I Confess: I’m Prejudiced (and ashamed of it)

I was at the grocery store one day and got in line behind a woman I recognized as the mom of a girl in my son’s kindergarten class. She had a pile of produce in front of her, and the cashier was holding a few Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) checks, which I realized are food stamps. The cashier told me to go to another check stand, because “this is gonna take awhile.”

Later, I remembered that the woman and her husband had just had their third child. They had a girl, a boy, and just had another girl. I suddenly realized that I judged them for choosing to have another child when they already needed food stamps to feed their family. I thought, “We don’t give people money to buy a Mercedes they can’t afford, why do pay for them to have more children they can’t afford?”

I’ve always thought of public assistance as something that’s temporary, that helps people when they lose their job or have some unexpected medical expense. I didn’t think people would use it as part of their “family planning.”

Personally, I think if my husband and I couldn’t afford to have children, we would choose not to. But in reality, I’ve never had to make that choice. My husband makes enough that I don’t even need to work outside the home.

It bothers me that I’m prejudiced against people who take public assistance. To me, prejudice is based on ignorance. I feel like there’s some information and definitely personal experience that I’m missing about what it’s like to live in this country and not have enough.

Intellectually, I understand that there are people who have low-paying jobs or no job at all, that many people don’t have enough medical coverage, even if they are employed, but most of the husbands I know work in high-tech, and most of the moms stay at home.

On the one hand, of course it’s none of my business how other people plan for their families. On the other hand, my husband and I pay taxes that fund public assistance programs.

I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area all of my life, and I’ve always considered myself pretty liberal, but in this case, I feel like I’m being really harsh, cold, and elitist, and I don’t want to be that way.

I do support the government providing public works, medical insurance for low-income families, public schools, etc. but I wonder, once a family has two kids already, is it really good to keep paying for more children? Why do I feel like two kids are okay, but not more than that? I don’t know exactly, but I can see how families want their first child to have a sibling, and I’ve heard of “replacement fertility,” where adults have just enough babies to replace themselves.

A few of my friends have three children. Many of them have two children of the same sex and try again to see if they can have a child of the opposite sex. It seems unfair to deny this to low-income families, but it still seems a bit odd to me.

I know that there are many problems with the enormous gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in this country. I don’t like that gap. I think every person should be able to make a living wage, have adequate medical coverage, live in a safe neighborhood, and have a comfortable home. I guess the fact that we haven’t made any of that a reality is why we need public assistance in the first place.

"Nexus / Miguel Ugalde / stock.xchng"

“Nexus / Miguel Ugalde / stock.xchng”

I still feel sheltered and naïve about how families live on or below the poverty line. I feel guilty that I’ve never had to deal with that as a parent.

What light can you shed on receiving public assistance, whether you’ve personally taken it or know someone who has?

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36 thoughts on “I Confess: I’m Prejudiced (and ashamed of it)

  1. Mara Migraineur September 17, 2013 at 11:19 pm Reply

    I love that you are thinking and writing about this. WIC is actually a separate assistance from food stamps, but it’s late. I’ve been on both – both as a child and an adult, so I can provide enlightenment later 🙂

  2. Mara Migraineur September 18, 2013 at 9:42 am Reply

    I’ll probably keep commenting as I think of more, but some first thoughts:
    WIC is for moms & kids, but it is actually farm aid – the government is subsidizing farmers and giving us the products. For example: milk & cheese (it’s pretty dairy heavy), cereal, carrots. What is ironic is that when I was on it, you got very little fresh produce. That has changed in the past few years, but the truth is that this is the government subsidizing the farmers and being thoughtful enough to actually get it to people who need it.

    Another point is that I don’t know the family’s situation, but it is possible that this was an unplanned third child. It could also be that they are on this temporarily but want to time their children in a certain manner. Mostly, we just don’t know why.

    That’s an unfinished thought, but I gotta’ run. Be back later.

    • Frankie Laursen September 18, 2013 at 9:45 am Reply

      I had no idea that’s where WIC came from. I had thought while I was writing my blog post that maybe the third child was unplanned, but I didn’t write that in for some reason. It shouldn’t matter. People should be allowed to have children and use the programs that help them take good care of their kids.

