Should You be Ashamed to be on Public Assistance?

By Linsey Knerl on 3 February 2008 75 comments
Photo: ChicagoEye

Growing up in a poor home, I had no idea what food stamps were. The food bank was rarely utilized for fear of being judged as a drain on society. Everyone in our community “knew” that a real man couldn’t let his kids eat food that had been purchased by the U.S. government. Similarly, welfare programs were for folks who were lazy, stupid, or both.

Our family, and other local farmers, had no problem using agricultural subsidies, however. As a society, we grew up with the dream of getting college degrees, and we took full advantage of Pell grants and government-funded scholarships. Many of the activities we participated in ran on grants and endowments from our local and state governments. We felt secure in a future of social security checks and a competent Medicare program.

What exactly is wrong with America? Having been on both ends of the “hand-out” fence, I can tell you that it’s a conundrum I haven’t quite figured out. I worked as a clerk in our local Social Service office the same year we applied for assistance for the first time. I was shocked to hear even the workers grumble with disgust at serving the needy community. I was never more relieved than the day we reported to our caseworker that my husband had gotten a great job, and we would no longer be needing assistance. Getting a little help with food and heat had been perfectly legal, but somehow I felt so guilty.

Government programs are directly used by the majority of Americans, and I can almost guarantee you that you will use a Social Service at least once before you die. These programs are funded by each and every working American. They are designed to be used by by those same people -- just like Pell Grants, state-funded unemployment, and that tax rebate you may be receiving later in the year.

So what’s with the stigma of food stamps, welfare, and other programs commonly associated with the lowest of the low? Our federal government wants us to use these services. So much, in fact, that it is considering renaming the food stamp program the “Food and Nutrition Program” to relieve some of the shame that accompanies participation. College students are being encouraged to qualify for food assistance as an alternative to an often inadequate diet.

Sure, there are abuses to the programs, folks who just don’t try, and a barrage of cases where it just doesn’t help much anyway. There are also families who have been helped – families who needed a little more time to get on their feet. These people used their resources to the best of their abilities. They cut coupons, shopped sale ads, and managed portions of healthy foods to be sure that their “food stamps” were put to the best use. They went to bed with full stomachs and hope for tomorrow.

Looking back on my childhood, I wish things could have been a little different. Maybe, if we had access to the slick-looking debit cards that the government currently provides food program participants (instead of the awful perforated coupons used back then), there wouldn’t have been as much shame. Perhaps if people had been more honest about the cycle of money in this country, we all could have seen it as an opportunity and not a “hand-out.”

Let’s be honest about our world and avoid judging others. I’ve been there, and it’s not that bad! If you are having a hard time providing the basics for your family (including food, shelter, heat, or medical care), there is help. Visit for a complete listing of all the programs available in your state.

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75 discussions

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Guest's picture

Just because the government encourages it doesn't mean it is correct. Welfare and government assistance programs are used by leeches that mooch off the hard work of others. It is simply redistribution of wealth. Men need to man up and provide for their families. If this means quitting a college education, no cellphones, no satellite TV, or having to drive a clunker, so be it! If one makes decisions in life, he/she has to be prepared to accept the consequences - good or bad. Heaven forbid of unwed mothers and deadbeat fathers exercised self control and abstinence in order to reduce the need for government handouts.

Guest's picture

Right on!!! I live in Maine, a state in which 25% of the population is on some sort of government assistance and where only 25% of adults have a high school education or higher (compared with a national average of 80%). I am so tired of seeing young mothers walking around with their illegitimate children all day long, with no jobs, feeding off the government. We have become a country of entitlement. No one want to take responsibility for anything they do anymore.

Guest's picture

I paid into the system for many years (over 25) since age 17 I was married and working, worked my way up to a high paying corporate job. I have a large house payment, car payment 2 kids and a wife. I paid thousands and thousands into the system. My job was outsourced to India, I now am being told I am over qualified for every job I apply for (at least 15 per week) This has been going on for a year now. my savings is gone. My wife can not make enough to support the family. I was hurt on the job as well so I think the company used a reorg to get rid of my medical bills (I continued to work even though I could hardly walk) The company started denying my medical care much less any payments. When I was still able to get unemployment, I did not take it until I only had a few weeks left, I kept thinking I would land another job.

