Let me preface this by saying this will not be easy for me to write or share, but I feel I must. These thoughts have been weighing on my heart and show no signs of letting up anytime soon. This is also a lengthy post, but I hope you will take the time to thoughtfully and compassionately read it.
Also, in writing this, I am making myself very vulnerable. I know that there will be those who disagree with me, and you’re welcome to do so, but please be respectful and keep harsh opinions to yourself. Any disrespectful comments toward myself or other commenters will be deleted.
Something said yesterday really struck a nerve with me. I don’t remember how it came up, but he negatively mentioned those on welfare, likely not knowing that I am on welfare and have been for the past 8 years. Before I get into that, I’ll say that I don’t completely fault this person for the frustration that arose in me yesterday. He isn’t the first one I’ve heard say things like this, probably won’t be the last, and wasn’t the first person close to me who has made derogatory remarks.
I understand that this man grew up in a different time and that people “picked up trash along the road” so they could make money to feed their family, but a dollar here and a dollar there just don’t go very far, especially when food costs are rising faster than our income.
First of all, it seems that many people don’t really know what all “welfare” encompasses, and, chances are, they have received welfare benefits at some point or another. Secondly, not all those who are receiving assistance are “lazy, good-for-nothings leeching off the government.” Many of those receiving assistance are working, and many of them are likely working harder and more hours than those who aren’t receiving assistance. The problem often doesn’t lie in whether or not the person is working or in how much money they are supposedly spending, but has more to do with their income not being enough to pay for basic needs.
And then I read things like this that imply the children of those receiving assistance, such as free school lunches, should also feel the stigma of needing government assistance. This just flat out enrages me. I don’t feel like my children or anyone else’s should be labeled as different or poor or anything else because their parents, or more likely, single mother, is receiving assistance so she can feed them dinner that night. Childhood is hard enough and we have enough bullies to deal with without throwing this at them too. Some schools even do a weekend program where they send bags of (not nutritious) food home with low income kids on Friday so they have food for the weekend. The bags consist of things like chips, instant noodles, and poptarts. Not at all healthy and it points out to everyone else in the class that that kid is poor and his/her family has trouble affording food. I don’t want that label slapped on my children, regardless of their circumstance.
I remember the day I applied for assistance. My husband had left me, and I was struggling to feed myself and our daughter. When our daughter was born, we decided it was best for our family that I quit my job and stay home to raise her. It made the most sense financially, and we wanted her to have the same care that we did when we were younger. I still decided to bring in some income by doing direct sales parties a few evenings a week, but when he left a year later he took our joint checking account with him. I was left with nothing, not even gas to get to home parties so I could make an income. There were many days I went hungry so I could feed my almost-2-year-old until I came to my breaking point. I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. I cried the day I filled out the paperwork for food and medical assistance.
Those who haven’t been on government assistance seem to think this is an easy process. For most, it is anything but. For many, it cuts down your pride, your confidence, your dignity, your self-esteem, and for everyone, it’s akin to signing your life away to the government. To apply for assistance you need to hand over your birth certificates, social security cards for everyone who will benefit, proof of all income, bank statements, and written statements from people who will vouch for your current circumstances. Not very empowering, to say the least. And now many states are requiring a drug test also, even though the drug rate is higher among those who aren’t receiving assistance.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been told I need to get a job. Yes, because that’s such an easy thing to do. There are many people who have jobs and STILL need assistance. When I became a mother I wanted to stay home so I can raise and teach my children, and then my circumstances changed and not by my choice. Was I now supposed to give up what I wanted for myself and my children? I get the whole “you do what you have to do”, but working hours and hours away from my children so that I could pay bills by myself and spend maybe an hour with them a day just didn’t seem like what was best for them or for me. Not only that, but the cost of daycare alone would have wiped out my income. If I had kept the fulltime job I had before having my first daughter, I actually would have been paying more for daycare than I even got paid. Some would say “well, you’re a single mom with low income so you can get free daycare,” but isn’t that still receiving government assistance and therefore still “being dependent on the government”? It was/is a no-win situation. And, for the record, I may not have had a 9-5 outside of the home job in the last few years, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked at all. My income may be small, but that doesn’t mean I’m lazy or that I’m not working toward something better.
