More than one in four Americans—many of them employed—receive some type of government anti-poverty assistance. We are bringing you their stories. Today, seven different experiences from people in seven different states.


I am a 40 yr old, disabled, single mom who receives assistance. I live in TN. I receive $30.00 a month in food stamps and public housing but I pay rent of $242.00 a month. My daughter also gets Tenncare through the state. That is all I receive unless one wants to say disability is welfare but I earned what I get since I started working from the age of 14 till my botched surgery when I was 32. During the time of the botched surgery I had 2 kids but my son is 20 now and my daughter is 16. I get a total of $1,200 a month with disability and child support. That barely covers my bills. I have my medicine co-pays to pay for, car insurance, electric, water, food, etc. DHS thinks I make to much to get more food stamps to cover the month.

If I could work I sure would but if I do I am a liability to the company and could possibly die due to clots breaking. I made way much more than what I get now so of course if I could work I would but making people stop judging me and looking down on me is not worth making my kids motherless. Some people truly need it but I know others that do not need it and are just lazy. I do not think it is fair that it was cut for the people that are not able to work with kids at home. I should not have to choose between meds and food.

North Carolina

I‘m 24. I live in North Carolina. I receive $89 per month in food stamp benefits, and last week, a woman at the grocery store told me I “should be ashamed of [myself]” for paying with EBT (food stamps). When I graduated from college last year, I spent four months staying with my parents, working a few part-time jobs, and looking for anything that might make use of my degree. I didn’t find a “real job,” but I did find a position with AmeriCorps in a city four hours away. AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers are placed with community organizations for one year of service and paid a small stipend, and are eligible for a $5,500 award for education expenses upon completion of service. To me, it seemed like the only way to get real work experience, and hopefully pay off some of my student loans while I’m at it. Where I’m serving, my living stipend is around $800 a month. VISTA volunteers are prohibited from holding any other paid employment. I live off of $800 a month, $89 in food stamps, and occasional help from my parents if there are unexpected expenses (like a recent car repair). I’m getting valuable work experience that I wasn’t able to find elsewhere, but I’d make more money working at Walmart. I spend about $650-$700 per month (depending on the season and how much electricity I use) on rent and utilities (nothing fancy - I don’t have cable, I live in literally the cheapest apartment I could find - not much opportunity to find roommates around here as a transplant for a variety of demographic reasons- and I don’t have a smartphone) and $50 on gas around town (more if I want to leave town, and remember, my family lives about four hours away so I do like to be able to see them), leaving me with about $100 for everything else - food, various other household items (soap, toilet paper, etc.), and yeah, sometimes I do go out with my friends for a beer or two if I can squeeze it in and we can all go on the day when the beer is $2.

I manage, but it’s rough, and it would be a lot rougher without that $89 in food - that goes a long way. That’s usually my entire food budget for the month. I have a very small savings account, but I couldn’t even pay a month’s worth of expenses with it. When I finish my service with AmeriCorps, I will go back to my parents’ house while I look for a real job, hopefully with more success now that I have this experience under my belt. I’m lucky to have the help that I do from my parents, and without it, I don’t know how I’d manage after I finish my service here. And I did what I was “supposed” to do - went to college, did well, looked for the job people assured me I’d be able to find upon finishing. And now, I’m glad to be serving the community and all, but I wish that doing so didn’t leave me in such a rough position financially.


I‘m a 45 yr old woman with two teenaged kids. We’re in Florida, and while the job market is better on paper, most of the jobs are so low-paying they’re laughable. My husband left the household and state, so I applied for assistance because my $13 an hour isn’t going far. I receive a whopping $214 a month in food benefits and my kids receive health coverage through the state. I recently asked for help getting child support, and while the people I deal with there are very polite, the questions they ask are insulting and invasive. (Do you know who the father/ fathers is/are? Do you know where you were living when you got pregnant? Were you married to or living with the father, etc.)

When I asked what other help was available I was told I make too much money and I needed to move somewhere more affordable, which in my case means off the bus line since I sold my car to cut my bills.


I live in PA. Around the time of the great recession I was 24 years old fresh out of college. I had gotten a job right off the bat at an ad agency- it didn’t pay very much but it paid enough for me to start paying off my student loans and still keep me fed with money in savings. On top of that my long time boyfriend was making overtures of actually moving in together. It was a great time.

Fast forward a year and my boyfriend and I are having constant nagging problems. The last straw happened when I came back from work earlier than normal and found him screwing around with another dude in our bedroom. Unprotected. I freaked out and that was the end of that relationship. Soon I was plagued my constant fatigue and random health/cold/fever issues. On a routine physical my doctor diagnosed me as having thrush. That led to a more extensive physical- my worst fears were confirmed. I was HIV+. Having dated my then boyfriend monogamously for a little over three years I had assumed we were both faithful to each other and foregone the condoms. Clearly I choose wrong.

The ensuing doctor visits, hospital stays and treatments caused me to loose my job. Too much time off- not enough time spent working those hours in the office. The same old story. Laid off and without insurance I was basically lost and seriously contemplated ending it.

My social worker at the clinic I went too suggested I apply for several welfare programs. Unemployment, SNAP benefits, and medical assistance. I got accepted for all three thankfully. My unemployment benefits were contested by the company and were reduced down to around $140 per week. Food stamps gave me around $20 a week to spend on food. Happily PA has a medication assistance program which covered the vast majority of my prescription medication which I now needed. All in all between unemployment and food stamps I was looking at around $640 a month- $80 of which was going to food.

