As politicians threaten to cut public anti-poverty benefits, we are bringing you true stories from Americans who’ve received various forms of welfare and food stamps. Life on the dole is not as easy as some might think.
I am not ashamed
This is a topic that I often find is incredibly misunderstood.
I live in St. Paul, Minnesota and I have lived here for about 3 years. I’ve lived in different cities in Minnesota all my life. I am a 25 year old, white, single, child-free woman and I receive food assistance totaling about $160 a month. I have just started it a month ago, but 5 years ago I also received it for about a year.
I work 21 hours a week at a gas station near my home at $8.50 an hour. I also attend law school full-time. The thing with law school is you must sign an agreement with your school saying you will only work 20 hours a week while in school, in order to focus fully. This causes problems for those of us who do not have trust funds or dead rich grandparents. My rent is split between me and a roommate ($865 total) and then about $100 in utilities, not including phone bills. My monthly bills often total over $1,000 and getting about $600 a month just doesn’t cut it. Without food support, I would literally starve.
It’s not a matter of not “working hard enough” or being lazy. It’s about how in order to “make it” in this world, you are often required to shoulder the burden of hundreds of thousands of debt and somehow still pay all your bills and eat regularly. I am trying to become a successful lawyer who helps her community and changes the world and in order to do that I need a degree. In order to get a degree, I need food assistance. I don’t feel as if there should be some extraordinary experience in my life that somehow “makes it okay” that I’m getting help. I shouldn’t need a sob story of a disabled family member, or a death in the family, or unexpected triplets. Society is designed for me to fail. Food support will help me succeed.
I am not ashamed of being on public assistance.
It can happen to anyone
I receive food stamps. $194 a month. I haven’t been able to work for years because I’ve been sick. My mother works, but barely makes enough to make ends meet. It’s not easy to feed two people on $194 a month. I’m on the mend and should be able to start working again within the next few months.
Please let people know that this can happen to anyone. My dad had been making over $100,000 a year since the early 80s but had to sign up for food stamps once he lost his job in ‘08. Thankfully, he’s now retired and collecting $60,000 a year from his pension and Social Security.
I live in Denver, CO and I am 46 years old. I have been here downtown for about 10 years, 5 of those in the house I am currently in. I have always had a steady job, the last one for an architecture firm for 7 years. I left for a new job in August of last year and realized I made a big mistake. I wasn’t happy with the new job and knew that I needed to find something else. Then I fell.
I thought I had just hurt my back and it would heal but ..it didn’t. I fell again in the shower and the sciatic nerve pain hit hard in my left leg. I didn’t know what was going on, I had never had pain like that. Long story short, the Chiropractor I started seeing lost interest in me when he realized I couldn’t afford to come in a couple of times a week. Even though I have always had a steady job, I still lived check to check, not surprising being at how expensive Denver has become. I kept telling myself I would heal. Then the sciatic nerve pain hit in the right leg and I couldn’t walk for a month. I lost the job that I hated and the insurance that came with it (which didn’t cover chiropractic care anyways.) I applied for unemployment and the company I was working for immediately disputed it. Those benefits are on hold before I ever received a check. I can’t qualify for short term disability until I see the doctor.
The day I lost my job and insurance, I had $62.00 in my checking account. I applied for medicaid immediately and 4 days later during my interview with the PEAK administrator handling my case, she qualified me for EBT benefits. I get $194.00 a month for food and my doctor visits that are inside the State of Colorado’s network are covered. I made an appointment 3 weeks ago and have an appointment with a doctor this coming Friday. It takes a month to get an appointment. Right now I have the pain managed down to the left leg but still have trouble walking and standing for over 5 minutes and have been taking only OTC meds. I am using a cane so I won’t fall.
I have to put in 5 hours a week in a volunteer capacity to qualify for the food stamps program. The Workforce Center has been gracious in letting me come in and file paperwork for them since I can’t stand. Once I can stand well, I will be volunteering at the local Goodwill here in my neighborhood. We are required to put in 20 hours a month of volunteer work and have to check in with Workforce once a week to make sure this is getting done.
I have no income coming in at this time except for what I am selling on eBay. My rent is past due and my electric bill will be due in a week. Once I get the disconnect notice, I have to turn it over to PEAK so they can keep help keep my power on. My bill is only $28.00, but I don’t even have that. Once an eviction notice is on my door, I might qualify for help from local charities. I am told this can take time so I am preparing to pack up and live in a shelter if needed until I heal. I can’t do anything until that is done.
I have never received any kind of benefits before and it’s humbling. I know I will never take anything for granted again because of the situation I am in, for that I am grateful. I have also been one to lend out a hand so I am blessed that a hand is being held out for me right now, even though those hands are invisible.
The Medicaid trap
Me and my wife are both mid twenties. We have an almost 4 year old daughter. We receive Medicaid and $85 dollars a month for food stamps. (Medicaid for about 9 months, food stamps about 3 months) We live in Montana. Now is the story to why I’m responding.
When my daughter was 2 1/2 she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma (a form of pediatric cancer) we spent 2 months in seattle. Which is 800 miles from our home. Before her diagnosis we were making about 60k a year between the two of us. Our daughter had insurance through blue cross blue shield. So we had no government assistance then. We lived a comfortable lifestyle.
