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Don’t Assume.

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Once it was just us…

Don’t assume.

Don’t assume “those people” aren’t trying. 

Don’t assume they are lazy. 

Don’t assume that life is easier for them. 

Just because you may know people who are taking advantage (or know someone that knows someone) that does not mean there aren’t ten times that many people just struggling to survive. I’m sure every time I swiped my food stamp card with the baby on my hip people looked at me as just another single mom with no baby daddy present, lazy and milking the system because how DARE I not have a job…

I used to be one of “those people”.  Life was hard for me then.  I was immensely grateful for the assistance I received as an emancipated minor teen mom with a little baby trying to finish high school and then going to college as a single mom. I was even more grateful when I had a nervous breakdown from the pressure and couldn’t work for over a year.  It got so bad I was unable to leave the house most of the time unless it was to go to the grocery store with my mother, in her nice car.

I sure was grateful for the help then. 

I spent Hannah’s toddler years living in a three room apartment without heat or a stove, just barely surviving on $450 a month when my rent was $400 a month. I couldn’t even keep the electric on all the time. I got $180 a month to feed us and my apartment was not equipped with a stove. Microwave everything plus not knowing how to cook (because you were never taught) usually means boxed things. Cheap and processed foods filled my cart.  The only luxuries we had came in food form: a bag of chips or carton of ice cream, because I didn’t have disposable income to get my kid a toy or a book.  I’m sure there were noses turned up when I went through the checkout.  I never noticed.  I was too busy trying to keep Hannah quiet so I didn’t have THAT KID in the store.  You know, the one without a coat, probably in pajamas that was overtired and hungry (because we could only shop when my mom was done with work), the one that people will look at and cluck their tongues at her harried, short-tempered mother, as they whisper under their breath and think “my child would never behave like that”.

I wouldn’t say we had a cushy life living on welfare.  It was damn cold.  We qualified for heating assistance but the furnace was condemned. Ever had to survive a New England winter without heat and cracked windows? I had a tiny space heater that I would move from room to room that took the worst of the bite from the air.  Except when it tripped the fuse box, which was unreachable from my apartment.  Then we sat in the dark until morning, because my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t knock on my neighbor’s door.  The roof leaked, and I would cry every time it rained.  Rain meant drip drip drip into a bucket beside the bed, and wet carpet after splash splash splash goes the water droplet as it hit the bucket and splashed out.

Laundry was iffy.  When I couldn’t go to my mom’s I learned how to wash clothes in my tub.  Christmas didn’t happen in our house, we were so lucky that family would take us in because I could not afford a tree or presents or clothes- I sometimes could not even provide necessities like soap, diapers, and toilet paper. We certainly did not have a television or a car or a computer.

But I DID have a phone because my mother paid for a cell phone for me.  I sometimes painted my nails myself.  I cut my own hair and Hannah’s too.

I’m lucky I got out of there.  I’m lucky I went back to school, and got a job there too.  I’m so glad that I moved in with my cousin and got out of that apartment.  That I met James and we struggled together until we finally made it to where we are now: Still living paycheck to paycheck, still without a safety net or cushion but at least we can do it ourselves.  Most of the people who receive assistance WANT to be where we are.

That image of the welfare queen holding a cigarette with her perfectly manicured fingernails while talking on her fancy phone?  Not everyone is living the high life or lazy or taking advantage of the system and it makes me ill to be painted with that brush.

18 Responses to Don’t Assume.

  1. That is wonderful Joni! I also raised my now 20 year old by myself. Not as bad a situation as yours but I totally understand the depression and fear. ((hugs))

  2. Well said. Have been there, i do my best not to judge now, we are living paycheck to paycheck now even. I cut all my kids hair and only get mine done once a year at the cheapest place I can find. I ask only for necessities for myself on holidays and we currently have state insurance because our medical bills are over half our income. When I ask if I have to drive some where, not because I don’t want to go, but because I count how many miles I can go on a gallon of gas. I am a veteran of the US Army, and my partner has been an electrician for 20 years, but yet ends don’t meet. We have no cable, no car payment, no fancy cell phone and the money we get from recycling is our movie money. Never judge

  3. Thankyou, so much, for writing this blog. It made me cry. I have been through every single thing you mentioned in this post (including living without heat during a New England winter because my furnace got condemned as well). It is so nice to know that other people understand what I’m dealing with. All the judgment toward people on welfare is saddening.