We are starving with no money, we applied for public assistance and have been waiting over a month now for approval.

I can only hope you have to go through this someday yourself as I probably paid more in my short years than you have ever into the system.

Some people try and just can't make it so quit making judgement on everyone because there are people that abuse the system.

Guest's picture

I noticed you are also spineless and can not even put a handle, so Guest I hope your job is eliminated someday, see if you have a change of heart when you lose everything you worked years for.

Guest's picture

But the person writing the 1st post should also have got the same spanking. Abuse could also be defined by the stereotypical comments placed by that user.

Someone that does not have to live through the destruction.

Guest's picture

You don't use anything from the government? I mean you don't use the library; the Interstate highways; the bank; the post office; the police; the fire/ambulance; the schools; the universities; the airport, to name just a few . . .

You like to pretend that those below you are beneath you. In a heart-beat (literally), you can and probably will need the government to pick up your hospitalization, Mr. Self Sufficent. Your insurance has a limit and the government let's your wife keep her house after you max out. Want to give up everything you worked for when you are 83yo and sick for the last six months? If not, why not? Why should the government help a guy like you who doesn't have $8 million?

This is the problem with guys like you. You think you are self-sufficient. I suggest you use YOUR police, not mine. Go to YOUR private beach, not mine. Pay for YOUR teachers, not my public "socialized" ones, etc.

I have found those who judge others are uneducated jerks who are non-empathic idiots. If you don't like it from me, take it from God - let Him do the judging.

Guest's picture

If the government encourages PA then there shouldn't be a problem for an individual to apply for it, whether it be a male or a female. As you may know, society is moving into an age where heteronormativity (gender roles) are changing. You should never frown on individuals because of their abilities. At any given moment, you and anyone in this society can suffer a downfall. So please, re-evaluate your mentality as it has much growing up to do. FYI- Even the most richest countries suffer from a deficit, so do not point any fingers miss perfection.

Linsey Knerl's picture

To your opinion of course.  And while a respectful discussion is preferable to a sordid display of name-calling and defensive generalization, you most certainly don't have to agree with me.

Unless you can tell me that you have never used (or will use) a government assistance program (college grants, school lunch subsidies, social security, etc.) then you are mistaken, and have grossly misunderstood the point of my article.  I am simply facilitating an adult discussion on the differences between government-funded programs and the social views associated with them.

You have, in responding, proven my point.

Guest's picture

To date, I have yet to use a college loan program, school lunch assistance program, or social security. I'm not saying these programs shouldn't exist, but they definitely shouldn't exist in the control of big government. These "social programs" need to be run by churches, non-profit groups, and charitable organizations. How can the government be so audacious so as to take my money and redistribute it to whoever decides not to work or just stay on welfare because they can't hack it. It's my money to begin with, and I should be able to and do decide who it goes to by donating to charities rather than big government.

Guest's picture

I see the need for assistance programs, but I also think that they should be a temporary fix not a lifestlye as they have become for many people in our nation.

After hurricane Katrina, I stood in the food stamp line, drove through the lines to get ice, and MRE's. I also got a FEMA check and unemployment assistance while I was out of work. After a couple of months, we were able to get back on our feet, so we called the unemployment office and stopped the benefits that I was receiving. There were thousands of people in our situation; many still are struggling to rebuild their lives 2 and a half years later.

Then there are those people who were living off of the government before the storm and who were rioting at the New Orleans City Hall when the city council was deciding if the flooded housing projects should be torn down. Many of those families had lived in the projects since they were built in the 1940's. They were 3rd generation tenants. They receive food stamps, utility assistance, housing assistance, free education assistance and free childcare. They scream that free public housing is their right. I have a serious problem with that.