That extra $80 a month for food saved my life. It helped me eat well to regain and rebuild my strength during a hard hard time. I moved from the apartment I had shared with the ex to live with one of my friends. I rented a room from her for something around $130 for board/utilities. That left me roughly $430 per month to still make the minimum amount on my loan payments, pay for tokens/transportation to and from the doctors office and work out a monthly installment plan to pay for my hospital debt.

It’s hard going from having leisure cash to spend to basically being thankful if you have an extra $10-20 a month to spend on a new book or a movie. Finding another job was hard. I was out of work for about two years in which time I went from the normal unemployment to the emergency tiers of unemployment. About two and a half years after I lost my job and now in stable condition I eventually found another job. It doesn’t pay as much as my first job but offers the added benefit of me working with other people who are HIV+. I am in a position where I can help others in the same way I was helped all those years ago.

I gladly gave up my unemployment and SNAP benefits. However I am immensely thankful for welfare. If I had not received only unemployment or SNAP I don’t know how I would have financially survived. More importantly the medical benefits program in PA quite literally saved my life. Without it I would not have been able to afford the thousands of dollars per month on antiretroviral treatment.

I hesitate to tell my story to a lot of people not only because of the stigma attached to HIV but also because most people jump to conclusions. I think though from my conversations with people I work with I am no the only one who has gone through a similar situation.

It’s not all government cheese. Sometimes welfare is the only way you can literally stay alive.

New York

I live in New York and over the summer used and EBT for exactly one month.

I went back to school in late 2004 in order to switch careers and make more money, when suddenly the recession hit and everyone went back to school and there were no more jobs left to switch to. I continued going to school, blowing through my savings and using federal loans to keep afloat. I was not able to find meaningful work while still taking classes. I graduated this past July, and was no longer eligible for federal loans nor working.

I applied for food stamps when my savings had been drained and could not longer afford both rent and food. I received an emergency one month fund and a card to use, then waited for my case to be processed. My case was never processed and I never received more than one month of emergency funds. After countless trips and hours to the local benefits office, they determined that I was not eligible for welfare because I was in school full time (even though I had graduated). I used my transcripts as proof of address, as requested. They used my transcripts to deny benefits.

The process to get benefits was long, annoying and full of roadblocks and inconsistencies. The typical conservative talking point that all these lazy people and illegals are getting benefits is absurd on many levels, but it is certainly not easy or simple.

I was able to find a temp job that turned into a very well paying full time job, but to be clear, that emergency month of food stamps saved me. Without it, I would not have been able to eat while still paying my rent.


My name is —-, 33 years old. I currently receive $220 per month in SNAP benefits. My rent is $1100.00. I need to earn $1800.00 month to stay afloat.

I moved from Brooklyn to New Orleans a year ago so I could afford to live and see my child occasionally. In NYC I received WIC (checks or vouchers for certain milk, eggs, cheese, bread, peanut butter, cereal, beans, fruit and meat products) while I was pregnant and working part time for UncommonGoods as a customer service representative. After my daughter was born I worked from home for a short period before eventually quitting for good. The six weeks on disability I was given to recover from my natural child birth (as opposed to 8 weeks if I had a c section) gave me enough time to weigh the options of paying for child care and essentially nullifying the $13.00/hr I would earn while missing the milestones of my newborn’s life or staying home (moved in with parents). I was going to be broke either way. I did not qualify for SNAP benefits while living with my parents because their income exceeded the minimum.

My current status of unemployed should really be augmented to reflect self employed and earning very little to nothing. My last job was a work from home customer service job that allowed me to be home with my kid and avoid child care expenses. I was moving along pretty well until I lost that job (it was temporary). I receive only SNAP currently while looking for another job.


I am the sole wager-earner in a family of five. We live in Houston, TX. When we first moved to HOU a few years ago, we find out my wife was pregnant with twins. I was making 38K at the time, fresh out of grad school. We had been missionaries before that, making about 20K/yr between the two of us. We are both white with college degrees.

So after the equivalent of 1 day on the phone, we signed her up for Medicaid/CHIP. This was full of almost regular administrative problems. They dropped us unexpectedly a bunch of times, long wait times, confusing rules and plan profiles. I would come home from work to find my wife in tears on numerous occasions because of concerns we weren’t going to be able to make it work. We regularly thought that if someone was not as attentive/detailed/committed/desperate as we were, they would say “screw it” to the whole thing and just pay out of pocket. Or not pay...

Fast forward to our OBGYN. Great DR, crappy bedside manner. Pressured my wife into C-section from day 1. We typically got appointments scheduled with other Medicaid patients on specific days. Waiting room was full of kids, loud cell phone conversations in many languages, people with veils or tattoos covering themselves. We were the only white couple in the full-up waiting room for the first three appointments. Then the office manager pulled us aside after our third appointment. She apologized for the mistake, and promised to start scheduling us on the correct days with the “regular” customers. She thought we were privately insured, I guess b/c we were white?

Delivery of the twins was a drag. Rough surgery, long nights, too many days in the NICU. A lot of Pharmacists remarked they had never seen insurance that covered as much as ours did and what was it? When we told them they all looked surprised.

WIC for the first two years was a hard experience too. Three to four hour waiting times for nutritional checkups. We lived near my work (for convenience and in order to just have 1 car) so the up-scale grocery stores did not have a lot of the WIC items on the shelves. Public assistance created a food desert in one of the most well-off areas in the nation’s fourth largest city...

For the doctor’s visits, surgery, and hospital stay we probably saved more than $50K. For the food we probably saved 5-10. Those are rough estimates.

Three years later I was making 53K, still in Houston. We qualified for Medicaid/CHIP again despite my increased salary. My wife cried when she found out—hoping to avoid it altogether this time. Since the successful delivery of the third, I found out we no longer qualify.

[Image by Jim Cooke. If you’d like to share your own story, email me.]