eventually she tried to reach GoFundMe, who didn’t respond, at least not right away. It took a couple of days. She won’t use Facebook, so I was asked to comment on their Facebook page. It didn’t change anything but plenty of others chimed in with their own horror stories.

Anyhow, although not mentioned on their site, she eventually figured out that if she used Chrome she could login again and make Nansi the beneficiary, but she had to remove her cookies first. Then Nansi couldn’t login to fill out the beneficiary form. So Terri got the information over the phone and filled it out for her.

It took about three days of hassle to go through this process, or rather its lack of process, but at least Nansi can now access some of the donations from her friends while she waits for Annie to die. Perhaps she can afford a trip to McDonalds.

There will likely be medical bills from all this too. Likely Medicare will pick up the bulk of it, but since Annie’s been hospitalized for weeks there are bound to be expenses Medicare won’t cover. Nansi will have to cover them, or rather friends of Nansi and Annie will. If we donate enough money, maybe they’ll get paid.

Meanwhile, Republicans are convening to renominate Donald Trump. They tell us what a great country we are and how we are exceptional. They are right. We are an exception in the first world in that we treat people like Nansi and Annie, or basically anyone crushed by our economy, disgracefully.