There must be limits on assistance. People should not expect to be taken care of by the government. It has to be a hand up not a hand out.

Linsey Knerl's picture

That food stamps and other helps should be a transitional tool, not an intentional way of life.  I would like to point out a few things about the food program specifically:

The government does NOT consider the food and nutrition program (food stamps) to be welfare.  (See this link) . Additionally, the government encourages participation in the food stamp program because, while it costs tax dollars to do so, it is in their best interest to keep our poor from going hungry.  The last thing we need is a poor and elderly population in bad health due to malnutrition.  This is far more costly to us as a nation than the cost of food stamps (both in medical care and loss of resource.)  Also, single elderly households make up a large majority of the food stamp population, so keep in mind that these are often folks living on a fixed social-security income.

Here is a VERY interesting article on the state of welfare today compared with its origins, for those of you wishing to look at the cash welfare system (which I didn't examine specifically in my article.)

Just a few thoughts.  Thanks for the comments! 


Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I respectfully disagree, Lindsay. I think a healthy dose of humility is in order when one makes life decisions that lead to requiring government hand-outs. I say that as the child of a single mother of three children who put herself through college on various forms of welfare and food stamps. There really is no denying that it was her own decisions that had her needing those handouts to begin with.

Don't get me wrong, I admire my mother for getting the education that she got, but I don't think it should be EASIER for people to make poor life choices. I don't think accountability is a bad thing. I am ok with transitional assistance, but I do see it being abused a LOT. Anecdotally, my own husband was a cable technician for several years while completing his degree. As rule, most homes in the poorest areas had cable packages with all the bells and whistles ($150 a month, easily), not to mention two cars, dishwashers, etc. I hate to sound heartless, and I am the first one to help someone when I can, but I just think more accountability would be a good thing for EVERYONE.

Linsey Knerl's picture

and I agree that bells and whistles should never come before food. 

Having worked in the social services, arena, however, I felt that there was more than enough shame to go around in many instances, without feeling like people needed extra.  Alot of the people receiving assistance weren't the classic "baby's mamma" or deadbeat from down the street.  They were the foster kid that aged out of the system at age 19 with no jobs skills or self esteem.  They were the widow of the soldier killed in Iraq... the mother of 5 with an inoperable brain tumor and a husband that was laid off when his job got sent to another country for cheaper labor... the retiree who just found out that her dead husband's pension package disappeared when the company he worked 40 years for went belly-up. 

These folks weren't suffering "consequences" or their poor decisions.  They just got stuck with a whole lot of life at one time.  Many of them would have been able to get more help sooner if they hadn't have been made to feel ashamed. Most of them stayed on assistance for a season or two and moved on, grateful that all the tax money they pumped into the system for all those working years finally gave back to them in their time of need.

I WILL agree that there are too many people abusing the system.  I also am all for accountability.  Our current system doesn't do alot of that, and it can be easy to cheat the system.  I did see that from time to time.

I would like to see more good people who are struggling see options for what they are, however.  And I would like for people to be able to examine what is truly a "hand-out" and what could be a way out.

Thanks again for the discussion!


Guest's picture
Music for Cats

I have to admit that I feel a lot of resentment towards the people who talk smack about those of us who have received public assistance. For my part, I am bipolar and categorized as "Seriously Mentally Ill" by the state I live in. That means that I've been hospitalized more times than I can count -- both at public expense and on private insurance -- and have received extensive ECT (electro-convulsive therapy, also known as electroshock). I will be on incredibly expensive medication for the rest of my life in order to remain productive and employed (by "incredibly expensive" I mean about $1500 a month, retail). I didn't choose to have this devastating illness, and I have worked doggedly to get a Ph.D. and remain employed despite it. I have attended countless support groups and a lot of group therapy, and it's undeniable that most mentally ill people -- people who make up a large percentage of the homeless and imprisoned population -- want desperately to acquire the independence, involvement and prestige of working. People who talk about "bad choices" often aren't looking at the full extent of the challenges people face, and their narrowed range of options. In short, I've paid a lot of taxes in my time, and don't feel at all guilty for receiving free medications and psychiatric care during a period in my life when I couldn't work, and therefore was uninsurable.