  3. bethteliho September 18, 2013 at 11:29 am Reply

    What I enjoyed about this post on a delicate subject is your willingness to be so honest about your feelings. That takes guts! I appreciate that. No judgment (on you) here for questioning. I would only disapprove had you judged them without any thought or regard to their situation, or evaluation of all sides and perspectives. But you did that. You were only questioning a situation, and it seems like you found the answer you needed on your own. Good on you. 🙂

    • Frankie Laursen September 18, 2013 at 11:35 am Reply

      Thank you so much. I appreciate your understanding and compassion. I want to be a better person, and I think to do that, I have to be accountable for all my BS. I used to volunteer to serve meals to homeless people, I need to get back into volunteer work and get out of my comfort zone.

  4. ks September 18, 2013 at 11:29 am Reply

    People well above the poverty line are struggling as well, especially in cities where the rent and other expenses are higher. The poverty line is the same everywhere. People working in daycare centers or as chefs in Seattle are skilled and serious adults with careers, but their pay is quite low (and yes I’m thinking of a family I know). The woman got an accounting degree, went to a successful job interview and immediately decided no way do I want to do that. I have a good corporate job, but deductions for my families health insurance are $500 a month. After 401k, taxes and all, daycare is equal to half my take home pay.

    • Frankie Laursen September 18, 2013 at 11:38 am Reply

      Wow, I didn’t realize the daycare cost that much. Does your financial situation make you feel like you don’t want anymore kids? Would you have another child and take public assistance? Feel free not to answer, I realize this is extremely personal, but I appreciate whatever you feel comfortable sharing.

  5. ks September 18, 2013 at 1:18 pm Reply

    We can certainly have another child, but it will be expensive with two kids in full time care. We are waaayyyyyy too high an income to qualify for any help. When I read the cut-off limits for what qualifies, it is extremely low. (also my take-home pay is pretty low cuz i signed up for a lot of deductions and even withdraw extra taxes since hubby never pays enough), just under a grand every two weeks in cash. and daycare is $916 per month.

    • Frankie Laursen September 18, 2013 at 8:11 pm Reply

      Wow. That’s a good point, I forgot how little you have to bring in in income to qualify for benefits. Even though I feel like such an ignoramus for posting about this, I really appreciate everyone’s patience in reading it and helping me to understand.

      I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on living with depression, but financial struggles are likely a cause of depression, certainly a trigger for stress, for a lot of people. I need to pay more attention to this.

  6. Mara Migraineur September 18, 2013 at 7:00 pm Reply

    A lot of folks on assistance simply find themselves in circumstances that are unexpected. My parents had 4 kids…and then the 80s happened. I remember that my father had an entire file box full of cover letters and applications that he’d sent to places to no avail. At the time, my mother didn’t have a college education. So, on to public assistance we went. My mother started taking classes at our local community college, got her associates, ended up with a job at the college and then got her Master’s degree. My father learned how to do roofing & siding and eventually started his own business – then went back to school once my mother was working and became a respiratory therapist.

    As for me, I got pregnant with my son while we were working in Israel. While all of our expenses were paid, we weren’t earning money there. My mother told me her cancer was back when I was four months pregnant, and it being pancreatic cancer we knew the end was near. My father was 3 months away from graduating. Amongst my siblings, I was the obvious choice for going to be with my mother. Which of course meant I needed insurance for my pregnancy & soon to be born baby. My husband stayed in Israel to finish up his work and pack our stuff. Basically, we returned homeless & jobless. We were living with my parents, but needed help to get our feet under us. We’d been out of the country for several years and hit the US just as the market crashed. In Cleveland. I’m very grateful.

    There is a lot of stigma around welfare, but most of us are only a paycheck or 3 away from finding ourselves in the very same circumstances. Part of me is irritated with the cashier. I find it insensitive for them to tell you to go to the other line because “this is gonna’ take awhile”. If they’ve been properly trained and know what they’re doing, it shouldn’t take more than, say, a check. It was basically a passive-aggressive way of shaming her.

    Furthermore, I know folks who choose not to work because the work that they could get wouldn’t give them the medical coverage that they (or their child) need. Or give them the ability to cover childcare. Our system forces a lot of family to make hard choices. On top of which, they penalize you for any income you do manage to earn. And food stamps doesn’t cover any non-food item – like cleaning products, tissues, toilet paper, diapers, OTC drugs, etc.

