The Other Side Of Food Stamps: What No One Is Saying

There is so much confusion, hate, and judgement thrown out when the topic of government assistance is brought up. The people who are not saying much though, are those who have actually been in the awful situation to have to use those services. I’m not talking about the ones who abuse the system, because you will have those in any situation. I’m talking about the ones whom the system was actually made for. Those whom, despite their best efforts, still need a little help. They remain stoically quiet, usually out of shame and embarrassment. They shouldn’t feel ashamed though.

Sometimes things go horribly wrong, through no fault of your own, and you are left with some very hard choices. I was one of those people.

I became very sick when I was pregnant with our first child. I was unable to even come to work most days. We decided with my health concerns, the extra cost of day care and two cars, that it was best for me to leave work and stay home. We had always planned for me to be a stay at home mom any way. So, although a little sooner than planned, I left my full time management position. We were very happy with this decision. That is, until my husband lost his job.

We never expected it to be so hard to find something else. My husband had specific schooling, experience and passion to make him very good at what he did. The only problem was that there were no jobs like that out there. He began to look for anything he could find. However, his background actually made it harder for him to find even entry level jobs. He was even turned down for some jobs because he was over qualified. Those companies were nice about it, tried to be encouraging. They told him he should apply for jobs in his field. How were they to know there was nothing available?

I had a lot more experience in retail, which were the jobs available in our area at the time. So I went to work. Those jobs didn’t pay much though, when you are a single income family. In the blink of an eye we went from middle class to just barely above minimum wage. It was better than nothing though, and we were grateful for that.

I know the things some people will say. Some even said it to us at the time. “If you budget better, you won’t be so bad off.” “Have an emergency fund.” Why doesn’t your husband go to work too?” “Why don’t you look for a better job?” I know they meant well, but it was not helpful, and at times made me very angry.

Without sitting down and going over our budget line by line, there really wasn’t a way to make people understand that we couldn’t do that. There were no jobs. Our income was not enough to cover our bills, let alone fund any sort of savings. It would have been worse if both of us were working because of child care and transportation. We already paid off all our credit cards before my husband lost his job, and had cut out all unnecessary expenses.

There were days I had to decide between getting clothes for our son, paying the electric bill, or putting fuel in the car to get to work. When you are picking between basic needs, then you know there is nothing left.

It is a very soul draining, not being able to provide for the basic needs of your family. It is hard to describe what it was like. You let go of a lot. Lower your standards. You start looking at all you own in terms of dollar signs. What can you sell just to get by one more week. Small things become major things, like spilling a bowl of cereal. You don’t just get frustrated by the mess, you have a small panic attack because pouring an extra bowl might mean later this week you will have to go with out.

Even while I’m writing this I have a knot in my chest just remembering how it felt living like that day to day. I swear we came so close to being homeless some days. If it had not been for the family and friends God had placed in our lives, I think we probably would have.

I remember the day I went to the Family Services office. I sat in the car, a nervous wreck. How did we get here? This was not suppose to happen. I walked in and they took my complete family history. They asked things I didn’t even know was necessary information, like where we lived six years ago, or our height and weight. Our entire life was under scrutiny, and I felt like a complete failure. I was so grateful that we had help though. There was no way we would have made it other wise.

There are many people who believe that assistance services are a major flaw in our society. I am a strong conservative myself, and at times I agree with them. Biblically, God wanted the churches to take care of those who need help. Sadly, churches have dropped the ball in that area though. I don’t feel like this is a liberal or conservative issue, but a heart issue. If we want to claim that our country is one founded on Christian beliefs, then it’s not so far off for our government to take up the call, especially if the churches will not. What ever else may be wrong with our government, and whether we agree with the way things are done or not, in the end we opened the door for bureaucracy to care for the poor by doing nothing ourselves.

There are most definitely some serious flaws in the system, I’m not going to lie. It’s almost designed to keep people in a cycle of destruction. For example, they provide way too much money for food in my opinion. While it fluctuates, there were several months we received $1000 for groceries. Who in the world spends $1000 on groceries? Those who rely on it don’t learn how to budget, or bargain shop or make things from scratch. I always had money left over at the end of the month. The more children you have, the more money you get as well. So there is no incentive to live a more responsible lifestyle.

The health care assistance was even worse about enabling dependence. It held your children hostage. Before the recent health care changes, it used to be that only children and pregnant women were covered under health care. There were no co-pays, no deductibles, no medical bills at all. Everything was taken care of 100%. As long as you could find the gas money to get to the doctor, you never had to worry about the bill later. No job, no matter how posh, offers that kind of coverage. Any time we got a raise or found a better paying job, I was always scared when I went to update our information. What if we didn’t qualify anymore? How would I afford it if the kids got sick? We wanted to get out of the situation we were in, so I had to have faith that we would be cared for. I can totally see why some refuse to find a better situation though.

Job assistance programs are designed for those who are just starting out. For some one with higher education, and previous employment, it’s very unlikely to find higher paying positions in their fields at any job fair or temp agency. They are helpful to find something to get by, and something is better than nothing. However, if you are wanting something that can actually support your family on a long term basis, you will have to do a lot of hunting on your own.

You have to have the drive to get yourself out and make a better life for yourself.

It took a lot longer than I would have chosen, but we no longer have to rely on those services to make it through. My husband found a job that would provide for our family, and I was finally able to stay at home like we always wanted. Even then, it took a year before things balanced out completely. We had a lot of ground to make up.

I thank God every day that we are no longer in that situation. In a lot of ways, what I learned during that time has made life easier for us once we got back on our feet. We learned what we could live with out.

Even though we are no longer in that situation, I completely empathize with those that are. I get defensive when I hear people being judgmental of those who rely on social services. I get upset when I hear about people taking advantage of the system that was designed to help those in need. At times I regret that such a system exists at all, since it shouldn’t have fallen to the government in the first place.

In the end, I think it’s important to be encouraging and uplift one another. Breaking the silence is a start. Helping those who are stuck in that cycle is even better. Nothing changes if we keep to ourselves and leave it up to others to clean up the mess. Even a smile or a kind word goes a long way. You never know if it’s the very thing that desperate person needs just to make it through one more day.

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2 Comments

  1. Rebecca

    Well said. I must say it’s nice to know I’m not alone with negative feelings about my family being on food stamps. I know it’s only temporary, but it’s been a bit longer than I’d like it to be. I hate the looks and comments we get.

    • TreeMum

      Rebecca, you are definitely not alone. I think there are more people out there in that situation than we know. The comments and looks were the worst, even those well intended. Hang in there! We will pray for your family. Have courage, and know that you are an amazing mother and wife!

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