Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Truth About Foodstamps

   I once had a customer come through my line, and she bought a massive amount of food, almost $1,000 dollars worth of every food you could think of. The man behind her was just joking around, he had a big grin and meant no harm (which is not always the case, people can be crazy nasty), "You must be shopping for an army for a month."
   "Oh no!" she says, "This isn't even half of it either. I have 9 kids. I never knew that the state would pay me so good to have all these kids. I don't have to work; I wouldn't work in a place like this for nothing." (And thanks for shitting on my job as you feed the foodstamp stereotype.)She swiped a food card and he had a look of disgust on his face. And I really just want to thank that woman for giving all people who use this program a bad image. Foodstamps is not payment for having more kids than you can afford, and yes this really happened: no joke, no exaggeration. Foodstamps is a program for the disabled, those who are in hard times and those in crisis. They are for people who need help, not people who won't lift a finger to help themselves. And there is a stigma attached to those who need government programs; so when you treat these programs like career options, and view your children as potential raises, you feed the stereotype that contributes to the stigma that we all face when asking for help. We all get judged by the way we look and not by the reality of our situation, something that this woman had fed by her callous referral to the programs that supported her as her 'job'.
   I've been on foodstamps. For one year, and I was actually raised against them, so it was very hard for me to swallow my pride and ask for help. I cried, seriously cried, heartbroken, when I left the DSHS office. I was glad for the help, but mortified that I was in a position where I needed the help. And I am not the only one.
   One story involves another customer, a woman in a business suit, who came in with foodstamps. She had no clue how to run her card. The card works just like a debit, but she wasn't aware of that; she had never been on the program before. Her 21 year old son had suffered a brain aneurysm that left him unable to do anything for himself, permanently crippled. She was now his caretaker. She told all this to me with tears in her eyes because she had just left DSHS, and had been treated badly by the DSHS office, people who should know better. She didn't understand why. Don't judge her for spilling her guts to me, because I was, and still am, sympathetic with her plight. She had been through something hard and needed to vent. I just think that the fact that she got some empathy from her cashier instead of her caseworker is a travesty and a perfect example of the flaws with the system.
   Things can go wrong in an instant, and you can lose everything. She had nice business clothes, but this is because she had worked in a nice office. She lost that job because of the amount of time that she had to take off to care for her son, who had and then was in recovery for a brain aneurysm. She was suing for her job back, but these things take time, and in the meantime, bills were going unpaid, she lost her house, and needed to eat. Because of the income trouble, she was also having a hard time paying the lawyer, so who knows if she managed to get her job back.
   One problem that she faced was that she was being judged by how she looked. People treated her like she shouldn't need help and was taking advantage of resources that they didn't think she deserved. Sure, she had nice clothes. So what? Used clothing only sells for a bare fraction of what they cost, and if she had sold all of the clothing to fit the 'image' of poor, she probably would have had to spend the amount she had made selling her old clothing just buying new clothes, which is not cheap, even from places like the Good Will, and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why buy what you already have just so you can fit a preconceived image? People were judging her only because of how she looked, and not her actions or her circumstances. Could she have been feeding me a load of baloney when she told me about her son? Sure. Do I believe her? Yes, because I have seen this in action. She was judged solely based on the way she looked, and she looked more prosperous because she used to be more prosperous. Her family, however, was in a terrible crisis, something that you couldn't see just by looking at what she wore.
   I am in the process of earning a BA for Human Services, and I can tell you that I have seen cases, true case studies for us to examine and dissect for our studies, where wrong assumptions were made based on appearance. And it's not like there aren't people out there who fully abuse and take advantage of the system, and they give everybody a bad image of what people who receive government services are like. Many of us want to be off of those services as soon as possible. And case workers: they can treat you badly. I know that my case worker made a lot of jokes at my expense, and made me feel like I was the shit that he scraped off of his shoe. I have been off of those programs for several years now, and I am heart-glad. I feel for those who are on those programs, and are not abusing them, because they have to deal with the stigma that comes along with the help, and often are judged only on how things look, like my second example, and not on how things are. My first example was an abuser, but my second, well-dressed lady, she was suffering, and my heart bled for her. I have never seen her since that one time, but I hope that she is doing as well as her circumstances allow. Seeing your grown child permanently impaired because of a brain aneurysm cannot be easy.

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