    • Frankie Laursen September 18, 2013 at 7:59 pm Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing yours and your parents’ experiences. I really appreciate it. I remember reading back in high school or college about how once you receive welfare it’s really hard to make enough to support your family but still make enough for them to deny you any more benefits. I’d forgotten that until you mentioned it. Thank you again.

    • Frankie Laursen September 18, 2013 at 8:07 pm Reply

      Actually I edited it out to simplify things, but another cashier came over and said, “Here, let me help at this (other) check stand. She’s going to take awhile.” I think each check has a limit of how much you can buy, right? Perhaps each check has to be a separate transaction? Clearly, I still don’t know how this works, but I don’t want to just the mom or the cashiers.

      I saw a mom trying to buy potatoes with a WIC check before, and they weren’t eligible. I was going to offer to buy them for her, but she ran off to choose something else instead. When she came back the cashier quickly rang up the eligible item.

    • shannon September 26, 2013 at 5:11 pm Reply

      i dont think the cashier was being all that insensitive. When i was a foster parent and doing WIC, *I* would tell the people behind me they might want a different line.

      • shannon September 26, 2013 at 5:34 pm

        I should have said a little more. It didn’t matter what store I went to, there was never a cashier who knew what they were doing, always had to call a manager, and more often than not the computer would throw a fit about something that was allowed and needed a manager anyway. I dont think the cashier sent her to another line to shame the WIC user, but knowing that the process was lengthy.

      • Mara Migraineur September 27, 2013 at 6:37 pm

        Yup, so did I, but I still think that’s different.

  7. katyblue04 September 18, 2013 at 10:49 pm Reply

    Oh how this speaks to me! I have been that woman. I’ll start at the beginning to help you glimpse into the hows and whys of my story.

    I wanted a baby. I’ve always wanted a baby, more than anything else I’ve ever wanted. I’ve never made a lot of money, I’ve worked with kids my whole life and everyone knows those jobs don’t pay nearly enough. I didn’t finish college because I saw it as a waste of time and money. I didn’t need a degree to be a stay at home mom, and I wasn’t going to have kids unless I would stay home with them. I knew we’d be relying on the help of a generous donor to become pregnant so I decided I’d donate my eggs to pay it forward. With the money I received from that I was able to sign up at the sperm bank and thankfully I got pregnant before that $7,000 was gone. But it was close, we had about 1 more try left before we’d be out of funds and have to wait to save up for more tries.

    And before we even started trying I was determined to do the right thing and get on health insurance. I was working 2 part time jobs that I loved, but they both paid me so little and offered no benefits. My wife’s job didn’t offer domestic partner benefits. So I shopped around and signed up for a health plan and paid for it out of pocket. Then I got pregnant and happily went to my new OB for a routine prenatal appointment and was slammed with bills so high that it would take months to pay them off, and I was supposed to return for multiple appointments?! It was a nightmare. I switched to a midwife who asked me why I wasn’t on Medi-Cal. I shrugged my shoulders. Because I have 2 jobs? Because I’m not a moocher? Because I wanted to be a responsible adult and found a way to get insurance on my own? She told me I definitely qualified for it, my income was WAY below the poverty line, and since I wasn’t legally married I especially qualified as a pregnant “single” woman.

    I canceled my insurance plan and signed up for Medi-Cal. It was an arduous process, so much paperwork that didn’t apply to my situation. Many hours spent on frustrating phone calls trying to get help on what to do. Many visits with case workers where my wife had to sign forms saying that she provides housing, food, and everything to me for free. Finally I had coverage and a midwife who accepted it! What a blessing to have a midwife who was willing to take on Medi-Cal clients. (Unfortunately she had to close her practice when Medi-Cal stopped reimbursing her and instead of turning clients away she continued to take them on (like me) and eventually just didn’t have the funds to stay open.) Such a shame. Anyways, my baby was born and we had to find a pediatrician who accepted Medi-Cal. We finally did, and he was fantastic. Every visit he asked us if we were on WIC yet, and we said no, we’re fine. We were already receiving free health care so we didn’t want or feel like we deserved free food too. He looked at us and said “Okay, so do you have a money tree in your back yard?” No, of course not! He asked if we could afford to buy all the groceries we wanted. No, but I’ve never just gone crazy at the grocery store, I don’t even know what it’s like to shop and not be extremely conscious of how much I’m spending and if I could afford it. So eventually with his referral I signed up. That same month my wife was fired unexpectedly and we suddenly only had her unemployment checks to live off while she tried for MONTHS to find a job. It was the lowest of lows for us.

