We hear all the time about the welfare state, and the generations of people living on welfare, etc. And being a conservative, that has always driven me batty. “I’m working my butt off to support my family with no assistance, and these people who are perfectly capable for working, just sit on their butts and collect a check which I worked for.” –has been my attitude on it. And this even coming from a social work background.
Now I certainly know that there are people who truly need the assistance, they cannot work or what they can do would not be able to support them. I get that. But having been in and around the social work field since the early 90s, I can promise you that this is not the majority of welfare recipients.
But now I am one of those people. We are receiving SNAP (food stamps) and Medicare. I do not qualify for any other assistance due to the adoption assistance for the twins…$1372 per month. (This number is public knowledge and every state sets their own rates, you can read more about in on the NACAC website.)
It was a VERY humbling experience to apply and have an in person interview for these services to be awarded. I had to prove everything…my kids, my income, my bills, my job loss, my bank balances, etc. I am not sure I have every felt so much shame and failure. But I had to do it, I have four children to take care of. And the only way I got through it was by telling myself – I have paid into this system since I was 15 years old AND this is not a long term solution, just short term assistance. But frankly, I am so embarrassed to go buy groceries and have to use the SNAP card. And while I pray that embarrassment never goes away as that is certainly a lesson in and of itself for me, I am educating our children at the same time and teaching them not to judge people in these situations, as I have for so long.
Needless, to say, we cannot live on $1372 per month, especially when rent on our 2 bedroom, 900 square foot apartment is $1435 per month. So I’m having to continually seek additional assistance (in addition to my job search, odd job, etc.) And it’s in seeking this assistance that I have learned ALOT about this “system” of ours.
I don’t want to write a book here and I could not about my experiences the last couple of months, I do want to give you some highlights. And maybe some food for thought as you think of your charity choices.
- EVERY SINGLE place I’ve applied for help has turned me down. The most common reason…I haven’t received an eviction notice. Something is wrong with this picture to me. So you want a single mom of four to be put out on the street before you step in?
- YOU CANNOT BE RESPONSIBLE and receive assistance. I did not buy my kids Christmas presents. Every dime I get, I put toward bills. We ate ramen for most of the month of December SO that we could have a great Christmas dinner. Yes, that might have been my receipt with a couple of steaks at Christmas time…but if you looked at the rest of the month it was sandwiches and ramen. So when I’ve gone to get help, don’t have an eviction notice and my utilities are just a week or so late…yup, no assistance for you.
- NO ONE EATS expired or weird types of food. We have been blessed beyond measure with food. Thanksgiving basket from a church, turkey from our neighbor and boxes and boxes of cranberry sauce and yams. I am so guilty of this. When one of my kids activities required a canned food drive, I would find whatever we wouldn’t use in our pantry, no matter how long it had been there and send it. Gross! Now I have received those foods. My kids won’t eat them, I won’t eat them. So when you are going to give to a food pantry, give them money…they can buy fresh food, food that people will actually eat. I have a big box in the back of my car of food to donate…because we don’t eat it. But I hesitate to send it back because I hate for another family to get a whole box of cranberry sauce and yams!
- IT IS REALLY HARD to get ahead and by ahead I mean paying your bills on time or at least on time enough not to accrue late fees, when you can only get help when you are SO far behind. Since I’ve known I had this part time job for months now, I also knew that if I got to my start date being so far behind on bills, I would NEVER catch up. And while I knew I wouldn’t make enough to cover all the bills, but I figured I would be able to at least “borrow from paul to pay larry and vice versa every month.) Do you get what I’m saying? But if I am even one day late on my rent, there is a fee of over $400 added on. And with other bills the fee ranges from $5-25. So I knew I needed to stay as current as possible. And by the grace of God, awesome friends and community and family assistance, thus far I’m pretty close to on time (4 bills currently in arrears, 2 due to dog bite medical treatment/insurance fiasco,) but I know not everyone in my situation can. So if you want to help someone who is struggling, don’t give them “stuff” or gift cards and I know most don’t want to give money…but you can, absolutely can, pay a bill for them. It won’t take too much time out of your day to make a phone call or take them to a payment center and pay it. No expectations, no strings, just pay it.
I won’t keep preaching. But I can tell you this, I have changed significantly since starting my BAD journey a couple of years ago now. But these last months have made a forever imprint on my life and my attitudes, I have learned so much about the populations that I have wanted to serve my whole life. And I have learned so much about the systems, they are dealing with, I am dealing with. When I am through this phase in my life, I can promise that I will be paying it forward like a crazy person AND more importantly I will work to help improve the systems/services that are supposed to be “helping” these communities. I think for the most part, they are just holding them down…the responsible ones that is. And I promise you there is more than just me that falls into that latter category!
I know the holidays are over and I know this is a debt pay off blog, but I will tell you this, if you are reading this, there are others who are a whole lot worse off then you. I challenge you to reach out, lend a hand, even during your payoff journey.