In Pellegrino's essay that we found at Minnesota Public Radio, he details some of the experience and what he learned.
The year has been a journey through unemployment, bankruptcy, car repossession and foreclosure. I found out the hard way about a peculiar law, meant to apply originally to elected officials, that applies, as well, to university administrators. I was not eligible to apply for unemployment insurance, they said.
The message came in an e-mail. It stopped me cold -- not even a call. Where was the constituent service? How could this happen?
I am a father, taxpayer, voter and veteran. Where's the safety net? How will I feed my family, get their flu shots, dental care, school supplies, haircuts, pull-ups for my daughter? How will I conduct a job search and keep the family safe through the winter?
The moments with thoughts like these seemed to last for months. It was all I could do to get job applications out the door. I felt the very next moment would be the one to paralyze me.
With mindless grit, I made my way to Health and Human Services seeking health insurance, and we were provided with food stamps. OK. Later the federal government came forward with heat assistance. Hmmm. The schools provided reduced-price breakfasts and lunches. Thank you. We applied for and received scholarships for children's activities. Wow.
These things kept us grounded through the indignity of hearing,"No, we don't deal with EBT cards here." I thought: This is no way to treat a veteran and a taxpayer. But what did I expect? I was a poor veteran and taxpayer, subject to bad policy and bad law. This is what people in poverty know well.
After three months of job searching and with no hope in sight, I asked the bank and loan company to stop automatic withdrawal of my car loan and mortgage payments because we had run out of cash.
When checking goes to $0, the automatic deductions for car payment and mortgage continue, and the overdraft fees mount. The calls and letters rain down daily.
I explained that I had tried to get the automatic deductions stopped -- but you, car loan company, blamed the bank, and you, bank, blamed the car loan company, and now after six calls to each of you I will surrender the car to repossession and the home to foreclosure.
They were nice when I took out the loans. The minute I could not pay, they turned Scrooge on me. I had lost a job -- not my values and sense of commitment.
Living this way has helped me understand the effects of poverty on children and the family. We value each other more than ever, but our perceptions have changed.
We do not trust financial institutions, credit card companies and state policies for health and human services. We don't value a house and a car in the same way. At the end of each 12-hour day, I am reminded that the house is only a shell, and the home is defined by grandma's linens, grandpa's hat and Uncle Marvin's chair.
There is a postscript to this story: I used my experience to do postdoctoral research with children in poverty, and take a look at how state policy is shaped around their care and preparation for school.