Working For Your Food Stamps

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OK.  I try REALLY hard not to get into politics on my blog. 

I mean, I will preach with the best of them that we all need to be educated about the candidates and get out the vote.  It’s not just your right as an American,  it’s your duty.

But, I figure you have no burning urge to hear which candidate I support or why. 

I’ll tell you this much, so you know where I’m coming from…

I think capitalism is a beautiful thing, when allowed to work without obstruction.  I think personal liberty is of awesome value.  I think that politicians should be moral, AND they should allow others to work out their own morality (within reasonable bounds).  I think that “the system” is broken in 1,000 different ways and needs to be completely over-hauled.  I think the constitution is an amazing document that should be followed much more closely than it is.

But this is REALLY bothering me.

I keep seeing this image on Facebook:

I’ve seen it over and over and over again.

I also get this one every few days:

Each time, I get more and more angry.

It’s good to control your anger, but sometimes I think it’s good and right to be mad.

I am furious.

Since I can’t realistically, post a 1,000 word vent on Facebook, I’m going to do it here.  Feel free to argue with my reasoning, if you must.  I am all for the exchange of worthy ideas, but hear me out first, please.

I worked for 2 years in a local food pantry.  I served hundreds of families.  Nearly all of them were on food stamps.

Some of them had iPhones, manicures, pedicures, new cars and other lovely things, as referenced above.

Before you put on your fancy black judge’s robe…  allow me to introduce a few of the folks I met over the years.

Mrs. X was in her late 20’s.  She drove a gorgeous, late-model truck & ALWAYS had her hair and nails done.  She had an iPhone.  She had 2 small children at home.  She explained to me, once, that her husband of 5 years had left her for parts unknown.  She’d not seen or heard from him, or had a single penny of child support since.  She worked a full-time and a part-time job, trying to make ends meet.  They were both far below her education level, but it was the only work she could get.  She had no family to help her so a massive portion of her income went to pay for 60+ hours of child care each week.  She couldn’t afford a landline or internet at home (in her 1 bedroom apartment where she slept on the sofa each night) so she invested in a smart phone in order that she could combine those two services for less cost.  It’s nearly impossible to apply for jobs without a phone and internet.   She was upside down on her vehicle loan (which she’d taken out when she was still married), so was stuck with it.  A neighbor, who worked in a local salon, kept her hair and nails done as a favor, to help her look the part of a professional when she went on interviews.  She cried in my office one day, because someone at the store had made a remark about her pretty nails and her food stamps.

If you could have been the person making those remarks, what would you suggest she do differently?

Then there was Mr. Y.  He screwed up.  He made very poor choices and ended up in prison.  While in jail, he got clean and sober and worked hard on his education.  When he got out, everyone in this tiny town knew what he had done.  The only work he could get was as a dishwasher, making minimum wage.  At less than $8 per hour, his take home pay was about $1,000 a month.  Could you live on that?  Yes, he made his bed… but haven’t we all? It’s easy to understand why criminals turn back to their crime, when you hear things like this.  Crime is the only way to make a decent living for them!  And then… to have to be told, after spending a day in a 100+ degree room scraping other people’s food waste into the trash, that you didn’t work for your food stamps? 

How much harder should Mr. Y work?  Or do you think he should starve to death on the streets because of the foolish things he did as a young man?

How about Mrs. Z?  She was married with 7 kids.  Her husband had a great job in a factory.  They were doing ok until he was in a motorcycle accident and broke his back.  Savings and social security carried them for a while.  Having gotten married right out of school, she had no higher education and no work experience.  Child care cost for 7 children, not to mention care for her husband, made working outside of the home out of the question. 

Would you like to take away her food stamps?

I saw people struggling to educate themselves, overcoming addictions, and working at every job they could get.  There were young mothers who’d been abandoned by their men and at least 2 young men (only just barely 18) who’d been abandoned by their mothers.  There were families that were devestated by the closing of nearly every major factory within driving distance of us.  There were folks with college degrees working part time at fast food restaurants because that’s the only work there was to be had.  There were people who struggled through high school who couldn’t even get work at McDonald’s because, after all, why would they hire a dyslexic 19 year old with no work experience when they can hire a college graduate with management training?

Some of those people owned nice things… maybe they got a really fancy phone FOR FREE with a contract.  Maybe, like Mrs. X, they were stuck with something that they really could afford at the time they got it.  Maybe they had traded services or goods with someone. 

These people were NOT the lazy moochers you (I’m speaking to the people who post things like those above) seem to think they are.

What a catch 22! 

If they own nice things, regardless of how they got them, and take care to look nice,  they get judged as playing the system.

If they live in a rusty car and wear grubby clothes, they get judged as disgusting and dirty.

