I’d like to take just one moment for the fact that I was in the middle of signing up for WIC (a federal program that helps low-income pregnant women, infants and children purchase nutrition staples) when this whole Mitt Romney 47% thing started. If I had thirty seconds with him, I’d just like him to know that if he wants to see low-income people “take responsibility for their lives,” then he should sit in on a WIC orientation. We spent an hour listening to a lovely woman explain how the program works, why they encourage breastfeeding, all the breastfeeding resources available to women, how we to use the program as pregnant women and how to transition to using the program after our children are born. Then, we met one-on-one with a nutritionist. But obviously, we’re all lazy and don’t take care of ourselves.
Politics aside, I am pleased to report that the local WIC office is a nice place to be. There are fantastic pictures and posters of breastfeeding mother/infant pairs all over the place. The people are nice even when they’re busy. They really listened to me and my husband Nathan when we explained our situation. The nutritionist we saw is so excited that we are using donor milk to give our baby breast milk despite my setbacks that she dragged a colleague out to meet us. We got a set of “checks” to use at local farmers markets!
My worst fear was that I would leave humiliated. I thought I would be talked-down-to and waste an afternoon listening to why whole grains are better than not. I thought I would feel beyond incompetent because we qualify for WIC because I have no job.
None of that happened. The women I met take great pride in their work. They work to develop long-term relationships with the families they serve. They happily answer questions, even when it’s the end of the day and everyone is tired.
The program is also simpler to use than I thought it would be; we were given a set of “WIC checks” that are like travelers’ checks, but with lists of foods printed on them. We were also given a long list of foods that do and do not qualify, but the vouchers are good for whatever is printed on them. If you’ve got the “milk, bread & cheese” voucher in your hand, you pick out the least expensive of each, double check the rules and head to the checkout counter. The cashier watches you sign the voucher, checks it against the signature on your WIC card, writes in the total amount of money you spent, and you’re on your way. If the cheapest option at the store you’re using is brand-name Cheerios, then you buy the brand name. If you’re in a big grocery store, you buy the store brand. It’s pretty straightforward. I do love, though, that the fresh fruits and veggies, whether purchased at the farmers market or in a store, are just given a dollar amount, and you pay the difference. Got a $5 WIC voucher for fruits and veggies? Spend $6 and hand over $1 with your voucher. No rules about organic/non-organic or what you’re allowed to buy.
We now use SNAP (food stamps) and WIC. These programs let us buy extravagances like a car seat! diapers! wipes! It’s a luxurious lifestyle, I know, and I do feel a little guilty about all the taxpayer money that has gone to help my family. Oh, wait… no, I don’t! This is my life, and I don’t much feel like apologizing for any of it. In my family, we do our best to do the right thing. It may be shock you, but “the right thing” just is not always the choice that makes us more money. Often, it’s the choice that brings us more happiness or even just less stress. There’s a tradeoff; it’s easier to pull out a credit card than it is apply for and learn about SNAP and WIC. I’d like to have unlimited funds and not look at prices. That’s not where we are. So thank you, governmental entitlement programs and your undoubtedly underpaid staff, for helping us out. We need a hand and we are grateful that you’re there.