HHSA Newsroom

In Their Own Words: Eligibility Workers Share Tales of Helping Families on the Brink

Published January 30, 2019
  • Employee Spotlight
  • CalWorks
  • CalFresh
  • Regional Services

Some are intake workers, interviewing applicants face-to-face to assess if they qualify for benefits like Medi-Cal and CalFresh. Others work in the call center, putting out fires for different clients.

Eligibility Workers are on the frontlines of HHSA’s efforts to end cycles of poverty.  They can have unique insights about our community as well as heartwarming tales of how a little help can save families from the brink. Here are a few of their stories:

Rebecca Higgins memeRebecca Higgins

Eligibility Worker for four and a half years

"Many of us are here because HHSA saved our lives and brought stability to our families. Like many of my colleagues, I’ve lived in poverty, I know what it means to get an eviction notice or to have your kids come home and find a shut-off notice on the door. I know it’s a very heavy burden so I take every measure I can to get people those benefits. I consider myself a tour guide: I want to show my customers every possible path to eligibility that exists and guide them through every door. I’m never going to close a door on them.

The downside is we witness firsthand how the benefits sometimes aren’t enough to help a person out of crisis. It can also be tough for people who have a severe mental illness or who are homeless to follow through with paperwork or to check their mail. I would love for us to be able to use email with clients to reduce the barriers.

But there are also amazing moments, like the caller who breaks down in tears and says “you don’t know how much this means to me” when I tell them I’m adding an extra $100 to their EBT card. I once was able to retroactively give a customer two years’ worth of benefits because they had been erroneously listed as an undocumented resident. That was a good day.

I’m blown away by my coworkers. The lengths they’ll go to help a person they’ve never met before is uncanny. It’s powerful to witness."

RebeccaRebbecca Denise Lawes

Eligibility Worker since February 2017

“I’ve learned sometimes the client just needs a sympathetic ear. Sometimes you have to let them vent their frustrations. It’s hard to see the hardships, the struggles, the kids in poverty. Mentally, I take home some of my cases. I worry about some of the people I’ve seen and hope they’re doing OK.

Before taking this job, I wasn’t as empathetic about the housing situation here. I felt that if somebody’s goal was to be housed, they would get it. But I’ve learned the employment situation here is not great. Many people are working minimum wage, and our housing costs have skyrocketed after the wildfires.  There’s only so much we can do.

Recently, I was interviewing a mom who had this adorable little girl. When it turned out I was able to grant them some immediate assistance, the little girl became so happy because she could tell her mom was relieved. She said to me, ‘You’re coming with us.’ Amazing moments like that - when families leave happy - are what keep me going.”

Mike Spangler 

Michael Spangler

Eligibility Worker since June 2016

“I think the misconception is people who use our services don’t want to work, they’re all homeless, all drug addicts. It’s just not true. If you take the time to listen to them, they want to help themselves, but just have barriers like a mental or physical illness.

I’ve been homeless before. I’ve been laid off. I’ve been on Medi-Cal and CalFresh. I never thought I’d go through those experiences, but being able to relate to the clients makes my job so much easier. When they know that I get it, they’re more cooperative. Sometimes I refer clients to resources I’ve used myself. A lot of my job is removing those barriers. If I can, I’ll call their employer to get proof of their job ending, for example. I’m also learning every day to be more compassionate. You just don’t know what people are going through.

People can be very grateful for my assistance. Some have cried. Others have told me ‘God Bless You’ or ‘you’re the first one who’s been able to clearly explain this to me.’ That’s why I wanted this job in the first place: To help people who are going through the same thing I did.”

Christina Paradis

Eligibility Worker since June 2016

 “I currently work in the Direct Services in our Shasta Lake Regional Office as an intake worker. I’m able to get to know and connect with our community. I oftentimes meet with individuals during emotional and stressful times in their lives, and I’m grateful that I have the ability to help applicants navigate and understand the assistance we offer.

I am very proud of the individuals that I work with. After the Carr Fire ravaged our county, we went "all hands on deck" and everyone from Eligibility did a stellar job of providing Disaster CalFresh nutrition assistance to our community members. We had to learn a completely new program in a matter of days, and many of us worked 12-hour shifts to implement this program.

We had workers coming to work while being evacuated, and some of them didn't even know if their homes were still standing. We had customers crying and hugging us, thanking us for our service to our community during such a difficult time. I saw so many people who lost everything, who still persevered and rose above in difficult times. If I learned anything from that experience, it's that as a community, Shasta County can do ANYTHING.”

Stephanie MemeStephanie Porrazzo

Eligibility Worker since January 2015

“I have learned you can never judge a book by its cover. You can’t look at someone and know what they’re going through or why their case ended up in your lap.

Recently, I was working with an older single woman who was in that difficult place where she wasn’t making enough to get by, but she was making too much to get assistance. On her renewal paperwork, she had written out by hand her story and the struggles she was facing. It was sad to see, and I did my best to help her with her housing issues and other problems. Sometimes, the hardest part of the job is the stuff you can’t do, but I try to stay positive with our clients.

Our clients face challenges that sometimes they’re not even sure how to fully explain. Part of our job is to figure out what’s going on with their cases and deal with all the lingo, acronyms and processes. It’s all about meeting them where they are and setting up people for success.  One client called me desperate to figure out her health insurance with Partnership because her grandson needed medical treatment. There was a discrepancy in their computer records, and I was able to handle it right away. I wish that was just my job all the time, putting out fires for people.”

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