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.|
This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. I wish we could encourage everyone, welfare recipient or not to have your drive, determination and desire to stand on your own two feet. Here in Australia I fear we are becoming so disenfranchised by our ‘nanny’ state rules that we just expect the government to do everything for us. I hope that this post might empower someone who needs help to ask for it and motivate someone else to take the first step towards independence.
Your story is much like my daughters except her then boyfriend took responsibility and is now a loving father to my three granddaughters. They both have masters degrees now and have more than payed back that they received from social services. The world desperately need more people like you!
Prairie Mother says
This is a great post! I admit I’ve never given much thought to food stamps or welfare program. I know though my family could have qualified growing up (7 kids, dad was a mechanic and mom drove school bus) but my parents were too proud to even ask for help with paying for school lunches. You have given me a lot to think about. Thanks for breaking your silence!
You set a great example. I hope that most people who find themselves needing assistance see it as a temporary stepping stone to better times, but I’m afraid that may not be the case for many. I can’t find fault in the rest of us lending a helping hand to those willing to help themselves in the long run, and it’s obvious you have that attitude.
Aimee @ everydayepistle.com says
Beautiful, Katie. Absolutely beautiful and inspiring. So proud to call you my friend! Thanks for the call out to everyday epistle. Will be linking to you and your story of true hope and change today.
While I never had food stamps, I was in a similar situation when my oldest son was born. My boyfriend at the time (now husband) however was always there, but he wasn’t making that much money and had private insurance that wouldn’t cover delivery. I was still on my parents’ insurance, which luckily did cover the delivery, since I was still in college.
We talked to social services and were able to get the baby on kid connection (medicaid) and we were eligible for WIC, which helped a ton with formula and milk in general. It’s not something that I brag about, but I’m sure thankful for it. I didn’t work for those last two semesters of college, because daycare was so expensive and I was borderline enough to not be eligible for state aid for that, it would have costed me more to work than to just go home and get my studying done.
When I landed a decent job right out of college, even though it didn’t have benefits right away, the extra income made us ineligible for the benefits we’d been receiving from the state, but we were ready. Things were still tight, but we made it. I’m so thankful to have those things in a time where they were very much needed, but I am even more thankful that I was able to get to work and get away from the assistance and that it was no longer necessary.
Katie, the kind of honesty here is something that I applaud you for. The rhetoric from both parties rarely helps people understand a tough issue like this. Having worked in a grocery store throughout high school, I saw lots of folks on public assistance come in. In a small neighborhood, I think it became clear quickly that many of the folks were like you, not proud of needing help, but willing to take it because it was needed and they looked for better long-term. Sure there seemed to be a few lifers, but in my experience that wasn’t the norm. I hope reform comes in a way that will truly help us get a system that meets the goal of encouraging people to create a better life for themselves and their families. It will take education and training for some who like you know that’s the way to move ahead and take some pushing for others. Hold your head high girl, Hunter’s mom did good! jp
Love this post!! Several years ago we had a “rough winter.” My husband swallowed his pride and tried to get food stamps for us, telling them it was just for a few weeks. We knew by spring we would be on our feet again. He was informed that we could sell our tractor if we needed money for food. Somehow, we survived without government assistance, but I can understand how you felt. We (and you) didn’t want it to be a lifestyle, only what it should be. Assistance while you are working to make things better. Congratulations for all you’ve accomplished.
Kelly M. Rivard says
Katie, I’m proud of you. For stepping up and talking about something that is neither easy nor common.
As someone whose family relied on food stamps for a time, I’m often offended by the people who say that welfare programs are for “the lazy.” My father was working two full-time jobs. My mother was decorating cakes, baking, canning, and babysitting on top of staying home with four kids under the age of 10. My family wasn’t lazy – we were anything but. But several bad years on the farm and the construction industry’s tank (my father was both a farmer and a construction worker) left my family in need.
Thank you for being brave and sharing “our” story. And thank you for using the system as it is meant to be used, so that others may see the good it can do short-term.
Dakotapam @ Its Time for More Coffee says
What a beacon of light you are! We have choices in life, and you have chosen to make your life a light. I’m proud to call you a friend, and I think that our times of need can help us to help others better. I think social services do have their part, as a “hand-up”, not a “hand-out”. Thank you for sharing.
This is a great post and really hit home for me. Thank you for sharing.
The Wife of a Dairyman says
Katie, you’re one of the most brave and self motivated friends I have. SUCH an inspiration, more than you even know, so proud of you 🙂 ~nancy
Jennifer Dewey says
Katie- Oh how the world would be a better place if we had more people in this world like you! I will admit it. My relationship with people who do indeed use food stamps hasn’t been the best. BUT let me explain why. Living in my heavily populated part of the world (California) for most of my life, I experienced person after person who simply abused the system. They would walk into my work (where I was working sometimes 60 hours a week for a paycheck) with their nails done, carrying a purse that cost more than mine, designer jeans, young kids in tow, and then they would buy $40.00 worth of deli sandwiches and pay with food stamps. Yes, it made me seriously upset. Do you know how much groceries you could buy for $40.00!? Our government has put something in place as assistance when you need it. And your experience, your example is EXACTLY the reason why it was put into place. So no, I don’t lump you with the rest of the people receiving assistance. I don’t judge you for ever receiving food stamps in your life. You were responsible, you took charge of your own life, and you took some assistance when you needed it. And that says a whole lot about your character and the way you live your life. You continually remain a stand out and shining example throughout my life. And I feel so very proud to have met you and even more so, able to call you friend. Fabulous post Katie and way to go to be brave, stand up, and share something with us that may not be something you are proud of. But in fact you should be proud of because look at how far you’ve come. And the life you have now made for yourself. 🙂 And thank you for sharing and for inspiring the rest of us!