    Mara already touched on this, but with WIC they take your dietary needs and issue you checks accordingly. As a vegetarian they gave me more cheese and beans and peanut butter instead of meat. I said I don’t drink milk, so it was pointless to get so much. (I feel like it was 2 gallons a week?!) But the only option they had as a substitute was to take off all dairy and give me tofu instead. I knew I’d rather have the cheese though, so I just gave the milk to family/friends or sometimes just didn’t cash that part in. We also received a crazy amount of jarred baby food, even though I was making my own and she refused purees anyway. We got a LOT of rice cereal as well, which I didn’t use. Even given these free food opportunities I didn’t want to abuse that for items I wouldn’t need. Sometimes I’d get some items just to turn around and donate them to food banks making sure to get the organic best varieties to pass on.

    Each monthly visit/check in with WIC gave me a long print out of checks, each with a certain time frame I could redeem them and VERY specific items listed. It was hard to find exactly the items that were allowed (no white potatoes, bagged dry beans only, certain brands were excluded, etc…) I tried to time my grocery store visits during off peak times, so I wouldn’t hold up lines. But still, sometimes I’d have to make 5 different transactions, many times sacrificing some food items just to have the chance to get something else that was on that specific check. I found the cashiers to be mostly very well trained and efficient. It really didn’t take too long unless an item wasn’t ringing up correctly or the person didn’t know what they were doing. Still, it wasn’t fun to stand there and have it take longer than normal.

    And about the whole not having kids unless you can afford them… I completely understand and appreciate your honest feelings on this. I wanted another baby and knew we were still in a rough financial patch. I know many people have raised their eyebrows at our choice to have #2 when we can barely afford our life these days. And it’s a totally valid point!! I don’t know how to address that. It’s interesting to me that you feel like 2 kids are acceptable but maybe not that third. I’ve never thought of it that way. If I waited for the ideal time to have a baby, it might never happen. I grew up in a one-income family, my mom stayed home and we received all sorts of government assistance, from food stamps to housing. I was grateful at a young age that my parents were teaching us 3 kids that for us, family meant more than money. Yes, we were always struggling and I had to use a bright neon pink card to pay for my reduced fee school lunches and bus pass, but I knew that we were happy and I was cared for and safe, even though I grew up in this area and all my friends were rich and taking vacations to Hawaii when for us a vacation was eating a meal out at a restaurant (and by restaurant, I mean a salad bar type place!!) and stopping for ice cream.

    But now, here I am on Medi-Cal again since I’m pregnant (pregnancy related Medi-Cal ends when your baby turns 1 year old, and I never renewed it because I just didn’t want to deal with all the paperwork) and I knew I’d qualify again once I was pregnant again. But I don’t want Medi-Cal to have to pay for anything, hence my choosing to pay a midwife out of pocket this time since none accept Medi-Cal right now anyway. When this baby is born, I’m assuming I’ll sign up for WIC again. I decided to stop receiving those benefits when we were doing okay financially, even though technically we’re still below the official poverty line and still qualify. My wife works 3 jobs and none offer benefits, she would qualify for Medi-Cal as well but hasn’t signed up. So for us, we don’t feel like we’re even close to abusing the system. We know these services are available but we’d rather not be using them unless we really would benefit from them.

    I feel like this response is all over the place!! I remember sharing this article when it came out, maybe it’ll offer some insight that I’m not able to quite convey. Mostly I like the part about how hard it can be to just stay afloat let alone make changes. We say all the time that if only we were given a nice inheritance we’d be able to actually pay off the debt that keeps us struggling, and be able to start a savings account and get out of this rut. Living paycheck to paycheck is extremely stressful. We don’t always make “smart” financial choices because honestly, our life sucks at times and we treat ourselves to dinner out to feel happy and normal instead of returning home to a pantry that needs restocking and arguing about what groceries to buy and how much we can afford. So that’s why sometimes we’ll blow $40 on one meal instead of putting that towards groceries. It’s a tough cycle.