Don't even get me started on the cruelty of a system that bases insurance on employability, thereby denying it to the sickest and most needy members of society -- those who are too ill to work.

Myscha Theriault's picture

This is really a hot discussion, Linsey. I'll be interested to see how it unfolds, as I can certainly see points from both sides of the aisle.

Guest's picture

i think the mind set difference between welfare and school grants and scholarships is that you EARN most school related things (like pell grants---required GPA to even be eligible) where as welfare usually means you've "failed". i put that in quotes, because obviously there are many many many exceptions to that, but i think, at least subconsciously, thats how many americans (not the moochers of course lol) view it.

Guest's picture

I've worked with poor people for most of my career and must say that I don't know the answer. Almost every week, I see a welfare cheat driving a Lexis and parking next to my Honda Civic. Almost every day, I see good people who deserve more, not less help from our government. Many times, its because of an illness or handicap that is not the person's fault. Many times, I see people with limited skills who would still be doing something useful and meaningful if they had been born in a Northern European country.

The Lexis-driving welfare mom tends to get people's attention, but she is the minority. All welfare recipients get a bad rap because we haven't figured out hnow to distinguish between the two groups.

I don't know how the Europeans manage their system, but I know we could learn from them. Americans are to reluctant to learn from other systems that actually work.

Guest's picture

is that most people abusing the system and using it for a "lifetime" are children of those who were on public assistance (I'm talking welfare and food stamp programs)...they are taking after their parents and many do not know any better or different. I am not familiar myself with how the programs work, but can someone talk about assistance in learning life and job skills and that kind of thing? Do people get trained to stand on their own two feet while in these programs? Or is it easier and does our government enable folks to stay on indefinitely. I have had friends on public assistance when they went thru a rough time in their lives, but they all understood it was temporary and just a helping hand. I look at it this way too, should I need it.

Speaking of social programs...what about Social Security? It wasn't intended as a retirement program..but a supplemental income one...but look how many depend on it for their retirement. Why is that? At least back in the "old days", if you worked hard on your job, you got your gold watch and your pension when you retired, and I guess Social Security wasn't that much of an issue...not these days...pensions have gone the way of the Dodo if today's workers continue with the mindset of the government taking care of me...the system will eventually collapse, won't it? I have a neighbor who had a VERY modest job with the post office and set aside only $20 a month when he first started there...he is now one of those "closet millionaires" if he can do it with just $20 a month...why can't the rest of us do it???!!

I guess it boils down to what kind of government we want to we want a total free market society or a socialist one...or something in between? We don't have either right now, but in light of these latest "tax rebates" and other programs that keep cropping up, we are leaning towards becoming socialist...all fine if that's what we want...but I guess we'd have to be prepared for the govt getting into our lives in other ways too.

Guest's picture

>>I guess it boils down to what kind of government we want to have...

We have a mixed government that's got elements of capitalism and elements of socialism. Every industrialized state is like this, whether it's called "socialism" or "capitalism."

We're moving away from the socialism, and have been since the 1980s. Also, that tax rebate is more "capitalist" than "socialist" -- a more "socialist" response to the faltering economy would be to have the government get involved in the sinking housing market, to create more subsidized housing for poor people, so rents don't increase due to the increased demand for rental housing (and to create jobs for laid-off construction workers). These tax rebates are going to be used to pay down ballooning debt and pay for rent increases, and basically end up in the pockets of the already-wealthy.

Guest's picture

I agree that there shouldn't be a stigma attached to public assistance, and I agree that there are people who are abusing the system. I also think that a lot of times, it's the people who need the assistance the most that struggle the most with the stigma attached. A friend of my sister's is a single mom raising a child and just as she was starting to make ends meet, the cancer she fought as a teenager made a reappearance. She qualifies for food stamps, but is ashamed to use the debit card. She drives to the next town over just to use it, and even then, she mainly uses it for milk for her son. Even though the money is hers to use on food, she still refuses to use it because of the sigma attached. And with her health conditions, she could really benefit from spending the money on balanced nutrition.