  4. THANK YOU FOR THIS! There was a time in my life that I was living on $80.00 a month and trying to raise my 2 yr old. I was lucky enough to be in a Section 8 apartment complex where rent was based on income. I did my fair share of bathtub laundry and creative cooking! There was a time we had nothing in the house to eat except a bag of twizzlers someone had given to us. That was 15 years ago. Currently I only work 2 days a week because I have a 7 mo old daughter that I am breastfeeding and SHE is more important than any job! My boyfriend works full time and we no longer qualify for assistance. We still live paycheck to paycheck and have no cushion. But we are no longer “poor”. Every day I see the people who take advantage and it makes me angry. What makes me even angrier are those who make a blanket statement about people on welfare. They don’t realize that some of us are/were busting our asses working 40+ hrs a week and sometimes it’s just not enough! So again, THANK YOU SO MUCH! :)

  5. This is such a hot topic. really. I’m here, right now. I have a reliable car because my father didn’t want me living in the stix with no transportation, so he’s paying for it. i still have to go to the food pantry every week to supplement when our small allotment of snap benefits run out.
    “Those People” really pisses me off. “Just get a job” really pisses me off too. Like i haven’t tried?! McDonalds won’t even hire me! Trying to find work after not having a “Job” for 11 years is near impossible. So i sit at home, and try to find other ways to bring in money. Etsy, Surveys, Sponsored Tweets.. a few bucks here and there. My husband works 50+ hours a week. not even making enough to live paycheck to paycheck. he’ll soon be seasonally laid off.
    It’s not as easy as “get a job” or “find something better” He actually has to take time off of work to go interview other places, if he doesn’t get the work, we’re out the money.

    Right now? i don’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary. i can’t afford to put gas in my car, and i combine trips when i need too. it really adds to the burden when 2 out of 4 kids have special dietary needs, that eat up a huge part of your food budget. Holidays? yeah, i’ve made it a point since my kids were very little that it’s not about what you buy from the store, but what you give from your heart. homemade gifts are the best presents..even if those on the receiving end don’t appreciate it. I’m glad we don’t have cable. i couldn’t stand hearing “i want” all the time. i have to tell my kids no enough now as it is.

    Thank you for sharing Joni. While i’ve not had it to the point of no electricity for days, i know what it’s like to have no heat in a new england winter.

  6. I agree, I am in the same boat right now, I have been disabled for over 10 years now, and just squeaked in enough work credits at the time to collect my Social Security, which is not much, when I was first hurt the kids were younger and caring for them and the home was a task in itself while my husband worked job after job, places closing, getting hit in the floods. I own my own home, this saved me some since I only pay lot rent, if I had to rent a place I would live on the streets because I could not afford it. I received no cash assistance, although eligible I was too damn proud, so we barely scraped by as far as rent, car insurance (which is needed in NY and living in the country off any close bus routes) but NOT counted as an expense, electric, heating and cooking fuel (we would have to get 5 gallons here and there of fuel oil all through the non heating months to have enough fuel for the beginning of winter and got help for the second tank through HEAP, I got Food Stamps, my kids were not going to go without, I stocked up once a month and got funny looks because of the loaded cart (I have social anxiety issues in public places,stores especially)so I try to get everything in one stop once a month.
    We have gone without electric and running water for 36 days at a stretch, mostly in the summer months getting water for wash from the spring and gallons filled at a neighbor’s for cooking and drinking, winters here are cold too, and mobile homes are cracker boxes at best for fending off the cold. Pipes would freeze, the furnace would break and it all bit chunks out of our meager finances, and then my husband was injured and needed surgery, now he cannot work, he may never recover from the nerve damage he received to his cervical spine he had not enough credits to collect his Social Security and now receives a meager 212 a month to add to my income of 707. instead of earning 200+ a week being able to work . The kids are older now so they understand, they did pretty good growing up and getting second hand items, we all did and still do. The funny thing is? We are happy now, we cooked over campfires and got in touch with nature when we were down on our luck, we made great fun of serving meals by the light of candles and lanterns, I think the kids learned that it is ok to ask for the help you need if you need it, but are also able to recognize that need just might not be so dire and can actually be a fun experience. We still strive to make ends meet, but they DO meet now :)