By the age of 3 she was cancer free but still going through treatment in our home town for side effects of the cancer. They are still ongoing. She had blue cross until her third birthday. Each year they make you re apply. We applied after her third birthday and denied her coverage stating that we made to much money to qualify. Keep in mind my wife had to quit her job to care for our daughter, meaning we have 25k less then we had before her last time applying. Blue cross ended up getting refunded 60k and then sticking us with the bill.
So as we are today I work full time making about 30-35k a year. My wife is not working she has to take our daughter to therapy 3 times a week, and trips to seattle every 3 months. Now we have Medicaid . If we make any more money we would make to much to qualify for her Medicaid then be stuck with paying her medical bills which have totaled more then 800k so far. We barely scratch by every month while trying to live very minimalistic.
I am totally able to get a second job but would end up being penalized. I am very grateful for Medicaid help, but I should be able to get another job. I always thought Medicaid was made for the situations my family is in. Hoping this can change sometime.
Caring for parents
I was on public assistance in Connecticut for most of 2014. My mother became incredibly, calamitously sick in 2013 and my father was too elderly to take care of her. As I’m an only child and we had a good relationship and I’m their only family, I had no other choice but to leave my job and move states to take care of them.
The seriousness of her illness was such that I had to become her fulltime caregiver and advocate, and her sickness was so sudden that it left us scrambling to get things in place like the proper medical attention, POA, adult daycares, etc. Memory care facilities were out of the question, as they run $7-9000/month and that would have bankrupted them in a matter of months, and she wasn’t eligible yet for a nursing facility, so the caregiving fell on me. Between managing her and her dementia, providing 3 meals a day, and keeping the house going, I literally had no time or wherewithal to find a new job after I’d upended my life.
Both my health insurance and my unemployment from my old job were going to run out early in 2014, so I applied for and was eligible to receive SNAP and Medicaid for the year. Those programs were a lifesaver, because though my parents were collecting social security, the slight $15/week boost from SNAP allowed me to stretch their small SS payments to cover all our meals and food needs - and I was shopping at Walmart and Price Chopper and Shoprite to keep us fed.
When I incurred an eye injury in 2014, Medicaid kept me from going into a financial black hole and/or losing my eye because it covered my medical bills. Without unemployment benefits, I would not have been able to cover my own expenses such as my cell phone, gas, car payments, etc. - services I desperately needed in order to be able to provide care for my family.
I’m college educated and was doing ok on my own, my parents were solidly middle class. We were not what someone would stereotype as welfare recipients. I was already a supporter of public assistance programs, and I already have SO MUCH privilege. I’m fully aware there are people WAY less fortunate than me who need the help a lot more, and I cannot understand the mindset of someone who would do away with public assistance, and how little compassion and empathy there is for the less fortunate. It’s like they are fundamentally unable to think humans can exist any other way than their own.
My family weathered our problems as best we could and since late last year I’ve been able to find work. With my new job I just barely no longer qualify for SNAP, and I pay for subsidized health insurance through Obamacare, though I wouldn’t mind the extra assistance since my budget is still tight, but I am grateful beyond tears that these programs were a safety net for my family in a time of crisis.
Assistance isn’t free
I was briefly covered for child care assistance in 2013 after my husband and I separated. This was not through DSHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] (my single income salary was still too high to qualify.) Seattle has a child care assistance program to pick up where DSHS leaves off. Seattle CCAP covered a portion of my daycare expenses from an approved childcare provider, however that ended when I got a raise and no longer qualified. Today I live fairly comfortably on my single mom salary, I’ve moved outside of Seattle to save money and drive 30-40 minutes each morning to get myself to work and my daughter to school. I’m happy to not need state assistance anymore though I’m glad it was there when I needed it.
Anyone who’s ever sat in the DSHS office waiting for 3-4 hours just to be told that they don’t qualify or don’t qualify for much will tell you that it’s no free ride. Nobody wants to be in that room. Nobody wants these benefits, they need them to survive. It’s not a free money party! You have to work for it. You bring in income paperwork, tax forms, pay stubs. You have to prove that you are broken enough to need help and you have to continue to prove it in monthly or quarterly income reviews. I broke down crying in the DSHS office because food assistance was my last hope and when they said no I felt like a failure. I broke down crying because I shouldn’t have been in that room in the first place - I have a master’s degree for gods sake! It was a horrible and depressing time in my life. Any chance I have to vote for welfare reforms or social programs I will vote in favor of the people seeking help. I’d rather my tax dollars went to help out the young families I saw in that office than to pay for wars or oil drilling.
I’m a 28 year old female living in Tucson, Arizona. I am currently receiving insurance through public assistance and need to renew for the next year. I have not yet renewed nutrition assistance aka food stamps but had been receiving 408$ per month for a year until February 2015. I am the mother of 5 and have been married to their father for 9 years. I haven’t renewed benefits because plain and simple it’s humiliating. My husband works two jobs, and although we’ve looked into different options daycare will cost the same if not more than I would get working full time. Although through out the years we’ve received benefits here and there, this is the longest due to the A.C.A. I did apply for subsidies, my family’s income was below the poverty line for our size and unfortunately we did not qualify and had to get Medicaid. My youngest will start school in two years at which point I will start working and hopefully be off assistance for good.
[Image by Jim Cooke]