She's working hard to make ends meet. She's raising a son on her own with no family help and no help from the child's father. She's fighting cancer (she has state provided insurance - the cancer is the reason she applied for assistance in the first place).

Unfortunately, there are a number of people on the other side of the fence, people who will take everything that is offered to them and still ask for more, people who are taking advantage of the system when they don't need to be. It's those people who give the system a bad name.

I don't know what the solution is. Better policing? But at what risk? Would fewer people who need the assistance take it for fear of the policing? If so, then it's not worth it.

Philip Brewer's picture

I think part of what stigmatizes welfare programs versus other sorts of government support is the extent to which they're base on need. Farm subsidies to go anyone who owns land and grows (or doesn't grow) the right crops. Some college aid is based on need, but the ceiling is high and some is available even to the wealthy. These sorts of programs don't seem to come with so much stigma attached. (This, of course, is exactly why there has been so much resistence to one option to save social security, which would be to means-test the benefits. Everyone knows that to do that would be to turn it into a welfare program, with all the associated stigma.)

Guest's picture

Thanks for bringing up the topic. I'm grateful the help is there for those who need it. Unless you've been on your uppers it's really hard to explain to someone who hasn't. Having been there has advantages. I can see both sides. As you said, it's not always a matter of personal choices, but alot of life happening at once.

Abuses do occur. And it is frustrating to have no say in how tax money is spent. A thought, I wonder if our tossing the responsibility of our neighbors onto the federal government, is a big part of the problem. We not only lose personal accountability, but the ability to actually help someone do better, to share in their success. The sheer amount of distance between tax payer and receivee bogs down all efforts. And to be perfectly honest, I'd rather give a gift to someone I know would use the help well, than pay the same in taxes only to see a trickle actually reach them. Not everyone feels that way though, some prefer the distance. Anonymity has advantages on both sides.

I think alot of your insights have to do with the advantage of seeing people who need help as indiviuals, with many different reasons for being in a tight spot. You've been there too. As you noted, people getting tax paid help, aren't all unwed mothers with eighteen kids.

Catherine Shaffer's picture

What an unexpectedly lively discussion this has generated. I thought I would have nothing to add, but I think I do. When I was a child, my family was on food stamps and welfare for a period of time, and I am not ashamed at all. Whether my parents made poor life choices or not, they did the right thing in getting help for themselves and their children, and it was indeed a transitional phase, as is the case for almost everyone who uses such programs.

This is a very important subject to bring up. Here in the state of Michigan, we are deep in recession. The state has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs, and we are beginning to see a dramatic rise in poverty-related social problems including, sadly, many more children entering foster care due to addiction and other emotional problems directly triggered by poverty. Many people are experiencing poverty for the first time in their lives, and are unfamiliar with the social welfare system. I think there is little doubt that in the state of Michigan, many people are unemployed through no fault of their own. (This may be a look into the future for the rest of the country.) At the same time, the price of groceries has risen starkly. People should definitely take advantage of government food assistance as well as any help they can find through private charities, local food pantries, etc. to get through these tough times.  I have heard great things about Angel Food Ministries (, which is one of those "faith based initiatives" sponsored by the Bush Administration. It sounds like a huge success, as any person can receive a large package of food for just $30. It is in the best interests of the government and society as a whole that the population be well nourished, and even though food costs are rising, there is still plenty to go around. You can't look for a better job, or go back to school, if you are not getting enough to eat. First things first.

Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor

Guest's picture

I'm sure there are some posters here who would see my family as some sort of deadbeat burden on society, since my children are all foster kids we've adopted. We get a monthly stipend on 3 of the 4 until they turn 18. It is nowhere near enough to raise a kid on- for us it only augments their lives. It is money we save for their college or rarely dip into for extras like karate class or summer camp. This is not entitlement- these kids came from extreme disadvantage and the stipend only helps a little. For all the needs our children have, my partner is a stay at home parent with no added income. I see the stipend on some level as payment from the government for tackling the special needs our kids have.

