I’m on Foodstamps. Snap benefits. EBT. Whatever it is that you, personally, refer to the damning atrocity that is government assistance. I hate it. My family hates it. My husband hates it. We all wish we didn’t have to need it. My husband and I would gladly go back in time to our early twenties and stick thoughts of future consequences into our subconsciouses so we could avoid the mistakes that would follow us through time. With that said, we also love the assistance. We need it. Our family has to have it to keep from going hungry. We want to eat nutritionally valuable foods of variety, not just the bologna and imitation cheese our finances would otherwise be able to afford on their own, so our kids can be healthy, learn healthy habits. This is not the financial position we wanted for ourselves, or, are deserving of based on who we are as individual human beings, but it is what it is. This is the hand we’ve been dealt, due impart to a few bad choices and some doozy mistakes, not for the lack of trying to do right.
The stigma out there for those who receive state aid government assistance is asinine and ridiculous. The assumptions of these families and their lifestyles are even more outrageous. Not all of us are the La’Shantae’s of our ‘hoods, with more baby daddies than kids, and more kids than IQ points, purposely sitting around on the taxpayer’s dime because her weave is pulling so tight, the lack of oxygen to her brain cells has killed off any desire to lead a meaningful, productive, self-supporting life. Nor is my hubs Ty-Wizzle DaShizzle, the lazy dope slinger driving around in his momma’s Cady looking for his homeboys to throw down a game of Dice, all the while trying to keep his pants from slipping off his ass and holding onto his limp dick so it don’t run off making another baby, singlehandedly. The majority of us are hard-working, honest, and respectful citizens who never found the opportunities in life to rise above poverty, or made such poor choices that they landed in the back of the pack of this race called Life. Sometimes, it’s none of those typical factors, but the unforeseen, uncalculated ones of crisis and tragedy, like for disabilities and social security, that cause someone to need government assistance.
For my family specifically, it was those poor choices that landed us in a position to need to be on assistance. Long before my husband ever considered marriage, having a family, or even the greater picture of adulthood outside of being legal now to drive, smoke, drink, and get credit cards, he made some not-so-wise decisions that will continue following him for the rest of his life, hindering his choices and limiting the doors that will open to brighter pastures. He’s had to work at life twice as hard as the average person, only to make a living at the end of the day, instead of a career. My own career had to be put on hold for circumstances resulting from the onset of my degenerative disc disease and an unexpected, prevented-yet-happened pregnancy. Now, with four young children to raise, my husband’s unpredictably rotational 55-70 hour afternoon shift work schedule, one vehicle, and the disease that’s ravaging my spine, coupled with the fact that my husband’s licence is permanently revoked and we have no family or friend support, it’s become not only convenient, but more economical for me to do the stay at home mom gig for my family to bring in.
Our income is barely sufficient in covering our bills and necessities, let alone leaving any extra to have a little fun with or saving for rainy day expenses. If we had to pay for more of our food than we do right now, we’d probably be homeless, but only after exhausting countless other government resources and assistance programs, wasting even more of the taxpayer’s dime. Technically, since my husband is working, he’s also paying out part of his weekly earnings to taxes, just the same as everyone else. So, to those who complain about their wasted tax money, in a roundabout way, he’s paying for his own family’s food, even if not directly out of his pocket. Plus, there’s all the money I paid out in taxes back when I was working full-time as a Health Unit Coordinator, before that option was interrupted by life. Jobs in metro-Detroit are slim pickings of your not tailored for the automotive industry, especially now after the huge bailout during the beginning of the recession. Everyone’s over-qualified, no one’s hiring, and those blue-collared laborer’s are shit out of luck with previously white-collared folks scooping up the jobs that once were theirs only for the picking. Add into that a criminal record, regardless of the fact that his last bit of trouble was over eight years ago, and a revoked licence and you get denied for any decent wage job. You can’t even apply, because you’ll fail the background checks. Even with the right degrees or trade certificates, his record would continue to shut doors in his face. It’s a very disheartening and depressing fact to to live with when there’s a family to support, backs to clothe, and mouths to feed. If I could be the one to work, I’d make just slightly more than my husband does, but only just enough to lose the assistance without making up the gap for the out-of-pocket spending on food, leaving us in a position to struggle even worse.