    So yeah, I hope this article helps! 🙂

    http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-4-types-people-welfare-nobody-talks-about/

    • Frankie Laursen September 20, 2013 at 11:28 am Reply

      Katy, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I hadn’t even thought about hard the process is just to apply for public assistance programs. I’m really glad your pediatrician encouraged you to get WIC and that you had Medi-cal for your first pregnancy.

      I’m a little nervous now that your wife doesn’t have any medical insurance? I can see that you’re not abusing the system, but I’m worried that you’re not taking advantage of it enough when you could benefit from it.

      I appreciate you sharing what it was like growing up without a lot of stuff, but feeling safe and cared for.

      I realize now how egotistical I was thinking that people should choose not to have children unless they can afford to raise them with a certain lifestyle. Families aren’t defined by how much stuff they have, they’re defined by how they take care of each other.

      • katyblue04 September 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm

        She doesn’t have health insurance and I only have pregnancy-related Medi-Cal, meaning I’m not covered for anything that falls outside those realms. When I got an eye infection I made an appointment with my OB and they were very reluctant to see me and told me I should just use my daughter’s eye drops if I wanted, (even though her drops clearly stated not to be shared between users!) because they couldn’t give me a prescription due to there being no code for it that they could bill to Medi-Cal.

        Also, we’ve still never taken her to a dentist because our first experience was so awful and I’ve since found out that since she’s on Medi-Cal that’s the best we can hope for. So because I don’t want her to have unnecessary x-rays, we just haven’t taken her in yet. (The providers get reimbursed so little from Medi-Cal that they will bill for the most expensive procedures they can, and x-rays are expensive.) See how twisted this system can be?! It’s extremely frustrating.

        We don’t take advantage of more services available to us because we don’t really want to deal with them. I actually tried signing up for food stamps earlier this summer when our finances took an even sharper downhill turn thanks to majorly reduced hours and tiny paychecks, but my case worker was so confused by our paperwork (Her- “It says here that your rent is more than what you are making per month? How are you paying for rent?” Me- “Um, because our very kind landlord is allowing us to make payments and we’re letting other bills slide?”) and kept asking for more and more pay stubs within certain time frames (when there are weeks of lags between paychecks it’s close to impossible to submit them…) so I finally just stopped trying. It’s not worth the headache.

        We also qualify for housing assistance, and technically we would be able to afford a 2 bedroom with that help. Sounds great, but the waiting list is at least 3 years. In hindsight I should have signed up 3 years ago, but I assumed we would be better off by then. And then there’s the issue with the locations where those units are, and well, we’d rather struggle to pay for what we have here. Is that our pride getting in the way? I don’t know.

        So yes, we would benefit from more help, but at the same time, we don’t want to settle for less, which is what we’d be given. Instead of taking our child to the dentist for free and having procedures done that we don’t agree with, we’re hoping we can eventually reach a spot where we have some extra cash and make an appointment at an actual kid-friendly dental office where her first experience will be a positive one. I’ve called around to all the local kid dentist places to ask how much it would cost to pay out of pocket and was told around $300. Which is more than our car payment that we struggle to make on time.

  8. Mara Migraineur September 19, 2013 at 10:53 am Reply

    I really appreciate this post! I also really agree with Beth and her sentiments.

    Katy! Yes, yes, yes! (yup, I read the whole thing!) 🙂 It reminds me that my mother used to say that if you wait for the right time to have children, you’ll never have them. My parents eventually got themselves to a position of self-support and have given back to their community in a number of great, empowering ways (my mother created programs at the college to get single moms into school so that they could be self-supporting; she was on the board of a half-way home; she gave classes in survival skills (parenting, home finances, etc.) & assisted women in how to apply for jobs).

    It also reminds me that although we were on food stamps, we had some of the best food around! My parents tended a large fruit & vegetable garden, my mother baked our bread, canned & froze the produce from the garden for the winter – we never ate canned veggies or Wonder bread. My mother made much of our clothes even (see how I might a bit of a complex about this? Lol!). I certainly didn’t feel deprived – and school lunches were definitely the least nutritious meal of my day, despite being on free/reduced meal plans!