The kids are also elgible for food stamps until they are 5- if you think food stamps means all your food needs are met, you are all sorely mistaken. The food stamps are for specific items, chiefly, milk, cereal, peanut butter, juice and sometimes cheese. It merely augments the needs of a growing kid- it is not the be all and end all some here think it is.

And don't think that just because we get these so-called entitlements we aren't paying taxes. I would imagine that as a family, we end up paying more- since the government doesn't even see my partner and I as a couple.

Guest's picture
Frugal Guy

Don't be ashamed Diva, if you are doing your best for the moment. Remember what other people think of you is none of your business (one of my favorite sayings) :) Our kids always have to come before our pride.

Guest's picture

We had both our kids while we were in our doctoral programs (I was writing the dissertation the year the younger one was born). My advisor ran out of funds, and we ended up taking assistance from the state in the form of a "gap" medical assistance (our insurance paid 80% of medical costs, the 20% gap was filled by the Med Assistance, for me and the two kids), and Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a great program that provided dairy products, cereal, juice, and (since I nursed the baby for a year), tuna and carrots. It wasn't "exactly" food stamps, but you can bet we got a lot of stares and not-so-quiet comments in the grocery line, usually from elderly people who were drawing social security. They usually shut up when I politely mentioned it, but it was very stressful. Still, we appreciated the assistance, and were thankful for the support during the one year that we took it. I was able to finish my degree, go to work (allowing my husband to finish his PhD) and we have been contributing tax payers for many years now. I consider the year's investment in our lives to have been a good return for the country :)

Our younger daughter is autistic (now 12-1/2 years old), a condition that requires a LOT of therapies, medical procedures (EEGs to check for seizure activity, which we've avoided), medications to control behavior, sleep problems, etc. In our state, there is a Medicaid waiver for autism, so that we are covered (much like the medical assistance (MA) program described above) for the portion of the bill that our very good insurance (which costs a lot anyway, but ya gotta have it) doesn't cover is taken care of by the MA. I'm sure lots of fiscal conservatives also would balk at this, but she didn't ask for this condition (neither did we--it is a life-wrecker in many ways, ask any parent with an autistic child), and having assistance helps us to remain employed and able to contribute to the tax base.

I do worry that the cliche of the Welfare Queen (Lexus-driving, bon-bon eating, with 12 kids by 12 different guys) has hardened the populace against people who might need different levels of support at various points in their lives. The concept of public assistance is to help people get on their feet, either for the first time, or after a setback. It has been abused in some cases, but as our story (and that of the poster living with bipolar disorder--my thoughts are with you!) demonstrates, it does work.

Guest's picture

I also forgot to add to my earlier post about how the Welfare Queen is really a red herring of sorts that the government brings out when convenient. Yeah, there may be a few who live this way- I won't argue that.

But look at the bigger picture of what government wastes money on. The costs of welfare, food stamps, WIC, etc are but a drop in the bucket compared to the millions flying out every minute in Iraq- a war the majority does not support. And in wars past, there was an economic war "boom"- not so now, when Washington cronies are there to suck up the profits for themselves (read Halliburton, Blackwater, etc into this comment) as manufacturing for the military has even been outsourced to other countries!

Linsey Knerl's picture

It is exciting to read about so many of us that have been touched either positively or negatively by government assistance programs!  Thanks so much for sharing what seems to be some very personal experiences.

I would like to point out to Music for Cats that your point is very valid.  Let me be the first to say that I'm glad our government was and continues to be there for you in your times of need.  We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, so even though I don't know you personally, it's nice to know that tax money is going towards what it was meant for, no matter how long you need it for.

