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Cell Phones and Poverty

July 25th, 2011 at 04:38 pm

I have this client with no savings, retirement; she’s a renter, no assets. Her total monthly income consists of $1201 in disability and $4, yes, four dollars in food stamps for a family of three. I’m having a major problem with one of her expenses, a $250 monthly cell phone bill. She’s $1500 behind in her rent of which she only has to pay approx $150 per month. Her excuse for not paying her rent is that she didn’t know where to send her payment to. She had it saved but “something came up” and she didn’t have the $1800 she owed to her landlord. To her credit the property manager had so much on his plate he forgot he rented it to her but still…not one phone call to them to ask where to send the payment? You did sign a lease didn’t you? She’s currently paying more than $100 over her regular rent payment to pay it off yet I can’t help but to tell her about reducing her cell phone by I don’t know…$200 maybe? Then she could pay off the remaining balance of her past due rent in five months instead of fifteen and take the $300 and start saving toward the $2000 she’s allowed to have in savings without interrupting her disability payments in case something else comes up.

It gets worse. She proceeds to tell me how she can’t cut the cell phone because it’s a multi family plan between her, her daughter and granddaughter. “Ok, are DD and DGD paying for their share of the bill?” I asked. “No” she says. DGD is living with her along with her own infant-aged child without a job. Although, she is making a valiant effort to apply for welfare. Not because she really needs it but because that’s what she’d rather do instead of getting a job. DD apparently has a job but doesn’t pay her share of the bill either. I didn’t care to ask what her problem was.

Granny is $98 in the hole every month (which explains why after looking at her file I see she had to get “emergency help” with her utilities.) I proceed to go through her budget to see where she can cut back $108 since she tells me that she’d like to start saving $10 a month. I noticed that she’s already cut her cable entirely and she tells me about wanting to make the necessary budget constraints so she can have the cable cut back on. It’s $168 a month. No worries though…that’s the bundle price.

I have scheduled her for a follow up but I’m afraid it will all be in vain. She doesn’t see her spending the way I do. I don’t think I pay $3000 in three years on a cell phone let alone one. Then there’s the cable and she NEEDS the cable. Despite the fact that she’s one more late rent payment away from eviction. This of course leaving her with no place to hook up the cable.

15 Responses to “Cell Phones and Poverty”

  1. PNW Mom Says:

    Ugh.....I am just shaking my head. Unfortunately there are many more out there. I work in a dr's office and hear those kinds of reasons why someone can't pay their bill.....Dr's have to eat too you know and pay their staff. Of course, we do have many patients that DO pay their bills....even if it is $20 a month which is more than zero.

  2. crazyliblady Says:

    I would suggest prepaid cell phones for all 3 people. In addition, how about the granddaughter getting off her butt and get a job so she can pay for her own cell phone. All of them need to make a list of priorities, like paying off debt and for the four walls. Short of doing this, they will never escape from this hole of debt and poverty. Those kind of people make it difficult for others who really need help to get it.

  3. ceejay74 Says:

    Poor things. My sister works with homeless (or borderline homeless) people, and it's just so sad how unequipped and out of touch they are. Good luck getting them to see the light! My family has 3 prepaid phones, and we average $50 to $60 per month total. Of course her granddaughter might talk on the phone a lot more than we do...

  4. PatientSaver Says:

    In all fairness, let's remember this woman is disabled. So the phone, and possibly that TV, could be her lifeline. Maybe she doesn't have the kind of active social life we all take for granted.

  5. Ima saver Says:

    Sorry, I have lived my entire life without a cell phone and would never waste the money on one.

  6. monkeymama Says:

    I think a phone is fine (for emergency, to call friends, etc.). $250/month for a phone is obviously insane (for almost any means). WOW!

  7. North Georgia Gal Says:

    I don't understand why the cable would be so much...I see commercials for deals all the time. Deals under $50. I am currently stuck in a $250/month cell phone plan but can't wait to get rid of it!

  8. HousingCounselor Says:

    I understand her wanting cable. She's disabled but she isn't home bound. I was just trying to get her to reduce her plans. There is no reason she should be paying for her working daughter's cell phone and if granddaughter wanted one the only way she'd get one is if she paid for it herself. The cable includes premium channels which I don't understand. I've never had premium channels in my life.

    I also don't think internet is necessary. If I were her it would be either cable or internet and a home phone. I could live my life like it was 12 years ago before cell phones became mainstream.

