Applying for FoodStamps want to be ethical, get approved, it's complex
June 9, 2014 1:21 PM   Subscribe

OK, so I am a grad student and I have been struggling to get by on student loans. I found out that if I am eligible for work study, which I am! Then I am eligible for food stamps- the $200 in food stamps a month would really help me out. My tuition is high (I don't have support from my family- Ha! I help them) and last month my student loans ran short, I had to get an increase and was late on rent.

My work study will not be awarded until July. The case worker says she needs my last 4 paychecks. I just started working for Ivy League (not my school) and have worked for 5 weeks. My first paycheck included my first two weeks, and it does not break it down by the weeks I worked. The case worker says she needs a letter from Ivy League about my rate of pay, and approximate hours per week and when I am paid. Of course, I want to be ethical, I am only working 10- 15 hours a week so I should qualify. But, I am embarrassed to ask Ivy League for the letter. I am a brown girl trying to hustle and get the creds on my cv- ya know, most people at this school are very privileged, so I don't want to lose out on the opportunity to keep working at Ivy League. Sure they would not discriminate, but you know it is awkward. I wish I could say I need this letter for a scholarship, but that would not be ethical. So what to do here? If I don't get the letter in on time than I will be denied.

Also there is an issue as to if I am a full-time student. Right now for the summer, I am only taking 4 credits. For my loans, I need to take at least 6 credits. I meet with a professor who is a working professional- in a leadership position, about the possibility of doing an independent study with her for a paper that could be published. I know she is super busy, but it has been like 2 weeks and I have not heard back from her. If I work with her I can get 2 credits, and be considered full-time with my school. The other option is that we have to do field work in my program, so I could ask the professor at Ivy League that I am working with if could sign off on my job being my field experience, I really don't want to do this. The field work would be a great excuse to ask him about other opportunities, so this is what they call networking- lol. So I kinda don't want to play that card yet. Should I contact the professional again? I don't wanna annoy her, I may wanna work with/for her one day. My mentor is a colleague of hers, should I mention it to my mentor, ask her advice on reaching back out to Dr. Professional? So I am broke, and I don't wanna bite my nose to spite my face either. Thanks!!

The back story:
It is a long story so I will try and keep it short. I give some money, not much to help my sister, she is on stamps and works here and there (she is diagnosed bipolar and I give her gas money to get to work). So the last 2 months I did not have enough in student loans for rent and food. My LL graciously let me pay 3 months late to let me get caught up (my bills also include credit card debt)
posted by cheetahchick to Work & Money (13 answers total)
You don't need to say to Ivy League that this is for food stamps. You can say it's for an apartment application or for tax purposes or for your financial advisor. There are many, many reasons you would need a letter stating exactly what you make. This is a common thing that any HR department (like the one your IL surely has) can provide very quickly.
posted by Flamingo at 1:28 PM on June 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Can't you just tell them you need the letter for some programs you are applying for and leave the specific nature of the program vague?

Same with the full-time student thing. Just ask the student services people for a letter conforming you are enrolled for the fall as a full-time student.

As for the long and complicated part, you need to sit down once you have all your scholarships, programs, bursaries, benefits etc. set up and make yourself a budget. You might not be able to afford to help your sister to the extent you have been. You need to work out a spending plan.
posted by JoannaC at 1:28 PM on June 9, 2014

Asking for the letter is so no big deal. The people in the offices that deal with payroll are payroll professionals just like everywhere else, and this is a no big deal letter for them. They won't ask and don't care why you need it -- there are a million valid reasons to need income verification like this, and your request won't even trigger on their radar. Just say "I need a letter stating x,y,z. Thank you."

Also, remember this: most people at this school are very privileged is a matter of perception. A lot of the people you encounter might think the same thing about you if they don't know you. You don't know the struggles other people are going through by looking at them. Over 60% of Harvard undergrads are on some type of need-based financial aid (according to a report I found from a few years ago), and the other Ivies are similar. And a lot of those people are working very hard to make it seem like that's not true for them, that they are rich and privileged too.
posted by brainmouse at 1:30 PM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you choose not to get that letter because of imaginary excuses, you are hurting yourself and your sister by choice. There are a million things that require you to show proof of income and proof of enrollment, this is very likely not even the last time you'll have to do this, and HR departments do not give a shit what it is for (and trust me, there's at least one person in their employ who's getting garnished by the courts for child support or taxes, so you don't even know embarrassing).