Also, I think it very interesting that as the price of groceries rise, and jobs become scarce in some areas, food stamps are a great way for the government to pump money into the economy.  In our small town, the cost for food is roughly 120% of the groceries in the next town.  We could save alot by driving over and getting more food for less money.  This would, of course, kill our local economy.  The food stamp program guarantees that our small grocer stays in businesses, as many of the food stamp population are elderly folks that don't drive or other recipients that find the convenience of shopping in town a major benefit.  The food stamp program has undoubtly saved our town from extinction, and I see it personally helping many farm families during times of need.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks for bringing this up, Catherine! I am familiar with the program, and it is wonderful! I have yet to check it out personally, but I have heard very good things. It is open to anyone, and check out this month's menu!

  1.25 lb.
Bacon Wrapped Beef Filets (5 x 4 oz)
  4 lb.
Individually Frozen Chicken Leg Quarters
  2 lb.
Lean Hamburger Steaks (4 x 8oz.)
  1.5 lb.
Boneless Pork Roast
  1.25 lb.
Meaty Beef Short Ribs
  20 oz.
Supreme Pizza
  10 oz.
Deli Sliced Turkey Breast
  3 lb.
Fresh Apples
  35 oz.
Crinkle Cut French Fries
  16 oz.
Frozen Green Beans
  16 oz.
Onion Rings
  14 oz.
Fancy Ketchup
  26 oz.
Pasta Sauce
  16 oz.
  16 oz.
Pinto Beans
  7.5 oz.
Macaroni and Cheese
  Dessert Item

It's pretty cool that people can get all this food for just $30!


Guest's picture

Back in the early 1980's I worked in the local grocery store in my small (5000 person) town. My personal background was that my father was being squeezed out of farming by corporation take-overs and my mother went back to work earning not much over minimum wage. I was at minimum wage at the grocery. Now, I saw almost everyone come through the lanes with their purchases and their monies. What really surprised me, was some of the folks who got food stamps. Some of these people appeared so well-to-do! New cars, fancy coats and could they do it???? I had no idea. My parents, on my encouragement, actually applied for and were denied these benefits. We did, however, qualify for the half-price lunch program at the high school I attended. (Big WHOOP!) After working at the store and see what I did see, I figure there has got to be an angle and a way to work the system. I guess I/my family just don't/doesn't have the brain for it. After watching all these people take advantage, I have no qualms, yet I don't have the savvy. Truly, I don't think these programs are great for they seem to breed a dependence and sense of twisted entitlement but, who am I to say? Just another taxpayer!

Guest's picture

I think the a difference between the group of people who are constantly on these programs (and who may have what many consider to be unnecessary luxuries) and the group of people who use these programs when times are tough and to get back on their feet.

When I was a child my parents used for food stamps for a period of time (less than a year). My father had just been laid off, they had a newborn, and a ton of medical bills due to an extend hospital stay. My mother says food stamps were the only way she was able to maintain good nutrition for my sister and I during that time.

The programs do have a purpose, and I'm more than happy to contribute some of my tax dollars to the cause. I remind my congressmen that I'm willing to do so every time I get in a voters booth and vote for someone who supports these values.

For those of you that don't support these programs I respectfully disagree and encourage you to vote for someone who agrees with you.

Guest's picture

No one should feel shamed when getting some help back on their feet. However, the government programs like Food Stamps, Welfare, and Social Security are forced redistribution of wealth run by a bureaucracy, which is inefficient at best.

This should all be handled privately. Anything the government does is done worse than the private sector can do.

I belong to the LDS church (mormons) and there is an entire food assistance program along with monetary relief for those in need. My wife is currently serving as the person who administer the food assistance program, and it is quick, efficient, and discrete. People need food, they make a phone call and they go to local warehouse where they collect shopping carts of food. All authorized by a local non-paid pastor (bishop) who serves for a period of 3-5 years. The program never runs out of food or funds as all of the church members donate regularly around the entire world.

The American people are kind and generous and can take care of the needy without government mandates.