What in the world are these people supposed to do?!

Now…

Are there people who play the system to get something for nothing? 

Yes. 

I can think of 3 that I worked with at the food pantry. 

That’s 3 people out of HUNDREDS.

It was, BY FAR, the exception and not the rule.

Further, only a handful of the pantry’s clients kept returning for any significant length of time.  Most of them just needed a helping hand during, what was often, the very worst part of their lives.

Before you climb up on your high horse and criticize someone for collecting “welfare,” maybe you should take a moment to ask yourself if you know the whole situation.  

Maybe that woman in her pajamas just worked a 14 hour shift in a crappy menial-labor job and came home to get 2 hours of sleep before she was woken by her hungry children telling her there was no milk in the house and THAT’S why she’s at Wal-Mart in her pajamas.

Maybe not.

But the point is, you don’t know. 

If you have been able to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and you have never needed to ask anyone for help… well…. you are truly extraordinary.  Good for you! Well done!  You should write a book because we could all learn from you.  But I’d be willing to bet that there is not a single person out there who has never needed some form of assistance.  Just because your assistance came from a friend, business assosciate, relative, etc, instead of from the government doesn’t make you more self-sufficient.  It makes you richly blessed.

Leave the judging to God. He’s more informed than you are.

I feel like I should apologize for ranting.  But the truth is, I’m just not sorry.  Some things need to be said.  And, darn it, I am angry.

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

 

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36 responses »

  1. Amen! I see those same photos on Facebook and the judgmental attitudes behind them drive me insane. I’ll have to start directing people to this post because you’ve explained it spot on.

    • The fact that someone else did that work is a common fallacy. The energy is from oil and shoulders of giants who have engineered machines that can do no work a man can do. People work less than they did back in the day, yet we have far more. Why is that? That’s energy, not work a human has done. Food stamp recipients are simply living off of dead trees! Those lucky enough to have work have nothing to do with this energy. Those arrogant enough to call it theirs don’t realize they will need to get leaders intelligent enough to provide contract of exchange so others too have to opportunity to give back instead of just eating dead old trees. They’ll probably complain their hours will be lowered that some scab is trying to feed his family. These people actually take credit for things they never could do without oil! So arrogant and ignorant. Its too bad the poor have to be their target. There people are un-American, they lack pride, nationhood and patriotism with this selfish stupid attitude.

  2. Thanks for sharing these stories. My internal rumblings on this and other topics are more compassionate when I consider faces instead of philosophies.

    • I totally get that. It makes my stomach turn to think of the idea (in general) of the government choosing from whom to take money and to whom to give it, and in what amounts. But the truth is, when left to our own devices, we’d let the poor starve. Seeing these very real people struggle to feed their families changed my opinions in powerful ways.

  3. Liz, there are Millions that work the system,I lived in El Paso for 2-1/2 years,saw thousands of illegal with food stamps ,Tony Jr worked atCircle K and saw cards with $1500 worn of stamps, they are used for Cruises,Casinos,Drugs, that is the side you left out

    • I didn’t leave it out. I fully agreed that there are people who play the system. They certainly are out there. People who are in this country without proper documentation are breaking the law, as are people who use food stamps for cruises or drugs. People who break the law should be prosecuted. I have no problem with that. Stealing food stamps, or using them fraudulently is no different than stealing from a retail store or breaking any other law. But for however many are using federal assistance fraudulently, there are far more who are desperate for help. There was never a single person I worked with who came to the food pantry with a “Hooray! Free stuff!” mentality. They wept and shook and blushed with embarrassment because they weren’t able to care for themselves and they were “reduced” to begging for help. Taking help away from families like these can not be the answer to stopping abuse by criminals any more than closing retail stores is the answer to putting an end to shoplifting.

    • I humbly confess that I was at the Dollar store in my pajama pants yesterday because I’d been cleaning house in them and I needed light bulbs and I was too lazy to change. In my defense, they are very snazzy PJs.

  4. It drives me crazy when people take one or two instances of system abuse and use a wide brush stroke to paint everyone receiving governmant assistance as lazy and entitled. I agree with you 100%!

  5. You’ve made great points. I always hate situations like this because there is always another side to the story. God is the judge, I am His servant. What have I done to make a difference for people in need? ARGGGGG you make me think

    • Hahaha! If I made you think it was a successful post. I don’t care if the whole world agrees with me 100%. I just want people to give these issues some honest careful thought instead of making snap decisions. Our welfare system has some serious flaws and, over and above that, I’m not a huge fan of government choosing where our money goes…. but until someone comes up with a better plan OR (how wonderful it would be) we start voluntarily correcting the underlying issues that lead to poverty this is the system we must work with.