    • Frankie Laursen September 20, 2013 at 11:32 am Reply

      Mara, that’s a great reminder that helping people get back on their feet gives them the ability to give back later in other ways. And frankly, I do want to live in a society that takes care of all its people, not just those who can already take care of themselves.

  9. katyblue04 September 19, 2013 at 1:38 pm Reply

    Same Mara, we even frequented the local bread closet for free (expired) food weekly, but every meal was homecooked and healthy real food. It wasn’t until I got my first paychecks in high school that I started to buy boxed macaroni and cheese and cake mixes and bright colored snacks and sugary cereals, and I horded these “special” items and devoured them giddily like the forbidden fruit they seemed to be. I hate that the cycle from my youth has continued, I would obviously love to be secure enough to not need government assistance. But at the same time I’m not willing to sacrifice on my beliefs, and for me, that means I’d rather stay home and struggle to pay bills than not have kids (or do and pay for them to be in daycare) and continue working and STILL struggle to pay bills. I will not be able to make enough money to make a difference.

    For us the gap between where we are now, and where we’d have to be to live comfortably, is enormous and insurmountable without hitting the lottery jackpot. It’s just too hard to make it month to month, deciding which bills to let slide and which to pay. This is an especially tough area to live in. Just today we were wondering if we can go apple picking this weekend. How much will it cost? We still owe X in rent, and we’re behind (again) on our car payment. But those groceries needed to be bought and we had to get gas and pay for PG&E before they turned off our utilities (again) and we’d be stuck with all the fees to get it turned back on. I’m telling you, it’s a maddening existence, but I feel confident that I’ll be able to look back someday and know that for us, it was worth the struggles.

    • Frankie Laursen September 20, 2013 at 11:34 am Reply

      Thank you for sharing what your struggles are like. I’m wondering, from all those who’ve commented or have yet to, what can someone like me do to help? It doesn’t feel right that my husband should make so much money making computer software while your wife makes so little teaching small children, but it seems awkward for us to pay any of your bills. Is there anything we can do for you or for another family you of in need?

      • katyblue04 September 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm

        Oh gosh, I don’t think there’s anything you can do besides continue exploring your feelings around this issue with an open heart and mind! There are always food/toy drives and volunteering and that kind of stuff, which is great! Then there are little more direct things, like paying for someone’s purchase when you see their card is declined or they don’t have enough cash. This has happened for me a few times and it’s always such an amazing feeling. $5 can go a long way for someone who is feeling beaten down and just wants to enjoy a salted caramel mocha!! 😉 I babysit for a family who is extremely generous, always going out of their way to buy us little things they know we need. If she buys her kids new pjs she’ll ask what size we need, and pick up a couple pairs for our daughter. If she was stopping at Costco she’d bring home an extra box of toilet paper for us. She’d be gifted a giftcard for a restaurant and give it to me since she knows eating out is one of our favorite things to do that is so hard to justify. She sometimes buys things on Groupon and such and if she isn’t going to redeem it before it expires she lets me use it. She also sends me emails from her neighborhood list whenever someone is offering something for free, asking if I’m interested. It’s things like that, just being conscious that we’re in need and we’ll gratefully accept anything, that really help us directly. I also have friends who go out of town and offer to let us do laundry (for free!!) at their place. 😉 We deeply appreciate those gestures, it might seem small but it’s hugely helpful for us. And it doesn’t feel like a handout, or that we’re a charity case, it just feels like friends helping friends.

  10. whitelionmoving1 September 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm Reply

    I think most of us feel the same as you do. Please don’t feel so bad. It frustrates me also when i see people with their carts overflowing when i have to really watch my budget and they use their ebt cards.

    white lion moving company blogger group
    whitelion.com

  11. Mara Migraineur September 20, 2013 at 10:24 am Reply

    Just a note that those ‘overflowing’ cart purchases may very well be beginning of the month purchases when they have just gotten an injection of funds and are making up for having lived the last week on peanut butter and beans because they had run out last month. I’m not saying it’s the best way to budget, but it happens and it’s equally frustrating when you are receiving food stamps but it really isn’t enough to cover your family’s expenses.