    I was just surprised that she was more concerned about these expenses and not her rent. If I were in her position everything would be slashed to the bones until I was caught up on my bill and had money for emergencies in savings.

  9. PatientSaver Says:

    It's easy, looking from a distance, to say "there's no reason she should be paying for her daughter's phone, etc" but I know several people like that who want to take care of loved ones even if it doesn't make sense, practically speaking. Even if you've never had premium channels, she may simply place a higher priority on it than you. It's not really for us to judge, is it?

    People don't always make choices from a strictly dollars and cents perspective. There are often other reasons they make the choices they do. You may not understand it, or agree with it, but in the end it's up to her.

    Better to just focus on putting our own house in order before pointing fingers at others.

  10. HousingCounselor Says:

    I understand your point. As her counselor it is for me to judge. Although, any suggestions are up to her to take heed of. I do have to admit I put my heart into this job more than I should. With her I'm already thinking about eviction. At the same time I don't want to take on an attitude of "I told you so" if it turns out she is indeed evicted.

    She strikes me as someone who's all about taking care of her family but I can't help but to think that she's being taken advantage of because of her heart.

    Whatever the outcome I've done my part as her counselor in making suggestions. Either way I hope it works out for her. I just don't want to see her homeless.

  11. ceejay74 Says:

    I totally agree, patientsaver, and I hope I didn't sound too judgy. I don't know what it's like to be in another person's shoes and they don't know what it's like to be in mine. To me, it seems out of whack, but I know there are psychological things in place that I couldn't begin to understand. And since that's not my job, I shouldn't really comment.

    HousingCounselor on the other hand has to try to get into this woman's brain a bit if she's going to try and advise her on how to fix her finances. That IS actually her job, so I understand her musing over these things.

    But it's not a moral problem, so it shouldn't be treated as if this woman is less than anyone else. (Or, really, her daughter and granddaughter. If they're doing financial things we don't agree with, it might not be out of any ill will or deliberate manipulation of their (grand)mother.)

  12. snafu Says:

    I don't know your client's age but would guess that she's older and has been caring for her daughter and grand daughter as the 'go to' for a long time. Those two likely tagged her for the missing $ 1,800. that might have been used for rent and account for her having no assets but disability and $4. food stamps. The three women will soon be the responsibility of taxpayers if someone explains the rules for eligibility and helps them with the paperwork.

  13. HousingCounselor Says:

    I've met her type before. I'd hate to judge her as one that lives for drama. I don't think she'll truly understand the gravity of her situation until her landlord has had enough and evicts. Where will she go then? She only pays $150 a month for rent If she cant show that she can manage that then no one will rent to her. She enables her family at the cost of her suffering lack. Something I wouldn't do if they weren't trying to do for themselves. We will see how this pans out when I bring her back for an update.

  14. Jane Says:

    Ceejay, while I agree that "it shouldn't be treated as if this woman is less than anyone else," I must respectfully disagree that it is not a moral problem if these choices lead to her getting "emergency help" from taxpayers or a charity fund that could be otherwise spent on other people in need. It is also a moral problem if the daughter really applies for welfare when she is able to work but just doesn't want to, as Housing Counselor suggested. It sounds harsh, but the reality is that taking advantage of safety net programs because you are unwilling to make better choices is unfair to both the people who really need those funds and taxpayers who sacrifice to take care of their own responsibilities with fewer after-tax dollars. A lot of taxpayers are already struggling to get by with high food and gas prices and may be working two jobs. It also sounds like failing to nip this in the bud will lead to eventual eviction and the need for more housing aid as well. I am not suggesting that she is taking advantage of others willfully, just pointing out that things can become unfair when adults don't think broadly about how their choices affect everybody else.

  15. ceejay74 Says:

    I think we do agree on everything, Jane, except whether or not to call something that isn't willful a moral lapse. I agree there are problems when people don't understand or aren't engaged in the social contract, but I don't think it's malicious when someone who is trapped in a cycle of poverty and ignorance tries to get money from a social program.

    And, poor people getting money from social programs isn't as harmful to the overall economy as extra tax breaks for millionaires, because the millionaires will take that money out of circulation (and likely out of the country entirely!) whereas poor people will blow that money -- whether it's on needs or wants -- and it gets funneled back into business and our economy.

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