Despite what you may think, our Foodstamp allowance is not unlimited and is strictly monitored with bi-annual reviews and yearly proof submittal to maintain your determination for qualification. You only get a predetermined amount based on a formula that considers income level, type of income, average cost of living vs your own current cost of living, utility expenses, and personal holdings. There’s been times when I made enough off of babysitting for a couple of friends full-time during the summer that combined with a few seventy hour work weeks, our assistance was brought down to a mere $43.73 a month. Yes, a month. Until we could prove for six consecutive weeks that our income had lessened by my icome. There’s no getting around claiming under the table income, either. They will find out somehow. This is known to be actual-factually true after a blacked out SUV, looking straight out of a Criminal Minds episode, came rolling up on my house, with two agents in the standard, classic black suits stepping out, flipping State Department Bureau of Investigations badges in our faces as they entered and proceeded to interrogate us as to whether or not my husband was indeed working part-time for cash at a small, family-owned pizzeria to subsequent our income. We were advised to either report the so-called income or terminate his employment within five days, or else we could face losing our qualifications for assistance for the rest of our life, as well as, federal fraud charges. We went right back to counting pennies and buying the sandpaper-esque toilet paper that leaves your ass stripped bare of dermal layers so deep, you won’t ever find a need for waxing the ol’ brown pucker hole again!
We live extremely frugal, trying to save a buck every chance we can. Just because our food money doesn’t come directly from our pocket, doesn’t mean that we have that much more money to spend on our family. We buy the majority of our household necessities from the Dollar Store. There’s no Tide, Lysol, or Clorox brands to be found here. No Charmin Triple-Layer Pillow Softness for our tushes. And certainly no Oil of Olay or Dove, to keep our skin tones even and complexions clear, either. You can completely forget about organic, all-natural products, there’s just no way to make those price stickers work for our budget, we make many sacrifices as it is. Like garbage bags. Since we do our grocery shopping at Save-A-Lot stores, to stretch our Foodstamps as far as we can, and we use the extra thick, extra large, recommended for reuse grocery bags that they sell for a nickel, making it a more practical expense than both the good quality brands of garbage bags and the shitty, paper-thin dollar quality garbage bags. I can buy forty of those Save-A-Lot bags, which would last me just over two months, for $2.00! (If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a discount brand grocery store chain that has no baggers and you must either purchase grocery bags or bring your own, or use any empty packing boxes they leave for customer use, which adds to the reduced prices.)
Things like fabric softener are skipped on most of the time, with the exception of those couple winter months when static is at it’s worst. We don’t purchase kid-friendly shampoos either after our little ones are over two and can to their heads back during rinsing, using one universal shampoo for all of us. There’s no fancy soaps or scented body washes, just a good old bar of Tone that does the cleaning job on us all just the same. We don’t buy air fresheners, candles, or fabric deodorizers. We don’t have Kleenex or paper towel handy, either. Better grab some of the efficient thousand-sheet roll of toilet paper to blow your runny nose or use the community dish towel at the kitchen table to wipe your hands and face after dinner. When we have allergies, minor injuries, or common colds that need OTC medications, we buy the Dollar Store stuff. It doesn’t always work as well, but if we want to stay on the low-income budget plans with our utilities to protect us from being put into shut-off status and keep a small emergency fund, than we have to keep the reigns tight on our spending.
Our Foodstamp qualifying income doesn’t allow for much fun outside of our home, either. Especially with four children, the cost for family fun these days is preposterous and extravagant. If the entry cost isn’t free, it’s not going to happen. My children have never been bowling, to the movies with us (the big three were taken once by their Papa), to Toys-R-Us, or to a carnival. The boys have never been able to play on a sports team despite begging to play football every single fall since they were five. My girls cannot sign up for gymnastics, dance, or cheer squad as they’ve continually expressed interest in until they’ve turned blue in the face. We don’t ever go out to eat at restaurants unless it’s been offered by a family member or friend willing to fork out the cost of the bill. We’re a family of 6…..those offers are practically non-existent. McDonald’s and Taco Bell are considered treats in our family, something real special because we can only afford it once a month, if that. Plus there’s the fact that we’ve never taken anything close to being called a vacation with our kids. Unless, of course, you count that one time six years ago when we stayed in a hotel room for a couple months between our lease being up at our old place and our new house being finished with it’s renovations. That was long before our little extra surprise of a baby, conceived on the Depo Provera shot, came to be. Life for low-income families consistently presents with restrictions and off-limits expenditures at every bend along the way, stifling the opportunities for those experiences thought of as stereotypical representations of childhood.