  7. I really hate that we have to be on food stamps. I really really do but we have to eat, we have to feed our daughter and I often hate these things. I was a working girl up until I had the baby I was going to try to go back to work but we have no promised baby sitter, my husband works nights at a resort in town as a bellman, valet, and drive and I worked retail. grandma and pop pop work (grandma is a nurse and they own a restaurant that pop pop is at every day minus Christmas and thanksgiving and 1 week that they are getting things done to the place and are out of state) and grandpa is a farmer, my parents are in a different state. We make it as best we can and we share a 3 bedroom (one of those rooms is not useable as a bedroom) with two roommates because I am a stay at home mom who is trying to find work from home Christmas this year will be tight again, going to wind up making gifts for people. I know my daughter is happy because I see the smiles on her face every day but I feel like I can do better and I want to do so for her I just wish that I could get a job from home that will allow me to do the work and raise her while my husband works. But its hard I spend time in tears that I don’t let anyone see I give my husband smiles, my child a happy mom and hide things from my roommates and friends and family. I carry on and do the best I can with what I have and make it all work.

  8. This hits home. Growing up, my mom made $20-$50 more a month than the limit to get us assistance. Every winter, we ran out of oil before it was half over and didn’t have the money for more. My sister and I were doing ‘odd jobs’ in the neighborhood by the time I was 7 so that we could have a few dollars to go to the school events.

    Now things are *finally* looking up for me. I managed to luck into a great job, and just got a promotion, so I don’t need to rely on state assistance or child support. I’m about to rent a 1 bedroom apartment for myself & my child so that I don’t have to live in my friends basement anymore. I still get most of our clothes as ‘hand me downs’ from friends, or go to the thrift stores. Even when I have enough money to go around, my anxiety goes through the roof if I have to pay a bill (other than rent) that’s more than $100.

    Which is why I don’t assume, and why I tend to get irritated with friends who tell me that I need to buy all organic food and never shop at WalMart. And by the way, I *love* that my job is helping people who are on Medicaid find mental health services if they need those. When I left my ex and had to start looking for work, I decided that if I had to be away from my girl, I wanted my job to be something that would make a difference in peoples lives – and I finally found a job that does that and allows me to support my little family.

  9. Years ago my daughter and I were on food stamps, medical assistance and housing. You know how it is living moment to moment trying to feed your child. I worked at McDonald’s and a lot of time I was bringing home whatever they were going to throw away just to feed us. It was horrible, but we made it through. I eventually got a better job and was able to make ends meet and you know what? When I went to our local assistance office to discontinue our benefits (I was so excited!), I actually had to talk them into it, lol! They kept trying to keep me on public assistance even though I could afford to live without it… finally!