Katie: I love this post! I am inspired. I, too, was a single mom for many years. I was on a social assistance program in my province for almost 18 months. This program, at the time, was not (supposed to be) a ‘hand out’ but a ‘hand up’. They sponsored me to take an administrative course and kept a roof over the heads of me and my kids while I completed it. Once I got a full-time job, I ‘resigned’ from the program. I did this quite happily. At the time, I also took advantage of our provincial government’s milk program. This program provided a weekly supply of milk for low income families. I did make use of that for a year or so as well. Did I like being on social assistance? Absolutely not! But I did it at a very difficult and transitional point in my life in order to take care of my kids. Since that time, I established myself in a job and eventually went back to school and got a couple of degrees.
The ‘system’ (I use the term broadly here as there are different programs that cross many institutional and geopolitical boundaries) can work for some that use it appropriately. Often the ‘incentive’ turns into a ‘disincentive’ though. That’s the crux of the problem. I like to think of my story (and yours) as examples of success’ stories.
Congrats Katie for sharing your story. It is inspiring. I have always admired your strength, passion and faith from north of the border. You are an example to us all in so many ways! Keep sharing!
Chrisanne Timpe DuPuis says
Hi Katie – I often read your posts and silently feel so proud of you, after so many years of not keeping in touch. But this time I’ve got to take a second to say: you are amazing. Always have been, always will be. 🙂 Thanks for encouraging us all to keep thinking…
Chrissie (Timpe) DuPuis
Mother of One 🙂
Celeste Laurent Harned says
Thank you for writing this Katie.
I have a friend who is in a similar situation and as hard as he works for his family he never feels like he’ll get his head above the water and break free of “the system.” I’m sending him a link to this post because I really think your story will help him see that his hard work is worth it and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m sure it was terrifying for you to put yourself out there like this but I hope you know that you’ll be an inspiration to many people like my friend.
Colleen Cecil says
Brillant Katie! Bravo to your courage and your character as a human being. I feel very blessed to call you a friend. Thank you for making a difference.
My two acres says
You are a courageous woman. This is such a great post. Thank you for sharing.
Leah Beyer says
Katie, I am so extremely proud to call you friend and ND sister. You just humanized this very contentious issue for many of us. I think we need to remember what the objectives of government support programs are and then continue to focus on how to help people not need the support. Your courage is inspiring for many young moms out there. Thank you for being so very raw with all your readers.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — “If Katie sounds like a pretty neat person, you should meet her IN person. She’s the real deal.”
Ariel Price says
This is such an inspiring story! Thank you for finally sharing. I know many people in similar situations. It shouldn’t be a shame to receive temporary help from a government that we all pay taxes to and is supposed to be there to help the people. I really appreciate your unbiased opinion on the Farm Bill. Sometimes it’s hard to know what would actually work.
Lisa Park says
You are the perfect picture of a person who not only qualifies but deserves assistance. Your family before you have worked and paid in yet never received benefits. You yourself were working towards a goal, Not sitting and reproducing just to get a check. You had a goal and you achieved it!! As a teen mom myself who never accepted help I applaud you!! My 3 children are now 26, 24, and 18!! Praise God for people like you and me who do not give up!!
Katie, your story is pure inspiration; thank you for sharing despite feeling tentative about publishing it. I have loved ones who have also used short-term govt. support in times of crisis and it helped them get back on their feet and go on to achieve great things.
On the other side of the coin, 96% of the teenagers I teach are on free-or-reduced lunch and many of their families are long-terms users of govt. support systems. We’ve had frank discussions about this in the classroom. For my students, exposing them at school to the possibilities of life without long-term government help and then supporting them and pushing them to attend post-secondary ed and learn how to manage finances is the key, as they lack consistent support systems outside of school and many of their own families are entrenched in a cycle of hopelessness and dependency – even with full-time jobs. Sadly, the problem runs a lot deeper than “abusing the system” when the system is all you know. Aside from piling more work onto schools, how can we change this culture, which is so different from the “guilt” and “shame” you or I might feel for using programs as they’re actually meant to be used?
Anyhow, thank you for your very personal story. It takes a brave person to be so candid! I applaud you for speaking out.
Peace and blessings,
Carrie Mess says
I grew up not knowing that HeadStart wasn’t just another name for preschool. It was for low income kids and I was one of them. I have vague memories of food stamps at the grocery store. I don’t remember the women’s emergency shelter we lived in.
That being said, I wholeheartedly feel that our assistance programs need massive overhauls to prevent fraud and waste. I see people abusing the system while farm families in need don’t qualify because their tractors, land and cattle are considered assets and they “make too much money”. Change is needed, thank you for highlighting your story.
Rhubarb and Venison says
Thanks for sharing this, Katie. I never understood why people are against providing funds to feed others. Yes, it’s not a perfect system, but few things are – it’s important to be able to connect with others, not just see food stamp users as shadowy, anonymous figures at the end of grocery check-out line.
It is important to have these conversations so lessen the stigma people feel when they are in need. It also helps discussions take place to help reform and make necessary changes where people are falling thru the gap, while others make it a way of life. Here they waste so much free food in the mornings at school and at lunch, where it should be given to others who need it. It is so wasteful I have a sister who uses the bagels for pizzas for her kids instead of of tossing all of them. It is sad. Nobody should go hungry and yet it happens. Thanks for sharing your story…
I am so proud to call you my friend! You are a hero and role model. Hunter and your beautiful gals are so lucky to have such a wonderful hardworking mama.
Bless you, Katie!!
You are a courageous and beautiful woman. Thank you for believing in yourself and sharing your talents. You are an inspiration.