Hustle means not making up excuses to not obtain resources you are entitled to.

Go get your letter.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:32 PM on June 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

But, I am embarrassed to ask Ivy League for the letter.

I think your anxiety about connections/networking/the future is getting in the way of solving the concrete, simple problems now.

Ask the HR rep from the Ivy League school for this letter. This is what HR does. You don't even need to tell them what's it for. They should have a document in their file that has your rate of pay that they can simply copy and give to you. Truly not a big deal.

Then email the professor about the independent study again. If they still don't respond, let it drop and find another way to meet 6 credits. Can you not take some other course this summer related to your field in order to qualify for the loans?
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:33 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Write the letter yourself, print it on stationary and have your boss sign it.

Nobody really cares why you need it. Honest.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:33 PM on June 9, 2014

When you say your paycheck- are you also looking at your pay stub? I'm also a grad student, and my pay stubs break down the number of hours worked for me. If it's really not there- yes, asking for something like this is standard, and won't raise any red flags.

And, being a grad student and on food stamps is more common than you think, and nothing to be ashamed of.

As for full time status, and credit hours- do you have a set advisor/mentor? That's who I usually go to to sign up for independent study hours in the summer to remain full time. If not, just ask around until you find somebody who will. I wouldn't be too concerned about networking, looking like you have hustle, etc. Signing up for these sorts of non-thesis research credits is fairly common, at least in my field.
posted by damayanti at 1:34 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know about the second half of your question, but you shouldn't feel embarrassed. Ivy League schools may seem privileged on the outside but they also admit a surprising number of underprivileged students, including plenty of people in more difficult situations (e.g. homeless). Just say you need the letter, and don't explain why. Better yet, draft the letter yourself and then ask your supervisor to sign it.

Also, you're not going to be fired if they find out you're poor. If anything, more opportunities will come your way.
posted by acidic at 1:35 PM on June 9, 2014

I've had to write letters like that. I have never even asked what it was for. It's totally standard.
posted by jeather at 1:36 PM on June 9, 2014

I just wanted to chime in to say that professors are CRAZY busy, and you should absolutely keep knocking on the door until you get some acknowledgement from this professor. Emails get missed or ignored — I'd actually go knock on her office door, and politely explain that you'd like to do a project with her. Be polite and considerate of her time; unless she invites you in and makes it clear that she has time, just make it a quick "hi I just wanted to let you know that I emailed you about _____ and I'm still very interested, I wanted to touch base on that." If she's busy at the time, come back later, but send an immediate follow-up that's basically your initial email. You need to put yourself on her radar, and there's absolutely a polite but assertive way to do that. In fact, many professors specifically look for students who are go-getters and will keep knocking at their door.
posted by you're a kitty! at 1:39 PM on June 9, 2014

Go to HR, ask them for the letter, tell them whatever you need to tell them so they write up the letter.

I don't think it's "unethical" to not tell them it's for food stamps if you don't want to tell them that. Like, I can't find any particular ethical rule that makes that particular misrepresentation wrong; i.e. if everyone did that ... it would be fine, the world would be OK. It's no big deal.

Don't hamstring yourself with some misplaced ethical dilemma.

As for the credit issue, yes, ask the professional again. Don't let a misplaced sense of politeness hamstring you either. Good things happen to people who ask; the squeaky wheel gets the grease; etc.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:43 PM on June 9, 2014

Thanks ya'll. I REALLY appreciate it. This has helped A LOT! Ok, I am going to do it! Ya, shit came down with my health- another long story, so all the more reason to get on this. Thanks. Hugs!
posted by cheetahchick at 1:50 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

None of the professors will know about your application because the letter you need will come from a staff person, maybe your departmental admin person or someone over in the grad school admin office. Just go get the letter and submit it.

That said, have you considered asking your departmental director of graduate studies and/or the grad diversity office about extra financial support? There are sometimes extra pots of money that exist but you don't know about without asking, and they should know that you are in tight financial circumstances but are very serious about your degree. That is not a shameful or inappropriate conversation at all -- in fact, the reverse is true, that attempting to carry all the weight yourself without asking for help is counterproductive.

I went to grad school at an Ivy and your situation is super common, and there was support available but no one talked about it and few of the professors knew about it.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:54 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

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