We are bringing you true stories from Americans who receive welfare, food stamps, and other anti-poverty benefits. Before you consider voting for a politician who would restrict these benefits, consider what life on the dole is actually like.

Lack on every conceivable level

A single 64-year-old Floridian, I have been on Disability since I was 53. Multiple back issues put me in a wheelchair preempting physical labor. Plus, advanced osteoarthritis (incl fingers and hands) prevents me from doing any office job.

I live in HUD housing for the disabled and receive $1000/mo in Disability. My HUD subsidy is roughly $600/mo. Without HUD, I would be homeless because I would not be able to find housing that was both affordable AND wheelchair friendly/accessible.

After moving into HUD, it soon became clear that I would have more disposable income without a car, a pet, and Comcast. (FYI, cutting the cord was far more gratifying than punitive.)

As a result, I’m flying high financially relative to the rest of the tenants here. I can afford to eat at a proper restaurant once a month ($15 w/tip) and see a movie twice a month, though I always smuggle in snacks. I do not use food stamps and can afford $200/mo in groceries.

Here are the downsides: I can neither afford to travel nor pay for the extensive dental work I need. I must comply with the rigid requirements of HUD’s mandates, including annoying/mind-numbing house rules. However, the worst part involves the other tenants.

Two tenants have such horrible manners, I can only imagine they were raised by wolves. Worse still, some doctors invent sketchy physical ailments to qualify way too many mentally ill people for this building. Half of them are permanently off their meds...

I mention these existential issues because the penalty for public assistance isn’t always monetary. The lower one sinks in society, the more one is immersed in lack on every conceivable level.

Though guaranteed misery awaits those at the bottom, I must say that my somewhat restrictive financial situation is often markedly better than most down here.

Educated and in debt

I am 32 years old, and I receive SNAP benefits and free healthcare. I live in Portland, Oregon. I get $194 per month in food benefits, and I’m not sure what the precise cost of my healthcare and mental healthcare is. I was receiving unemployment until it ran out last year, as well. I would be homeless if I didn’t live with my partner, who thankfully is currently employed, though under-employed. She is 32 as well and bought the house we live in with the help of her grandmother, who co-signed the mortgage. To make mortgage payments, we rent out rooms in the house to other people—living in a city where it’s safe to be out of the closet would be too expensive if it were just the two of us.

I don’t have a family safety net to fall back on—I grew up in the foster system and don’t have anyone but my partner. I have a master’s degree because everyone kept telling me education was the way out of poverty. But no one is ever hiring in my field—I was unemployed for almost a year after graduating before getting a secretarial job, and I’ve been unemployed for about a year and a half now, since that job ended. No one wants to hire me because I have too much education for their low-paying jobs, but there are no jobs in my field. Meanwhile my student loans continue to grow because I can’t pay them. I owe more than $150K at this point, and doubt I’ll ever be out from under this educational debt that didn’t get me anywhere. If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I would shelve my dreams of a fulfilling career and gone to trade school instead, but I was doing what I was told to do by social workers and counselors who thought I would be a shining example of a kid who made something of herself after foster care. Little did they know. I have an advanced degree and I’m still a burden on the state, just like I was as a kid. I wish I could be independent. I want to have a job and a baby, but I refuse to have kids I can’t financially support. So I’m just waiting for a change, a chance, that seems less and less likely to come as time passes.

It’s maddening

My mom currently receives public assistance. She started out in NY and it was hard for her to get benefits. After divorcing my father she was left without health insurance, and as “private contractor” at the job she work for she didn’t qualify for benefits with them. This was before the affordable care at kicked in. She went for over a year in and out of hospitals blowing through all of her savings, before they could even diagnose her condition. When she could no longer work, living on her own was no longer an option. She now lives with me. It took a long time to get approved for Vermont state benefits. She would often forego care because she knew she couldn’t pay. She now receives Medicade benefits and Snap. But even so those do not provide for the rx copays or the adult diapers.

It’s crazy, I see the abuse of the system of junkies and those who don’t want to work. But the hoops for someone actually sick.... It’s maddening.

