Monday, September 23, 2013

A Personal Story of Government Assistance

An old childhood friend and a stellar blogger has started a fundraising campaign to help end hunger in the wake of the House voting to cut food assistance programs by thirty-nine billion dollars. You can read her blog about it here. For those of you, like me, who find big numbers hard to visualize, here it is numerically:


That's a lot of money. 

I thought I would take the opportunity to share my own story of governmental food assistance, in the hopes it will help put a face on the issue.

My mother and father divorced when I was a baby.  My mother, who had dropped out of college in her twenties, had a decent job but not a great one.  She knew that although  she could support two kids on her own with the job she had, she could never give us a better life than living in a trailer, just scraping by.  My mother made the hard decision to apply for food stamps and go back to school.  By the time I was in kindergarten, we lived in a house we owned.  My mother had achieved her goals and now had a good job, a bachelors and a masters degree.  That is what the program is designed for.

When I was divorced with two small children, I made the heartbreaking decision to put them in daycare and go back to work.  I confidently applied for a lot of jobs; it had only been two years since I had quit my career to be a stay at home mother.  I called my old employer; not only did they not have any jobs open in my former position, but the last time one opened up over 200 people applied, including 8 attorneys. (Let me note that my position did not require a degree.)  

I found two part time jobs, one a mostly a work at home job, and I made ends meet.  I got free health care through a local hospital, and I got WIC.

WIC stands for Women, Infants, and Children, and it is similar to food stamps.  You have to qualify financially, but you also have to prove a nutritional need.  In other words, you have to be doing something wrong in the feeding department to qualify.  They decided I gave my son too much milk.  Every few months when I went to the office, I had to get instruction on how much milk to give my child, complete with displays of empty cups showing correct sizes.  The children had to be weighed and measured and have their fingers pricked. I got about $100 a month in coupons for specific cereal, milk, juice,dried beans, and cheese. (The program has since expanded to include $25 a month in vegetables and even allows recipients to shop at approved farmers' markets.)

The women who staffed the office, and it was all women, were very nice.  They would do whatever they could to help you qualify, and although they lectured me, they did it nicely and apologetically, and  also praised me for what I was doing right.  As a mother of young children, this generally means having kids grow.  You get a lot of points for having kids exhibit growth at appointments, and also for having children that don't scream and run around waiting rooms excessively.

When you stand in line at the grocery store with a baby, everyone coos and makes faces at the baby, until you pull out the large green WIC coupons.  Then they look at you like you are a druggie, or have a communicable disease. WIC coupons cause extreme delay to everyone, as every item must  be rung up as an individual sale; four items, for transactions, four opening and closing of the cash register drawer.

Also, only certain brands qualify, and in the year I received WIC, I never once used every coupon.  Things would always have to be put back or argued about as the incorrect brand, size, or color, and the cashiers were rarely willing to send a runner to get the correct one.  Once that coupon had been signed, there was no going back. An incorrect one was retained by the cashier and put in the garbage.  Using coupons often meant leaving the store biting back tears, and I tried very hard not to do it when I had the kids with me.  

Still, I was grateful the program existed.  I made too much money to qualify for food stamps, and that extra $100 a month helped.  As soon as I got a raise at work I quit the program. I don't tell many people about that time in my life, but I feel like I used the program appropriately.  I got help when i needed it for just as long as I needed it.

I still have friends who receive WIC or food stamps, and all of them are parents. Some are in school, some are stringing together chains of temporary jobs, some are working long hours at low paying jobs. All of them are doing whatever they can to make life function just until that next job, next raise, next stage in life. I do not know how any of these people would feed their families if they lost their food stamps. 

When the Stay at Home Pundit messaged me about joining her fundraising campaign to end hunger, I decided I would share my own experience.  Although I am hesitant to share my own story, I am happy to do so if it will get even one more person to click the link and donate, or convince just one person not to sigh in exasperation when they wind up in the check out line behind someone who is receiving food stamps, WIC, or some other assistance.

Donate a dollar, donate food to your local food bank.  If you have nothing else, donate a smile to the mother in line ahead of you using those big green coupons or swiping their food card.  It might be your friend, your mother, your daughter someday. 

Clicking the image below will take you directly to the fundraising page.

Blogging To End Hunger

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Seriously, cutting help to the poor is unbelievable. How about cutting back on "war?"
    I'm sure you're not alone with your story. I think many of us (myself included) used the help when we needed it. Isn't that the real patriotic thing to do - help out those who are less fortunate?


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