    And if you have ever grown weary of eating all the low cost, ‘good for you’ foods, well folks on food stamps get tired, too. They aren’t going to restaurants when they just don’t want to cook or are busy or have a special occasion – all of those occasions are in that cart. So yes, sometimes I would buy cookies, or steak or something, but that usually was our way of celebrating a birthday or anniversary. And a side note that I’ve seen elsewhere, sushi is a myth, you can’t buy any prepared foods on food stamps.

  12. Selvi September 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm Reply

    I am so glad that you are able to share your thoughts so candidly but at the same time have such a searching heart and be so open to other perspectives, to ask for people to share. If only more of our conversations were based on that.

    I was thinking, before I read your post, about minimum wage laws here in the U.S. How can we accept that people can work hard at full time jobs, and not have enough to support their families? This is polemical, but basically it implies that everyone that is consuming things produced or sold by people not getting a living wage (not to mention those profiting), is exploiting them. Those products and services are paid for by the hardship of children and families with inadequate housing, health care, nutrition, education etc.

    Raising children is a huge service to society. People tend to think of it as something you do for yourself. But we all need society to continue, and, as I like to point out, we want the citizens of our societies to know where to poop (!) and how to share etc. So the work of parents is as crucial to our society as, say, a stock broker, right? Shouldn’t we support that important work? I think that families need and deserve a lot more support than they tend to get, aside from issues related to the injustices that are built into the structure of our economy.

    The issues are very complex. But basically my take on it is that our economy is based on a large group of people doing jobs that don’t pay them a living wage. In this economy we can’t all have jobs where one person makes enough to support a spouse and kids, we can’t even all have jobs where two people working make enough. How much would groceries, fast food, child care etc. cost if the people working there were paid living wage salaries? The economy is built that way, and for some reason I don’t understand, it seems to go unquestioned, even though it is so clearly unjust. In Denmark, there is a higher minimum wage, and certain key sectors receive different levels of government subsidies to make them affordable.

    Here are some resources you might be interested in on these issues:
    The book “Nickled and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. She tries out what it’s like to live with a minimum wage job. It’s a good read.

    Documentaries about income inequality in the US:
    The One Percent
    Park Avenue.
    These are pretty fascinating.

    I hope you continue to write about your reflections. I’m also really glad that every one has responded in the comments in the same spirit that you wrote your original post in. You deserve nothing less.

  13. Frankie Laursen September 23, 2013 at 2:10 pm Reply

    This is a good post about another woman’s experience being on WIC (http://www.blogher.com/my-experience-government-assistance-wake-house-vote-reduce-snap?wrap=blogher-topics/politics-news&crumb=24). She also links to the fundraising page for Feeding America (http://help.feedingamerica.org/site/TR?pg=fund&fr_id=1140&pxfid=9840). Their food bank networks help feed 37 million Americans every year.

  14. mom25boys September 23, 2013 at 9:09 pm Reply

    I rarely read over at Blogher, but for some reason tonight I did and as a result wound up here.
    Normally I don’t have any issue getting my feelings out in black and white, but for some reason, I am at the moment. See, I am on food stamps/EBT. My kids have all been on our state’s Medicaid program, and when they were newborn, we had WIC. Now, what you need to understand is my husband works. He works very hard. We happen to live in a “poor” state, where a good paying job is a job that pays $10/hr and no benefits. That is $400 a week before taxes. Could you live on that? Well, we can’t either. I work 3 jobs myself, all part time, all with no benefits.

    Our teenagers do not have cell phones. They do not have car’s, or even their driver’s license. Why? Because they need to have jobs to be able to pay for those things, and at this moment in their lives, their education is more important than having the latest technology.

    We don’t take vacations, we don’t even take day’s off. If we are sick, we still have to go to work because we can’t take the hit to the paycheck. A case of the flu could ruin us financially.

    That cart of groceries you see me with at the beginning of the month? That is ALL my groceries for the month. I have to make everything in that cart feed the 5 of us for the next 30 days. I may get EBT, but because we do work hard to make ends meet, we get $150 a month to feed 5 people. Could you feed 3 teenagers and 2 adults on that?

    Please, don’t judge the person using WIC or EBT. You can’t know their situation. You probably won’t know their situation because you have already judged them to be unworthy because they are part of a government subsidized program.