On social media I have seen all sorts of things about people on welfare who pay for their steak and lobster with food stamps while pulling the card out of their designer purse while talking on their iPhone. There are a few problems with this generalization. The first is the myth that all those on food stamps are having expensive surf and turf dinners every night.
I can’t speak for everyone, but the food stamps I receive are the ONLY thing I use to buy food for my family. I have to stretch that money as much as possible, which isn’t easy, and I often take advantage of sales, coupons, and other grocery saving apps to make the most of what I’m given. It’s even harder if we want to eat healthily. Do you ever wonder why so many low income families are also overweight? Perhaps it has more to do with high caloric box dinners costing less than a salad than it does with the assumption that they’re spending all their money on eating out. However, eating from the dollar menu at McDonald’s is also cheaper than buying ingredients from the store to prepare a healthy meal.
Then there’s the other criticism that those on welfare have fancy cars, phones, clothes, and accessories. Does anyone ever stop to think that they may have had those things when they fell on hard times? Should they have to give those things up now that they are receiving help? And who’s to say that they even paid for them or what they paid for them? I received my iPhone for nearly nothing WHILE on assistance. My phone plan had come up for renewal and I was able to get an iPhone for about $30 after sending in the rebate. If I would have had to pay $200+ for it, there would be NO WAY I would have an iPhone. You can also find a lot of these things cheaply on eBay, yard sales, or other online sites. Someone I know, for instance, just bought a designer purse at a yard sale for $2 that resales for about $80 online. The point here is that you don’t know someone’s circumstances or how they have what they have.
People who receive food and medical assistance are likely to still struggle financially, as those things don’t cover necessities like toilet paper, soap, and diapers. I’m back in the buying diapers stage of life and I forgot how dang expensive they are. I probably spend at least $30-60 a month on diapers and wipes. When I’m worried about where diaper money will come from, I’m certainly not planning a vacation using my assistance money (which I don’t receive) or shopping online at Bloomingdale’s or something crazy like that. I can tell you that I’ve sold what I’ve been able to sell in order to bring in money to buy toiletries and pay bills. I’m even considering buying cloth diapers so I can save the money I would be spending on disposables so I can use that money to pay bills.
Government assistance is there to help people get back on their feet, yet they actually don’t make that easy to do. I have witnessed that when my income increased by just a few dollars that my food assistance has decreased by more than my increase. Sometimes it honestly feels like it would be easier to stay on assistance, and I’m sure many others feel the same way. It’s an odd and sneaky form of entrapment that many are trying to find their way out of.
There are people who don’t know the circumstances who are judging another person’s life based on one single solitary fact (or assumption): the person receives government assistance.
I didn’t plan to be a single parent. I didn’t plan to need assistance. I’m not planning to just pop out kid after kid so I can “milk the system”. I’m not selling my assistance so I can plan a vacation at the beach. I’m not sitting at home drinking and doing drugs, eating shrimp and watching soap operas while my children run wild. And I’m also not planning to be on assistance for the rest of my children’s childhoods. I am planning for a better future for them and for myself. If I have to do half a dozen odd jobs from home so I can stay home to raise my children then so be it. I currently have about 6 sources of income that I’m currently receiving or working on, and none of those include child support or government assistance. Not exactly the image of a lazy, drugged, government-leeching single mother.
So how about we throw out the stereotypes, stigmas, and demeaning comments and instead help those on assistance work toward a better life by encouraging them and giving them the support they need, rather than making them feel worse, because chances are, you’re not saying anything that they haven’t already felt.
*Reminder: Hateful comments will be deleted. Please be respectful.