I purposely did not call myself a “welfare” mom because, let’s be honest, if I did you would have made some sort of judgment about me based on that word. It’s OK. I’ve done it, too. Everyone on welfare is a single mom who just keeps having kids to get more welfare benefits, right? That’s what I believed when I was growing up.
Now, I am one. And I need to confess. Because it seems that Food Stamps is becoming one of those issues, or maybe it always has been and I’m just noticing it more, that people are extremely opinionated about.
Recently, after a report that Food Stamp use is on the rise, I heard a few minutes of talk radio about the subject, and the host was appalled that people might use their food stamp benefits to buy crab legs or some such seafood luxury.
Confession No. 2: I also sometimes buy cake, ice cream, cookies, soda and other “luxury” treats using Food Stamps.
Also, on Facebook, you can “like” this statement: If you can afford alcohol and cigarettes, then you don’t need Foodstamps. (Their spelling; not mine.)
This bothers me. I neither smoke nor drink alcohol but I have other vices. Like shopping. And eating. And watching movies.
Confession No. 3: My family sometimes eats out. And we buy clothes or shoes when we or the kids need them. And we have a Netflix account.
We have been receiving Food Stamps for about a year and a half. My husband works two part-time jobs and goes to graduate school. I stay home with the kids and do a little bit of freelance writing when I can. We’re halfway through his graduate program. We don’t plan to be on Food Stamps forever. We look forward to the day when we can be off the program.
In the meantime, though, I’ve learned to accept this help at this stage of our lives. Even though we sometimes spend our money on other things, being on Food Stamps means that I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to feed my kids or if I have to choose between food and rent this month. It means that I know we’ll have grocery money, even if I can’t always see where the money to pay the rest of the bills is going to come from. And it means that occasionally we can do other things that families who aren’t poor get to do. Like go to the movies. Or eat at a restaurant. Or spend a day at the zoo. To say that we’re not allowed to do any of those things because we’re on Food Stamps is like saying we should be punished for being poor. To me, that’s the thought pattern behind the alcohol-and-cigarettes statement.
I know that people abuse the system. My mother-in-law worked in that sector her entire adult career and could tell stories. You can write us off as the exception, but I’m sure there are more “exceptions” out there. I’m just asking you not to judge me because I use a Food Stamp card. (Especially not if you notice the highlights in my hair or the new clothes I’m wearing. Confession No. 4: My mom paid for both for my birthday.)
If you pay taxes, then I’m grateful that some of your tax money can help feed my family for a time.
One final confession? Most of the time, I hate being on Food Stamps, but I love not having to worry about how to feed my two kids while I worry about how to pay the other bills. And, sometimes, I’m glad for the experience, if only to have walked a mile in another mom’s shoes.