In the words of workers: John

John shared his story as part of MECEP’s State of Working Maine 2023 report. Click here to read the full report.

A married father of two living in Bangor, John has had different jobs over the years, working in restaurants, at gas stations, as a technician at a psychiatric hospital, and as a manager of a call center. John is currently working part-time as a delivery driver and enrolled as a full-time student seeking a bachelor’s degree in psychology, which he hopes will help him become a substance abuse counselor. John recently reached the 60-month limit for support through the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Eight years ago, we were living in a transitional housing program, paying $750 a month for rent. We were pretty self-sufficient for a little over a year until things started to go downhill. We said, “We need to do something. We can’t keep paying this amount of rent and not having anything to fall back on.” I didn’t want us to lose a stable place to live. So, we applied for TANF and we applied for income-based housing in Bangor, which is administered by Fedcap.

At Fedcap you meet with a career specialist and make a plan to get a career or full-time employment. We met some great people there that were amazing at helping build resumes and making connections. My wife and I started Second Chance Recovery Fitness Program at the Bangor Housing gym. The idea was we would work with people dealing with addiction and help them come up with fitness plans. Unfortunately, it was hard to attract people because they thought it would put their housing at risk. I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. But I realized that if I can’t do it in this manner, I needed to go back to school. I need to have the degree, so I can say, “Hey, not only am I certified, but I’ve been there. I’ve walked in your shoes, and I want to help.”

For the first 75% of the way through, TANF has done an amazing job. Where they drop the ball is three- quarters into the game. The problem is a lot of the career specialists go in and out like a revolving door. You’d get comfortable with one person, and then all of a sudden you’d come in the next day and they were gone. It’s time to start all over again with somebody else who doesn’t know your case.

It’s easy to get a job. It is the hardest thing in the world to get a career. A job is 9:00 to 5:00. A career is something that’s gonna take you and your family that next step, and hopefully carry you out of poverty.

I have a little less than a year left of school, but TANF is getting completely shut off. I feel stressed out. Optimistic, though, and anxious. But I also feel let down, because along the way of doing exactly what was asked and being told, “We’ll make sure you have the safety net until you finish your education because you’re doing what we’re asking.” And then at the end, just say, “Hey, I’m sorry. We thought we were going to be able to help you. But we can’t help you anymore.”

You know, school’s stressful enough. Especially full-time education where you’re paying almost $70,000 by the end of everything, to get a degree that instantly sets you up for failure. Because the minute I start working I have to start repaying those loans.

There are times that the system almost makes you feel like if you go to work, and you scrape by, and work the hardest you can, they’ll drop your food stamps. They’ll take away your TANF. They’ll lower this and lower that. Your kids won’t have their MaineCare. It almost makes you feel like, by going out and doing what you’re supposed to do, the normal, the right thing, that you’re gonna lose out.

It’s not that we won’t survive or we won’t make it, because we’ll do everything in our power to continue to excel and rise above and finish my education so that I can get that career. But it certainly would have been nice along the way to continue to have that safety net.