There seems to be an ignorance our there that government assistance programs are like getting free hand-outs. They judge the book by the cover, assuming that what they see is what they’ll get- a lazy, unwilling to work, uneducated, con artist living a life of luxury on the taxpayer’s dime. Apparently, with their audacious perspective, I’m scamming the tax payer’s money with my coach purse. You know, the one I received for a combined birthday and Christmas gift from my real mother who has watched me continue to rise past the struggles I’ve faced while keeping my family and marriage together, with our morale and spirits intact, and she wanted me to have something super nice that I would use everyday to help me stay motivated until the day I can afford to buy my own. My mom will always worry her firstborn daughter will fall wayward down the path of dope, no matter how long I’ve been clean, and she celebrates my sobriety for me every day, so don’t come looking sideways at one gift that I never asked for, just because it doesn’t sit well with the crackhead image you want to believe make up the population of Foodstamp recipients.. Or the fact that my husband wears name brand Polo shirts and Levi jeans. The clothes that he’s spent countless trips to thrift stores all over our county to purchase, just so he can feel good about himself the one day a week he can dress in something other than his nasty, oil-soaked, grease-laden work uniform that he practically lives in the other six days of the week.
I actually know of people who have forgone with cable and WiFi, or majorly cut other utilities and monthly payments more than the average person could tolerate living with the effects of, just to hang on to a newer-used car, because their job field requires something more reputable and respectful looking. You’d never buy carpet from a salesman who shows up with his samples in a rusted-out beater of a car, now would you? Yet, with the economy in the tank the way it’s been, carpet sales might be low, so maybe the poor guy needs a little help feeding his family. If he gives up the ride, he’ll lose more customers. It’s a catch-22. The government also knows better then to pay for your food just so you can pay a car payment, which is why those people forgo what they do, because that handy dandy calculation system of theirs, limits your monthly spending on cost of living items to 75% of your totally gross monthly income. You calculate over that percentage and their going to expect you to make some serious changes, somewhere, before you’ll qualify for assistance. It’s not the easy, free, hand-out as it is assumed to be by public consensus.
Lately, all I hear about is how all these taxpayer’s who have absolutely no experience with living at poverty level, no knowledge of how the system actually works, and no compassion for those who are struggling to make life work out better for them because of the few bad seeds that draw more attention for doing it wrong, saying they think our options for living, aren’t limited enough already. People who may not have it all, bit still have nice things. People who think that they’ve got it just as bad, because they struggle to pay a few bills here and there due to living with better means and higher standards than those at poverty level. People who’ve never stopped and taken heed of what it’s like to walk in our shoes for any amount of time.
Let’s punish the less fortunate for being the less fortunate, because they must be less of a human being. They must suffer more discrimination, more hate, more oppression, because bad things don’t ever happen to good people. All you have to do is go to work once, and just like that, magically of you will, it’ll turn into a career paying enough in salary to pay for your own food like every other good citizen, so long as your genetically inherited lazy instincts to stop showing up and ruin your life doesn’t take over first. Only second class citizens get assistance and they certainly shouldn’t be allowed to eat like anything but that, either. If it’s fancy or costly, let’s ban ’em from eating it, because we’re secretly jealous that they might be eating better than the hard-working middle class, since no one on assistance could ever be hard-working.
That sounds TOTALLY ridiculous, but that’s exactly what’s being said in all those petitions and calls to reform the Foodstamp allowances to ban steak and seafood from being purchased. The average Foodstamp family can’t even afford to eat expensively like that, just the same as every other average-income family, because our allotted monthly limit would be gone in a week and we’d be starving the next three and a half weeks until our assistance is reloaded again. Foodstamps does not give you limitless access to food. We still have to budget, especially those of us working families who don’t get the maximum monthly benefit amount.
We all have birthdays and anniversaries, we all celebrate holidays. Our kids still graduate and win awards that need recognition. We still have desires to get together for fun. Our socio-economic level doesn’t change that factor. But whereas your family gets to go out to Outback Steakhouse to celebrate, or you take your kids to Chuck-E-Cheese or The Bounce Zone for birthday fun, we’ll be sitting at home or a free-entry park with our dollar store bargains, grilling our store-bought steak and salmon, making the best out of our less than desirable situation. Got a problem with that, now? Too bad. Walk a week in my shoes then, and we’ll see if you can survive it with your warm smile, kindness, and enthusiastic spirit for life still intact at the end of it…. along with the hope and faith that one day, the right door may open after all, allowing us to move into your class one day, leaving behind the stigma that follows us.