  10. Interesting – and well done, as always! I thought I’d share the other side. I was the child of the single mother, like you, Joni. We didn’t have a car or a phone (no cell phones or computers or cable back then) and sometimes, we didn’t have electricity. My mother worked as a waitress and a seamstress. She worked all day and then, all evening. Once I turned 8, she couldn’t afford a babysitter so I was home alone. I wouldn’t see my mother for days – or perhaps, only briefly, in the mornings. That just meant more time to play outside with my friends! Late at night was tough but the lady downstairs would check on me so I felt pretty safe. I knew things were tight – because she told me she couldn’t afford the extras. Did I notice? Not really. We had food. I thought ketchup or mustard sandwiches were fun! Mac and cheese for dinner for 2 weeks straight? AWESOME! What bothered me most, when I was a little older (around 10) was that I didn’t have many clothes and the ones I had were outdated and worn or ripped. The other girls at school would sport their new school clothes and yea, it bothered me….but it never occurred to me to complain or ask for anything more than what I had – except for the pink glitter rock and roll jacket that ALL of the girls had in 6th grade! By the time they went on sale, they only had blue left… and they didn’t have my size… so my mother bought it for me a size too small. I wore it every day, just the same. My mother paid $40 a week for rent and made around $60. We didn’t qualify for any assistance (imagine that?) and my dead beat biological “father” didn’t pay a penny in child support. The only heat we had came from the side of our kitchen stove. In the morning, I’d dress next to the stove. At night, I’d sleep piled with blankets. I’m pretty sure I could see my breath in that house! It never occurred to me that it could be any different… it just didn’t! I never felt deprived. It was fun and if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing – except maybe the pink glitter jacket! :) Well, and I would have liked to see more of my mom, too… it bothered me to see her work so hard.

  11. I’m lucky and I know it. I grew up on foodstamps and I remember quite well what it was like to not have heat and to wonder if you’d have enough to eat. Fast forward twenty years. I have my own child. I work full time; now. I stayed at home with her for the first 4 years, hubby stayed the fifth year and now she’s in school. We both work now. I want more babies. But we’ve discussed it and we both agree that while we want more children, we don’t want to make our standard of living any more difficult to maintain. Granted, this is also due to the 2 kids from his previous marriage. They might be 17 and 19, but we still have to feed and care for them. We qualify for foodstamps, but because we can make it comfortably without them, we’ve opted to let the families that truly need them have them.
    I’m so glad to hear that you’re able to make it work and I hope that things continue to get better. I know it can be hard to admit you need help, but your kids are more important than anything. Ignore the asshats that look down on you for using what is available to care for your family. Take comfort in knowing that your babies are growing up to be responsible members of society that will have empathy and an understanding of caring for others.

  12. …..I don’t know why it surprises me so, but I often find that you write things that truly touch me… lol…a very pleasant surprise :) I’ve been that Mom…divorced…4 kids… scrambling to have the basics…no money for holidays or birthdays or the movies, etc. Scraping money together to buy a gift to send with my kiddo to the birthday party he was invited to…knowing full well I can’t even afford to buy the same toy for my own kids…but he wanted to fit in, be part of the class… There may be people living high on benefits, etc… but I am still 2 paychecks away from dire circumstances…Yet, my children have such an appreciation for me, and family time…and things that are truly important. I have 2 in college, paid for through hard work and scholarships… one in high school, and one in middle school…all wonderful students, polite…people I am extremely proud of…and in the end, isn’t that what counts?

  13. I’m on SSI because of anxiety and other mental health issues, I wish I could get a job. I have to depend on food stamps to eat, and heating assistance and medicaid and medicare to cover my health issues and pregnancy. I have a phone that I got for FREE because of how bad AT&T effed up. I am not wealthy, I am a rummage sale queen. Hell I found a coach purse for $3 at a rummage sale. I rarely buy things brand new and usually at Wal-Mart or Target. 5 below is my best friend. I hate being painted into a corner like this and I’m telling you that I can whole heartedly agree with this post. It sucks. Space heaters that don’t work, ovens that heat the house for you because of how cold it is and a furnace that’s iffy. Thank you for writing this post.

  14. amen! i have had people say cruel things to my face because i was using a food card, using the system but was able to have a smartphone at the same time. my booyfriends family pay for it and it is necessary to secure a job and get in touch with the government for help etc. seriously! so happy to see you not in that part of your life now but i know exactly what ur saying!

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