There’s been a rash of absurd comments on a post I wrote last summer about WIC vs. SNAP, most of which have nothing to do with the content of that post. I would like to address a few apparently common misconceptions about life on government assistance, nevertheless, in case anyone is actually reading the content of my Proud Welfare Mom posts.
1) People on assistance programs have always been on assistance programs and will always be on assistance programs. This applies doubly to those who are not ashamed of accepting assistance.
This is false for many so many reasons, that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But let’s pick this place to start: there are many kinds of assistance, and most of us do not receive all of them. My family, for example, receives only SNAP (Food Stamps) and Medicaid, at the moment. “Welfare” is a catch-all term that does not always refer to people receiving cash. In my state, by the way, people who receive financial assistance actually do so through a program that is called the TEMPORARY Financial Assistance Program.
To the “lifestyle” question (a thin veil for the stereotype that if we are poor, we must also be lazy) I have the following answer: at any time, the government may demand information about our income, rent, and other bills, in what is called the “redetermination” process. For my family, that means that the amount of money we receive for SNAP has changed three times in the past nine months. This is not a yearly thing, folks! You don’t get a SNAP EBT card to spend on anything you like (and for the love, please know that the popular myth about buying cigarettes and alcohol with SNAP is a MYTH! It’s not possible!) without any sort of check. Oh, no, friends–they check. The last “redetermination” form I sent in, along with the proof they wanted, was a twenty-three page document.
Finally, I am not ashamed that we are using public assistance to SUPPLEMENT our income (yes, I know that these programs are supplementary, people who have commented 1,000 times to remind me–it is my budget we are discussing, after all, and that little fact is pretty hard to miss!) because while my husband is in graduate school, neither of us can make enough money to pay all of our bills. After he graduates, I am happy to assure all and sundry that we will be hunting for jobs harder than anyone in this history of job hunting. It is neither fun nor easy to use public assistance, and I would love nothing more than to simply use what’s in our bank account.
2) All government assistance does is let people get away with irresponsible choices.
If there is a way for a family of three to live AND stay healthy on $20k/year, please–send me that budget, and we will follow it. This is the most responsible choice I could find. And, just in case you missed it, I have to choose it for my family again and again, because there is some sort of issue that needs clearing up, on the state’s end, nearly every month. Again: not fun. Not easy.
3) Stay-at-home-moms who accept government assistance are really just staying at home for fun, and should be working.
This one is so easy! Guess what? If we made enough money to even think about looking for child care, we wouldn’t qualify for any public assistance! If you find me some free daycare, I will then talk to you about my choice to stay home. (FYI, it’s illegal to leave your one-year-old son at home, even to go to work.) Until the day free childcare becomes available, let me just explain something: I AM SO LUCKY THAT I AM HAPPY AT HOME. I have no freaking clue where I would start trying to find the money for child care while I worked. And, for the record, I am now a WORK-at-home-mom, because my writing has started to earn me some income. Not enough to get us off assistance, but enough to help me avoid a panic attack every time there’s an issue with our SNAP or Medicaid. If you think I’m lazy, please try to write well enough to get paid for it with a one-year-old who is struggling with sleep.
4) Being dog owners is irresponsible, because that money should go to food and bills.
I find this complaint truly weird. It has come up a few times, and I just don’t understand either the assumption that we got our dog while on assistance or that the dog has anything to do with any part of this debate. Nowhere on the application for assistance of any kind does it say “How many pets do you have?” The government does not care if our dog has enough dog food, so it’s not a factor! The end! Which brings me to…
5) The amount of money we get from the government is calculated based on the money we have left over after we blow everything on dogs, dog food, cigarettes, alcohol, and organic food.
INCOME + FAMILY SIZE + PREDETERMINED COST OF LIVING = ELIGIBILITY. Mitigating factors do include rent, utilities and medical expenses. They do NOT include “I own a dog” or “I prefer organic foods” or “I like beer.” All of these things are true, for me, but the government doesn’t care! They’re not on the forms! If I spent all our money on all of the above (even though I quit smoking long before we qualified for aid) then we would simply have no money to pay our bills. You cannot receive aid simply because your preferences raise your cost of living. I think that I got a lot of “how dare you ask for organic food” crap after writing my last post, because I complained that WIC specifically prohibits organic eggs, milk, cereal, etc. First: the idea that organic food is for Fancy People is absurd. I’m not going to discuss whether or not it is healthier, because science says that it is. I will discuss this: if I were to find a coupon that made organic milk CHEAPER than generic non-organic milk, I still wouldn’t be able to use a WIC voucher to buy it. That bugs me. Because it makes no sense, not because I think that my family is entitled to fancier food than your family.
I don’t buy jars of baby food very often, because my child has pretty much always eaten food I’ve prepared for him from groceries, or breastmilk. These are, by far, the cheapest options for feeding a baby who is old enough for solid foods. We use the money we save by not buying prepackaged baby food (WIC covers some, but not all–remember: supplemental!) to buy some organic produce for the child. I have a list I keep in my purse of the foods that are “clean” – I buy organic berries, but not bananas or avocados. I assure you, government assistance and our income do NOT allow me to simply turn up my nose at anything that doesn’t have a “USDA Organic” label attached to it.
6) All government assistance programs deposit cash into our bank account.
I am getting the impression that people think Food Stamps and Medicaid are amounts of money deposited into our account, and that we can spend that money irresponsibly. Just so there’s no confusion, let me make this clear: SNAP/Food Stamps money goes on an EBT card, like a debit card. Each family gets one and only one, which makes it pretty obnoxious to realize that you want to buy groceries, but your partner has the card. This card has money added to it each month, and when that money runs out, you don’t get more until the next month. You can keep whatever you don’t spend. You cannot use the card to purchase non-food or prepared-food items such as cigarettes, alcohol, and restaurant meals.
That’s it for today, folks. Anything else I can clear up for you, while certain representatives are trying to claim that families like mine are bankrupting the government? Note: if anyone brings up my birthday gifts from yesterday’s post, I will delete you. Don’t mess with me on discretionary household spending anymore, because, and I’ll happily repeat this until the cows come home, it has NOTHING to do with how much money we get on our food stamps card. Also off limits: my dog. He has nothing to do with any of this, and I love him very much.