Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxvii)

Not surprisingly, in early July 1971 an official letter came from the New York City Welfare Department stating that I was being denied home relief welfare benefits and food stamps for some technical reason. Although I had been laid off from my night clerical job at the Hunt’s Point Market fruit and vegetable wholesale firm in May 1971, after working there only a week, the right-wing white guy who had investigated me apparently justified his denial of welfare benefits to me on the following grounds: 1. Since I had been on home relief for a month the previous year before finding a job as a summer camp counselor in 1970, there was no valid reason why I couldn’t now find a job again as a summer camp counselor in 1971—even though in the Summer of 1970 there hadn’t been any economic recession like there now was in the Summer of 1971; and 2. Since I had quit my office boy job at the Writers Guild—East office nearly 4 months previously, to protest against the failure in 1971 of that middle-class “talent union” to fight against institutional racism and sexism in the radio-TV network world of CBS, NBC and ABC and against the endless U.S. war in Indochina, that somehow meant that I was not now really “entitled” to a home relief welfare check—especially since I had long hair and was a white hippie, not the “legitimate” type of poor person that New York City welfare checks were supposed to be “meant for.”

I was, obviously, enraged at the welfare department and the welfare department caseworker/investigator for denying me the home relief benefits I was legally entitled to. But, given the politics of New York City’s welfare department bureaucracy in 1971, I was skeptical that its denial of welfare benefits to me in July 1971 could really be overturned in some kind of bureaucratic appeal hearing. And since I was nearly penniless when the welfare department denied me home relief benefits, I also thought that by the time any appeal ruling which might overturn the welfare department’s denial of benefits to me would be made, I probably would have already been starved out of or evicted from my Bronx slum apartment for many months.

So I saw no point in even filing an appeal of my home relief denial and, instead, spent the first few weeks of July 1971 researching and writing an article for Ramparts magazine, from a New Left radical perspective, which indicated why the liberal Democratic Party presidential candidate for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, George McGovern, didn’t really reflect the New Left’s historical anti-imperialist, anti-war and anti-racist radical democratic politics. But when the Ramparts magazine editor rejected the freelance article, I was pretty much at a loss in figuring out what to do to come up with the $57 I needed for my August 1971 rent and for some money to feed myself during the month of August 1971. And I began to feel that August 1971 would be the month that the 1965 to 1971 version of “bob feldman” would cease to exist.

In retrospect, what I probably should have done was to immediately apply for unemployment benefits, since I had been laid-off from my last job as a night clerk at the Hunt’s Point Market fruit and vegetable wholesale firm. But despite our college degrees, neither the welfare department caseworker/investigator who disqualified me from receiving home relief nor I was familiar with unemployment insurance regulations in 1971; and we both just assumed—apparently mistakenly—that an unemployed worker who was laid-off after only 1 week at a job who had quit a previous job a much longer duration would not then be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Also in retrospect, my fear that not having any money to pay my rent in August 1971 meant that I would be quickly evicted by the landlord within 14 or 30 days of receiving a “notice to quit,” was also based on the fact that, despite having a college degree, I—like most U.S. college graduates—had never been taught by either the U.S. public school system or the U.S. higher education system what kind of legal rights rent-controlled tenants in New York City in 1971 and/or all tenants in the USA had under the then-current U.S. housing laws. In reality, a tenant who received a “notice to quit” eviction notice from a landlord for non-payment of rent in 1971—especially a rent-controlled tenant—actually could usually prolong his or her stay in the apartment for over 3 months by just staying put in the apartment, speaking to a tenant advocate at tenants rights groups like the Metropolitan Council on Housing in New York City and challenging the landlord’s eviction notices in housing court. Since only a judge—not a landlord—generally has the legal right to order a tenant out of his or her home in most cities of the United States.

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