When people come to see me for help, they often show me a letter they’d submitted to an agency, requesting a benefit. The agency has declined to provide the benefit. The client feels frustrated, unheard, disregarded, and disillusioned. What didn’t work?
Following is a made-up example of the type of letter often submitted:
I have had not teeth for all these months and I’m getting hungry and am so sick of Ensure no one should have to eat that stuff. It’s not even real food. This is a disgrace. I deserve better, we all do. It’s not your fault, I know it’s our minister of finance that made these rules but it’s not working it doesn’t even make sense because it’s cheaper to give people teeth than forty years of Ensure. With teeth I could work, eat real food, and it would be nice to have recreation and be able to smile I don’t know why you would prevent that. This is a basic human right! I haven’t asked for hardly anything. You gave my neighbour $13,000 to remove mould from her house but you won’t pay $4k for my teeth replacement, the dentist already said he would do it. Why won’t you give this money? I’m a hard worker. You know that from my employment records. You can see them. I can even give you proof from the federal government, all I paid in. It was a lot. I should have kept some of it for my teeth, even though that’s not even legal but it should be because how can I pay for them now, and you won’t. I need the replacement teeth, I want to be able to smile and feel good and eat the food they give us at the food bank and soup kitchen, that’s all I ask. I’ve never cheated or stolen and now I’m desperate. Why won’t you help?
Notice the letter writer ends with, “Why won’t you help?” The heartbreaking thing is, the agency’s worker likely wants very much to! She is not permitted to, though, because the letter—while long, intelligent, passionate, reasonable, and detailed—does not address the eligibility rules for getting teeth.
A letter can present all the reasoning and desperation in the world, but if it does not state clearly that the writer meets the criteria, she cannot access a given benefit.
For example, in BC part of the law for a person receiving welfare is as follows:
Dentures may be provided…only to a person who has never worn dentures or whose dentures are more than 5 years old. The [general cost] limits…may be exceeded by an amount necessary to provide dentures…because of extractions made in the previous six months to relieve pain. [Bolds mine.]
On page 90 of Rising, I offer the following example letter that references the legislation and how the writer meets its stated criteria:
March 17, 2016
On January 3rd, 2016, all my teeth were extracted as a result of severe pain. I am writing to request coverage for my first set of dentures.
Notice it gives:
- the date of extraction (because the legislation sets a time limit for the request)
- the reason for extraction (because the legislation provides for severe pain)
- confirmation that this would be the client’s first set of dentures (because the legislation allows the initial set as needed, versus after five years)
The second letter is far more likely to result in funding the first time, or successfully upon appeal.
Pages 89-95 of Rising offer additional tips for making an effective self-advocacy pitch. It suggests that when you’re requesting help, you:
- do so in a letter
- copy the relevant law or policy
- note that you meet this, and how
- provide proof if you have it
- get and keep proof of submission
Leave out the emotion, the pleas, the anger, the justifications. Note the rules and how you meet them. Make it easy for the worker to see how you meet the rules, so she can say yes and still keep her job 🙂
Struggle with any of these steps? Ask an advocacy agency or a neighbour if they will help you. In the book, I offer many more tips to you or your support person for achieving success in challenging circumstances.