I woke up today to a post on Facebook that said Indianapolis was going to provide breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge. One of the comments below that post made my heart hurt.
“We do have food stamps for those going through hard times. You know in our day we worked and provided for our kids. I am so afraid many parents are spending their money on themselves for alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs…”
Having grown up below the poverty level, I know my mom was forced to apply for Food Stamps while I was a kid. I didn’t have much to do with it at that time, but when I was older, I was released from the dreaded box store’s corporate slave camp and needed them.
I was released after five and a half years for too many customer complaints. At least that is what they put on the paperwork. The reality was, it was 2009 and the economy had tanked. The box store was trying to figure out how to save a dime and I had put myself in a bad position by missing too many days of work while my dad was dying. Apparently, the company comes before dying parents.
I ended up unemployed much longer than I expected and used up all of my unemployment benefits without being able to get a job. My friends helped as much as they could, but the economy was bad and I lived in a poor county in rural Missouri. There just weren’t enough jobs.
When I applied for assistance, I was depress, demoralized, humiliated, and afraid. I had been eating pancakes for a week because the mix and syrup were cheap and could be mixed with water.
The Social worker had been dealing with the situation for a while and was ticked off at the abuses she had been seeing as a result of corporate greed. She went about trying to get me what benefits she could.
I had no income at that time, so I qualified for the maximum Food Stamp benefits of $200. I was single, had no children and I wasn’t pregnant, so that was the only assistance I could get.
I took what I could get, but knew it hadn’t improved my situation much.
After all, I had zero income. That meant I couldn’t pay my utilities or buy basic supplies. With EBT, I could get food, but how would I cook without propane or electric? I couldn’t afford toilet paper or soap either and none of that was covered on EBT. The only reason I didn’t worry about being homeless was because I had managed to pay off my parents house.
The house had issues. The roof leaked and the contractor I’d hired to fix it disappeared with the money and never came back. It rained in my upstairs bedroom, so I moved down stairs. After a while it started raining down there, too.
My situation was not a good one. I had few friends, no family help, no resources, and no job or job prospects, and not enough money to move.
What I had was a leaky roof over my head, $200 a month in Food Stamps, severely damaged pride, and a bad case of clinical depression that made it hard to get out of bed and nearly impossible to keep looking for a job.
A friend who ate out a lot suggested I could cook for him and another friend and they would pay me. I bought the groceries and cooked at his place and they gave me money so I could buy necessities like soap and toilet paper.
When I was able to find a part time job, my food stamps dropped to $10 a month. It cost about that in gas to drive to the office, so I let my claim expire and tried to live on part time at a dollar over minimum wage.
The reason the woman feared that Food Stamp recipients were using their money for drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes is because of the brain washing perpetrated by mass media.
The media has villainized people on assistance programs by running stories about a few who abused the system. The American people have accepted those exceptions as a true representation of the whole because they never hear about the true majority. They don’t know people like me exist.
People who have never walked the rocky path cast judgment on those who do and feel superior to those who need the assistance without understanding what that assistance actually means or the reason it is needed.
I don’t smoke. I have had one alcoholic drink in the past six months. I do not and have never taken illegal drugs. I can’t afford medical care or prescriptions, so even the legal ones are off limits to me. But knowing what you know now, if I did take drugs, could you blame me for wanting the release from the pain and depression?
The next time you hear about someone who has abused the system remember me and know that there is another side to that story the media will never report. Learn to offer help and compassion, not judgement and the world will be a different place.