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Reach Out to Reach Up

On a late afternoon in 2014, Jimmy Chen walked into a food stamps office in Brooklyn, New York.1 He remembers arriving at 3:30, or maybe it was 4:00. Closing was at 5:00. He walked up to the person staffing the entrance and said he wanted to apply for assistance. He remembers that she laughed at him. He recalls her saying that there was already a two- or three-hour wait, that most people wouldn’t be seen today, that if he wanted to be seen the same day, he should come back in the morning. Chen returned the next day at 9:00 a.m., when the office opened, and waited only forty-five minutes, though he expected he wouldn’t qualify for the benefits anyway.

Chen also filled out applications in several other states, where he wasn’t ...

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