One woman’s budget

I get $889/month SSI which breaks down like this: $256 rent (for a brand new 600 sq.ft apt) +$40 flat rate electric. That would be at least $1,300/month rent +electric fair market in my affluent area. Next I get medicaid which would be worth, to me at least, $5,000/year. Next year i’ll get medicare worth the same or more. My SSI also allows me to have a food budget of $300/month, which is about 1/3 more than I actually use. I can also afford internet/tv and auto insurance. My car can only be worth $3,000 or less.

You can do your own math about the total value of the of the benefits I am grateful for and give me peace of mind having housing, health care, and food security. How much is that worth? I also feel embarrassed an ashamed in part for the charity I receive.

Disabled but happy

I am a 28 year old Little Rock Arkansan woman who has been classified as 100% disabled and receive SSI. I get $751 a month. I received my first SSI payment a year ago, four months after applying. Considering I was bracing myself for years of being denied and needing to reapply, such a painless approval was a shock! I suffer from severe PTSD that manifests in many anxieties and phobias, the worst of which is severe agoraphobia. I spent years making myself go to work and school, and did so with the use of alcohol and heavy drug use. When my body and brain just couldn’t take the stress anymore, I ended up in a mental ward for a month. I feel at the moment I am not suited for the work place. With the help of my therapist, I hope to return to the work one day, but as it is, It would just end in humiliation for me.

With $751, I can pay my rent and my bills, and buy dog food but that’s it. I live in a low income apartment complex that is mostly older people on SSI. It’s nice and I’m happy here, but I do feel like I’m living in a retirement community. I budget every dollar I get, so that I can save up to buy things I need. (I saved two months to get a rice cooker for example. My next big purchase was going to be a $20 fan because my apartment gets so hot, but my sister got so fed up with my saying I couldn’t afford the $30 one at Target she bought it for me). I think my next item will be a food processor.

I get $115 from Food Stamps. Without them, I would have to alternate months where I paid bills or got groceries. I am just as fastidious with my food stamps as I am with my SSI money. The bulk of my money is spent at alternative markerts. I get most of my vegetables and rice from asian markets, and my meats and beans from the hispanic markets. Buying everything from Krogers would be easier, but they change more for these sort of items. In general, I eat as little processed food as possible, because it’s usually very overpriced and not healthy. And it really isn’t a good turn on price. For the cost of a frozen pizza, I can get a whole raw chicken which can easily be made into three our four meals.

When I was making a lot of money and being an average tax payer, I never thought about any of this stuff. I never compared prices and weights of one jar of peanut butter to the next. When I needed something I just bought it. The idea that people who receive social services are living high off the hog and take what they’re given for granted us absurd.

Changing careers

My Name is Scott, I live in PA. I’m 32, married, and have three children with my wife. We receive $198 a month in food stamps. I drove truck locally and had to quit at the beginning of 2014 because my health went to shit. Apparently, sitting behind the wheel of a truck for 14+ hours a day and eating the unhealthy selection given to drivers doesn’t agree with ones body.

I did what anyone in my position should do; I quit driving and went back to school. My wife makes just under 25k a year so you can imagine how hard it was financially for us to lose my 48k a year. I work part time and make less in one month than in used to in one week ($260 a month). If it wasn’t for the system, we would have to choose to starve just so our children could eat. When I drove, we didn’t receive a dime from the man! We payed for everything out of pocket, and rightfully so. It’s temporary, though. I’ll be done with school in a few months and working in a career that will afford us the same lifestyle we lived up until February 2014.

I exist

In 2008 I was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer . The day after surgery I was told my health insurance was exhausted. I had just come home from vacation and had 5 sick days. That’s it.

Chemo left me with neurapathy and osteoporosis and disabled. Of course my claim was denied twice resulting in over a year with no income. Once the claim went to regional office it was immediately settled as my disability was clearly one of the eligible disabilities. I used my credit cards until they maxed. I have had many medical issues and I can’t seem to catch up. Something always pops and I’m back in the hole again.

Until I turned 65 I participated in a PA program called Medical Assistance for People With Disabilities. Now, since I aged out of the program the state is paying my monthly medicare premium. I also receive $184.00 a month in food stamps. I receive extra help with my many prescriptions and my premium for secondary medicare insurance. My only income is my $1345.00 SSD. I exist.

[Image by Jim Cooke]

Contact the author at Hamilton@Gawker.com.