  6. I understand where you’re coming from on the other stories…
    but I don’t understand stories like “Mrs. X.”

    Why would anyone work a full time AND a part time job… only to spend “a massive portion” of it on childcare? Instead, couldn’t “Mrs. X” have just used her part time job to pay the bills, and then spend the rest of the time doing fun, cheap/free things with her children? I feel like having a job in order to send your kids away is stupid. There are TONS of activities that can be done with children that cost absolutely nothing. 60 plus hours is a ridiculously large amount of time, which I’m sure would cost a lot of money. Sure, take food stamps, but what’s the point of taking food stamps and paying strangers to care for your children and getting just in general even more stressed???

    • I agree… and I don’t know the reasons behind her choices, but if she’s being judged harshly while working overtime, how much worse would it be if she were only working part time? Sadly, our society doesn’t view mothering as “a real job.” That’s a whole other giant can of worms!

  7. I see these and I grow livid, furious, insane in fact. Worse I see some of them from family members who grew up and needed help, who didn’t always have food on the table or clothes when they needed them. They have forgotten.

    Our lack of compassion and empathy for our neighbors our fellow citizens is beyond the pale. We are become a nation of vipers. I am saddened by this.

    You should not apologize for this, not once. This was extremely well said.

    • Yes! A woman who I know received all kinds of help from the government, family and the church during a terrible time in her life, back in the 80s. Without it she would have ended up hungry and homeless. With it she was able to rebuild her life. Now she is always the first to talk about “those lazy welfare people.” I just can’t understand it!

      Sent from my Kindle Fire

  8. I agree 100%. Well said. I wrote grants for 2 years for a food pantry that served our working poor. I also have volunteered in our local hypothermia shelter personally getting to know our community’s homeless. I find that people who work with these communities generally see the assistance as necessary and deserved. Most often, the people who judge are folks who don’t have any personal experience in this area. I think if a person feels the need to judge, they should first serve as a volunteer and see if their opinions hold up to reality. sure some people work the system, but if we cut off all the genuinely needy just to ensure a few don’t get away with a pilfered food stamp, then I say we’re no better than those who work the system in the first place.

    Also, I don’t think a lot of people realize that stores like target and walmart, and hotels, restaurants and fast food chains too, can afford to sell cheap stuff because they pay their employees wages that amount to 200% of the poverty level or less. Those employees work 40, 60 or more hours per week but still don’t get a living wage, so they need food stamps to get by. If we don’t want to support food stamps, then lets support a living wage for hardworking people who would much rather provide for themselves. In my opinion, anyone who works a 40 hour week should make enough money for food and shelter. period.

    thanks for the post. i guess i’m angry too.

    • Well said! And an excellent argument for supporting small local business as well. Maybe if enough people get angry enough we can not only get rid of foodstamps all together but eradicate the problems that lead to poverty in the first place.

      Sent from my Kindle Fire

  9. Very well said. It is easy to judge people without knowing the whole story. I have been lucky in my life to have family and friends who have been there to help us when we needed it. And now we are lucky to be able to help others. If we could all remember that instead of judging each other we should be helping one another, I think we would all be better off.

  10. I was just going to write: LazyHippieMama for president, then I saw you said the same thing! Great minds think alike. I so wholeheartedly agree with this post. Please bring MORE politics into your blog, this was fantastic.

    BTW – on a less serious side:
    I am also stopping by to let you know that I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award! Please stop by halfpastnormal to claim your well-deserved prize and get more details. Have a fantastic day!
    xo Angela http://halfpastnormal.wordpress.com

  11. I love this! My parents are ultra conservative and would be on the aniti-food stamp band wagon, and when I took over a year off to stay home with my first (even though I had some student loan debt racked up), they treated me like I was some lazy good for nothing… even though we were comfortably living on my husband’s salary, just not paying off the debt. Some people are just crazy in their heads!

    • Isn’t it crazy? At the same time, if you’d put your baby in daycare and gone off to work outside the home someone else would have judged your commitment to motherhood. People are so fast to condemn other’s choices…. it’s disturbing!

  12. I have mixed feelings on the whole subject. while I do believe that the majority of the people who rcv public assistance do actually have a legitimate need, I personally know people ( more than two separate persons) that abuse the system because frankly they are too lazy to do for themselves. ( I’m ashamed to admit that I am related to most of the people I am referring to) I have “liked” many of the posts you refer to and possibly have shared them, (really my memory is bad enough that I don’t remember if I have or not) because these are the people I have in mind when I read those posts. my little family actually had the need recently to use food stamps and visit food pantry’s. so I do know first hand how it feels to have a need be filled ( and have that much less worry about the future of our lives).

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