    I see the looks, I feel the disdain. What you don’t realize or seem to get is that I pay taxes too. My husband pays taxes. Our money goes to the same government that yours does.

    Two of my children are adults, both in college, one son working two jobs; one full time, one part time, while in school. The other working full time at the local hospital, while taking classes at night towards his degree. Both have been working since they were old enough to get a worker’s permit. They both have their own apartments, car’s and pay their own bills, and are self sufficient. Neither receive any government assistance at all. They are both working their way through school to do it debt free.

    Now, go back and count, how many children do I have? Five. I have five, wonderful, amazing, sons. Ask me which one I would give up to keep from going on food stamps.

    Between the four of us in my family who are working, we have 7 jobs. Out of those 7, only one of those jobs offers benefits. That in itself is a travesty. I realize that even though there are 7 jobs between the 4 of us, we probably don’t earn as much as your husband does each month. We may not have much, we may not ever have much. But we are happy. Our kids are happy. Isn’t that really what matters in the long run?

  15. Frankie Laursen September 23, 2013 at 9:49 pm Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story. It made me cry. I’m embarrassed by how ignorant I’ve been about how much people are struggling. I’ve actually thought that people “choose” to take low-paying jobs that don’t offer insurance. God, I feel like such an idiot now. It never occurred to me what it’s like to live in an area where good-paying jobs are $10/hr and don’t offer benefits. I’m so sorry I’ve been so blind and ignorant.

    Thanks to you and the other people who have shared their comments, I will never judge a person using WIC, EBT, or any other kind of public assistance. I don’t know their stories, what their struggles are even with the assistance, but I’ve gotten enough of a glimpse now, I can’t stay blind to this, and I don’t want to.

    Would you be offended if someone offered to pay for some of your food? I almost offered once, but then lost courage. It’s easier to offer food (takeout, a cup of coffee, etc.) to a homeless person than to a person at the grocery store who’s buying stuff. Is there anything I can do directly to help? I’ve already decided to volunteer again, even if it’s just a few hours every few months.

    • mom25boys September 24, 2013 at 11:12 am Reply

      I think it would depend on how the person offering approached me. Maybe if it was phrased as a random act of kindness thing, or I heard it phrased once “Let God bless me by allowing me to bless you”.

      As for direct help, talk to your child’s teacher, ask if she knows of a specific family that might need assistance. Offer to donate gift cards, take the child shopping, especially since school is back in session. Ask if there is anyone she notices that doesn’t have enough to eat for lunch. Teachers usually have a list of children who they themselves wish they could help.

      Ask the woman who you saw in the store if there is anything she didn’t get for her new baby that you could give her as a new baby gift and maybe include a small gift for the other children as well. Or just go to your local baby store, Target, Walmart, or wherever and get a gift card, maybe stick it in the mail, or ask her child to give it to her.

      Personally, I remember a time when I was literally counting change to go buy bread and peanut butter, I checked the mail and someone had sent me $40 cash. No return address, I didn’t recognize the hand writing on the envelope, so to this day I have no idea who it was. They had wrapped a piece of copy paper around the bills, and didn’t even write a note! But I sat there at the mailbox and bawled my eyes out, my two youngest boys were with me, and they cried too. They knew what it meant to get that money in the mail! It blessed our entire family to know that somewhere out there, someone cared.

      • Frankie Laursen September 24, 2013 at 11:17 am

        Thank you so much, those are great ideas.

  16. Michelle September 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm Reply

    When my youngest son was born a month early, we were pushed to sign up for the WIC program. He was eligible because of his medical conditions, not our income.

    • Frankie Laursen September 24, 2013 at 12:11 pm Reply

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I didn’t know it was available for that, but I’m glad it was.

  17. […] connection October 1, 2013 Leave a comment I feel so helpless against the many, many things that are going badly in this country and around the world. I get so depressed thinking about it, I end up shutting it all out, hence, my recent post “I Confess: I’m Prejudiced (and ashamed of it).” […]

  18. […] Read more here. […]

  19. […] to keep some of my friends from over 10 years ago. I was such a jerk. People who’ve read my post about judging people who take public assistance would rightfully argue I can still be a […]

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