Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Have a Story About Applying for Food Stamps

When I was in nursing school, I applied for food stamps. This is what happened.

I was struggling in to stay in school. I wanted to be a nurse because I wanted to do work that meant something more than the clerical positions I'd held since high school. I wanted to be a nurse because it was financial freedom to one who had barely made more than 10K a year.

But at the time, I was married to a hard core alcoholic and drug addict. While the emotional, psychological and financial abuse I endured were bad enough, I can say that other than a few incidents, I was not routinely physically abused.

I had just transferred to the MUSC College of Nursing. I was on track to get my BSN, they were offering me amazing financial assistance that would greatly lower my need for student loans.

I had the goal in my sight. All I had to do was keep jumping the hurdles thrown into my path by the alcoholic who did not want me to succeed, knowing that if I did, I would no longer be under his control.

(Why didn't I just leave? That's a longer post, but the short answer was my son. I had no custody rights as a step parent and if I left, I would not have been able to take him with me, would have been forced to leave him there, alone in that environment.)

About three months into school, the alcoholic lost two of his biggest contracts. 90% of our income was gone within two months. I was not working at the time. The curriculum was dauntingly challenging and I had a little bit from loans. So I started picking up jobs here and there where I could.

But after a while, I had to start selling my plasma so I could buy milk and vitamins for my son. I could eat Ramen noodles 14 times a week, but he could not.

So I applied for food stamps. If you've never done this, it is a humiliating and soul sucking experience, even when you know you are doing it for the right reasons (to feed my child nutritious food). I didn't even apply for myself and the alcoholic, just for the child.

And was turned down. Oh, we met all the requirements except one: we had two vehicles. (This was 1993) I had an 1982 chevette and the alcoholic had a 1974 van that he used in his landscaping business.



Yes, there was a but.

Since there was a child in the household, if I wanted to DROP OUT of MUSC's College of Nursing and enroll in a DHEC training program for nurses' aides, I would qualify.

That was my option: If I quit a course of study that would give me and my child financial security in two years, entered a program of study that would pay me less or equal to the clerical work I once did, trapping me in working poverty, my child would get food.

Or stay the course and go hungry.

Luckily, I knew I had some options. I had family I wasn't too proud to beg from at that point. I still had blood to sell. For six months, I fed three people on $25 a week.

See, this is how low income people get trapped. They reach out, trying to get help to pull themselves up, but are only offered assistance that further traps them in the merry go round of poverty.

And as the middle class slides further and further down toward working class and the working class disappears into poverty, think about how close you are to that tipping point. One job away? One car transmission away? One unexpected hospital bill away? One missed paycheck?

How close are you to the food stamp line?

Probably closer than you think. Probably about as far as this nurse thought she was:


black iowa dirt said...

this post is all too familiar.

JanetLee said...

It's all to familiar for a lot of us. I'm not ashamed of where I came from, but I know how hard it was to climb out and I have empathy for those still trying.

Anonymous said...

Many of our rookie state police officers families qualify for food stamps......they put their lives on the line everyday.... And are paid so little they qualify for food's this for an idea ????? Evey pro athlete should adopt a family or two...from law enforcement......teachers...etc....

While I'm on my soap box......why is there a statute of limitations for the thieves and crooks who have cheated the system out of millions and millions ie in Florida by filliing false claims?????? Setting up bogus drs offices while people who need the help cannot get it......
If the government knows these criminals why don't they prosecute them???

JanetLee said...

Rookie firefighters, first year teachers, nurses aides, daycare workers, grocery clerks, Wal-Mart clerks, entry level military men and women, most of these people would qualify for food stamps or WIC funds based on their income.

Yes, there is wide spread cheating and fraud in all government programs and it needs to be cleaned up.

But the Tea Party/Koch Brother solution - cut everyone off, is not the answer.

You know how when your computer freezes up and no matter what you do, nothing works? And you pull the plug, count until ten and plug it back in?

That's what we need to do. Take all these highly education unemployed people, give them training in fraud, abuse and waste of government funds and send them out into the streets to find the abuse.

Our police departments are overwhelmed with their own budget cuts to worry about much more than violent crime. Our social services departments are so understaffed that they can barely process applications, much less investigate.

The money we spend training and then paying these people to be investigators would be offset by the waste they would stop.