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: