You might have a 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. But you don’t really know her until you know her story.
I’ve been silent about food stamps for more than a decade. Only a few close friends have known I was ever on them. But hearing political candidates, politicians, commenters, colleagues, and friends comment about food stamps gets my blood boiling at times.
Today I break my silence.
I was from a Christian family, a family that prays before every meal and a family that goes to church every Sunday. No one in my family had been divorced in my lifetime. My family all fit somewhere into America’s middle class. We were never rich. We lived comfortably with disposable income. We were never poor. And we certainly didn’t know anyone on food stamps.
Then along came my story. I was a teenager with a track scholarship to a major university. I was the first in my family to have a child outside of marriage. I was supported and loved, but I was in need.
As a single mother and college student trying to get child support for my son, my attorney advised me to apply for childcare assistance and food stamps. By becoming a “ward of the state,” the government would then fight for me to get child support.
I would become one of them.
I didn’t accept the welfare check. I could have. But instead my parents helped me with expenses, I took out student loans, and I worked different jobs to pay bills. But for a time in my life, I did accept food stamps and child care assistance. It allowed me to complete 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 my son and three roommates who split the bills with us.
Could my parents have just paid my bills? Yes. I could have lived at home with them, 60 miles from my university. But at the time, my parents were dealing with their own financial losses from a flood. I needed to be responsible for my own circumstances.
Was I “lazy” and not working, living off the government “paycheck?” Absolutely not.
I worked for $10 an hour in an internship. I worked every other weekend and one night a week 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 weeknights when my roommates would babysit. Plus, I was a full-time student, taking classes around my work commitments. Most importantly, I was a mother of a toddler trying to make time daily to spend with him.
I had a tremendous support network of my family, loyal friends, neighbors, and church. But I also 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 in 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 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. Years later, $266 a month of child support came through. Did it pay my rent? No. But it paid electricity.
Then when I graduated from college, I earned a salary. I had health insurance. My son was four years old. I called my caseworker and told her I no longer needed to receive benefits. I was breaking free!
Did she congratulate me? Hardly.
She expressed her concern that I wouldn’t be in need anymore. She 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.
Today in my professional role, I work in agriculture for the government. I know the “Farm” Bill is truly the “Food” Bill. You might not be impacted by the food stamp program, but you might be surprised to know all the people around you who are. We are often silent.
Should the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) be subject to cuts? Yes.
My answer might have surprised you. However, if our government is going to live within its means, we have to make cuts in all programs. In 1970, 1 in 50 Americans received food stamps. Today 1 in 7 do. Not every one of those people is going to do what I did. But I believe food stamp recipients need to feel a sense of urgency. They need to be encouraged to find a solution that doesn’t require continuous government assistance.
They need to be empowered to use food stamps as a temporary step to a long-term solution; a solution that includes breaking free of social services.
A special thank you for the encouragement from three friends that also edited my ramblings for this post. Aimee from Everyday Epistle, Leah from Beyer Beware and Nancy from The Wife of A Dairyman were instrumental in moving this post forward that I had neatly tucked away in “drafts” for my own safe keeping. I could not have hit “publish” without their edits, suggestions and most importantly, encouragement to share my voice.
|Thank you to Hunter, for making me a mom.|