Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Form of Payment; Food Stamps With a Side of Guilt

Am I the only person who has literally never seen anyone have a kind word to say about someone using food stamps or other grocery assistance? I witness rude people behind them in the check out line talking very loudly about how horrible it is that people take advantage of the system. I see Facebook friends blast the latest atrocity they witnessed at WalMart on the first of the month with their cart loaded up, cell phone in hand and nails and hair done.

What are you going to do about it?

You aren't going to catch a "poor" bug if you talk nicely to them. Poor is not contagious. If you put as much energy into helping to feed the poor and the needy, as you do whining and crying about the government allowing "scumbags" to take advantage of the system, maybe the government wouldn't have to step in at all. See, before government supported the poor, people used to. Human beings with hearts to take care of others volunteered their food, their money, their time, and even their homes when necessary. Sure, that still happens occasionally, but mostly, it just plain doesn't.

Why am I telling you this?

I have been that girl. I have been the mom holding up the grocery line because the food stamps card isn't working in the machine, or the cashier doesn't know how to process the WIC checks. I have been that mom paying for snack items for my kids, ice cream for a birthday, M&Ms for potty training, or other items you've judged me for. I have been that mom receiving dirty looks from fellow customers, overhearing them talk about all the other ways I must be spending my money. I have been that friend on Facebook who has to read about how awful it is that a woman checking out with food stamps has a cell phone of all things. I have even been that mom swiping the food stamps card with freshly manicured nails. And I have had to block out every ounce of guilt I felt about it every time I heard the whispers, saw the looks, or came home to read all the nasty Facebook status updates about it. I have kept my silence on this topic for a very long time, mostly because of shame or fear of disgusted reactions friends might have, and also because it's really no one's business. But I want to set a few things straight.

My husband works hard...always. When he didn't have an income, he worked hard in school, and at being a great father. Whenever he could, he did work, sometimes working all day in the heat only to come home, grab a quick shower and sandwich, and then head out the door for evening classes. We did things honestly. We reported our income whenever it came in. We also had rent to pay, gas to put in a vehicle, debts to pay off due to expenses coming up during difficult times. We had (still have) cell phones, a computer (complete with internet), and a roof over our heads.

Does having those things mean we shouldn't qualify for food stamps?

That girl in the check out line paying with food stamps while talking on her cell phone probably has the internet too. I bet she even drove to the store in her very own vehicle. Do you think that should be taken from her as well? Why don't we go ahead and remove all of her resources before we're willing to provide some assistance so that then, she's so incapable, she can never get back on her feet at all, or the government has to pay out even more to help her.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Come on people! By helping with the necessities before it's too late, that family has the opportunity to put their money into other things, other resources so that they can educate themselves or find work. And what makes you think they just purchased that nice item while on food stamps? Oh, they have a great camera. They must be taking advantage of the system! Oh, look what they drive! They must be lying about income!  No, no. Not everyone who has fallen on hard times has been falling for so long that they have lost everything. Believe it or not, some people had nice things before they lost their jobs.

To give you a little perspective:

Two of the family vehicles we have owned over the past 4 years have been hand-me-down vehicles from our parents. I was bouncing around in a Lincoln Navigator while paying for some of my groceries with WIC. Our parents have helped us in whatever ways they could, and that was one of them.
I learned how to coupon while on food stamps. And I learned how to make just about anything we wanted from scratch. That ice cream or those candies you saw in my cart, cost the government close to nothing. And that flour and sugar made a cake, bread, and a couple pizzas. Those $1.50 tortilla chips happen to go nicely with the $5 meal I had cooking in the crock pot which would likely feed us for two days. I have children, and while I couldn't give them everything I wanted, I could, at least, make them food.
My cell phone allowed my family to reach me if needed, and allowed me to call 911 if necessary, for goodness sake. We didn't (nor do we now) pay a bill for a home phone, so this is all we have.
We had a computer and internet to pay bills and for Jelani's school work.
The great clothes my kids were wearing were bought by their grandparents or they were awesome hand-me-downs from friends. Their toys were paid for by modeling gigs, and a small Christmas allowance we had. (Seriously, would you begrudge a person putting away a whopping $10 a month for Christmas?)
The nails I had done were dress code for a wedding for which I was a bridesmaid. Not something I do on a regular basis, but so what? Maybe that girl you saw with her hair and nails done was trying to clean up for a job interview, her sister's wedding, or maybe it was a spa day gift from someone who loves her and felt she deserved an afternoon of pampering. I'll bet your sour looks for her form of payment sure put a damper on her day out, looking and feeling, for once, like she wasn't a leper, only to receive your glares.

People, my point is this; not everything is black and white. Not everyone's circumstances are exactly what you think they are or should be. There's already a loaded amount of guilt piled onto a family resorting to food stamps without your judgmental accusations. I had to swallow my pride and guilt every time I purchased something other than a canned good thanks to a Facebook rant from a friend who believed food stamps shouldn't cover anything else. That's not fair.

So, I don't explain myself because I owe anyone an explanation or because I have anything to feel guilty about. I explain for the mom who recently lost her job, after purchasing the new iPhone and 2-year contract it came with. I explain for the mom whose friend just took her to get her hair and nails done so she could forget her problems, if only for a moment. I explain myself for the sake of all the moms out there who are doing the best they can to keep it together during crisis while having to smile at your smug face and pretend it doesn't bother them.

Do some people lie and take advantage of the system? Yes. But not everyone on food stamps or any other kind of assistance for that matter has to have just gotten off the bus, dressed in rags, and in need of a shower. The hope in food stamps, is that they will never get to that point of crisis. So calm down, love them, smile at them with genuine patience and understanding, and maybe, instead of judging that mom who's holding up the line because she went over her food stamps budget and has to put some items back, offer to pay for what she can't matter what it may be. I promise you, it will feel a lot better than ranting online hours later about what an awful waste of space you think that person might be, and it is a much more productive use of the space God has given you to reside.


  1. I am still in this kind of situation. If i got a better paying job i would be more than happy to get out of the system. I am embarrassed that i use food stamps, but i am very grateful i have it as well. It pays for my food.

    1. I know what you mean, but that's what it's there for. I pray that it helps you through these trying times, and you can see that light at the end of the tunnel!