I didn’t look like food stamp mom. I was more than a food stamp mom I thought. But I was a food stamp mom. While we might each have preconceived idea of what a mom on food stamps looks like, where she lives, the mistakes she has made to get to this point in her life, you don’t really know.
You don’t know her story.
I have seen headlines, read tweets, articles and observed discussion about cuts to the SNAP program aka the food stamp program.
I have been silent about food stamps for more than a decade. Only a few close friends knew I was ever on food stamps. But hearing political candidates, politicians, commenters, colleagues and friends comment about food stamps silently it gets my blood boiling at times.
Today my silence is finally broken.
I work in agriculture. I know the “Farm” Bill which is truly the “Food” Bill. But I have yet to truly share my personal opinion on the cuts to the food stamp program. You might be an affluent American that isn’t impacted by the food stamp program. But you don’t know the people around you that are. We are a silent voice often.
As a single mother, college student, trying to get child support for my son, my attorney advised I apply for childcare assistance and food stamps. By becoming a “ward of the state”, the state would then fight for me to get child support. I would become one of them.
I didn’t go on welfare. I could have. But instead I had parents helping me with expenses, took out student loans and worked different jobs from a grocery store bakery/ deli to waitressing.
But for a time in my life, I did accept food stamps and child care assistance. I received government assistance and it allowed me to gain my education while raising my young son.
Was I living in the slums? No. I was living in a beautiful, two story home with a swimming pool that my parents owned. I lived there with 3 roommates though along with my son, splitting the bills with my roommates.
Could my parents have just paid my bills? Yes. If I had lived at home, 60 miles from the university I had transferred to I could have stayed on the farm. But my parents had just suffered huge financial losses from a flood and were in the midst of buying a farm. I needed to be responsible for my own circumstances.
Was I “lazy” and not working, only living off the government “paycheck”? Absolutely not. I worked for $10 an hour in an internship. I worked every other weekend and one week night at a grocery store bakery. I waitressed at a smoke free bar and grill on the weekends when my parents could watch my son at the farm or on a weeknight when my roommates would babysit. Plus, I was a full time student, taking classes around my work commitments and trying to still have time with my son daily. Most importantly I was a mother of a toddler.
I had a tremendous support network from my family, loyal friends, neighbors and church. But I had a sense of urgency. I needed to get my degree. I needed to provide. I needed to build a life for my son. I didn’t want him to be a statistic. I wanted him to be the most loving, supportive environment possible.
Food stamps were a part of my solution to create a future for my son and me. Food stamps helped me for less than two years and childcare assistance just six months longer. Because I was in the “system” the state worked to first get me $56 a month of child support. And then eventually years later $266 a month of child support came through monthly. Did it pay my rent? No. But it paid electricity.
And when I graduated from college. I was free. I earned a salary. I had health insurance. My son was four years old. I called my case worker and told her I would no longer be receiving benefits. I broke free. She expressed her concern that I wouldn’t be in need anymore and assured me I could still probably qualify for some services.
The truth is, I never wanted to go back to social services. I never wanted to slide that food stamps card at the grocery store again. I felt shame. I felt guilt. I felt eyes staring at me. I wanted more for my son. I wanted freedom and ability to provide on my own.
But for two critical years, food stamps provided for us. They were a part of a solution. Food stamps helped pave a future for my son and me.
Should the program be cut? Absolutely. If our government is going to live within its means, we have to make cuts in all programs. 15% of Americans receive welfare assistance. Not everyone is going to do what I did but food stamp recepients do need to feel a sense of urgency. They do need a solution that doesn’t require continous government assistance.