Guest's picture

Government isn't that inefficient - I see huge waste in the private sector too. The LDS welfare programs rely on the labor of former welfare recipients. If the government could make welfare recipients work for housing, clothing and food (to produce the housing, clothing and food), they could be cheaper to run. They'd also be called "communist."

Linsey Knerl's picture

for most families to receive food stamps is less than 2 years .  Over half of participants use them for 9 months of less.  Usually when you receive benefits, you are eligible for a minimum of a 6 months period.

Guest's picture

You both feel that the government should not be involved, yet the animosity towards those who are perceived (note the very important "perceived" qualifier!) as abusing it or not deserving it, is the reason that an organization that is essentially agnostic towards recipient needs to manage the program. I agree that "big government" doesn't do it perfectly, but I'm not sure that NGO's and non-profits would necessarily do a better job.

There is an inherent prejudice in how we dole out assistance. I'm white, middle-class, and live in the suburbs, and if I had to choose between giving assistance to someone who looks like me and has a similar background, and someone who I find somewhat repellant (who still needs the help), I will probably unconsciously choose the one who makes me feel like I'm helping out a person who could be me. We all saw the biases in the Katrina photos--black people carrying boxes of food from swamped grocery stores were captioned as "looters", while whites were "foraging".

I am concerned that a faith-based or community-based group, much as it would try to blind itself to appearances or differences in culture, might inadvertantly make choices as to who "qualifies" for assistance based on sameness. Much as I love my church and the people who make up the congregation, some of them have said some very un-Christian things about inner-city people, Muslims, and the mentally disabled, and I sure wouldn't want these same folks making decisions about who gets help.

And I do think that Americans are kind and generous, but they mostly respond in crises, not on a day-to-day basis of helping. It's just life--how many of us still think about sending help to Ethiopia, like we all did in the 1980's (well, those of us old people who remember LiveAid :)? Or FarmAid? Remember that series of fundraisers? Those folks still suffer, but because they are yesterday's headlines, giving has dwindled. It's not that people have lost sympathy for those needy causes, just that we have rotated on to the next big thing.

Matthew, I'd be interested in knowing how your Church manages to keep the supply of funding steady. Is tithing compulsory (it is in some protestant denominations, but not in the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to which we belong)? If so, that counts as a mandate, albeit not a government-with-a-capital-G mandate. Please provide more information! I love learning about successful programs.


Guest's picture

on any society who allows children to suffer for the choices of their parents.

I started working for 25 cents an hour at age ten. That money was used to pay for my school lunches and school supplies. My parents were too proud for gov't assistance. By age 16 I was living on my own. Though my parents were loving and working. At age 17 my job involved checking on a men's urinal in an establishment where men thought they had a right to touch me. All this was to shelter me from the shame of public assistance? For shame on a country that would punish children like that.

I've been self-sufficient since early on, but last year my job was downsized to no longer include health insurance (or retirement). Before reading these responses, I got the feeling that people look down on me for paying $120 a month for state insurance premiums rather than the triple or worse of that for private pay. I do not personally see the doctor because of the reaction I get when I say I have state insurance. I try my best to shield my children from that reaction when they go in for immunizations, but I'm sure they see the pitiful looks. I guess my feeling that some people see me as a societal and economic drag is absolutely true, and I accept that, but would you please spare my children?

I get the discussion is about the stigma of assistance and not the source for it. It's just as shameful for some of us to get help at the church as it is at the state. It's not where the help comes from, but why we look down on people who need it (temporarily or permanently).

Guest's picture

between someone who is working/paying/earning what they get. My mother also receives state insurance because after she was divorced from my former step father, the expensive cobra plan only lasts two years and then she had nothing. She is self employed and works very hard, with long hours. BUT, she pays for the state insurance, though at a much reduced rate, as you do. There is nothing wrong with that. You are doing what you have to do to survive and take care of your children. My mother has a host of health problems, and finding new ones at the moment, that would probably cost her yearly income. That said, she has made so many stupid choices in her life it is insane. I make more than my mother and I live on a pretty strict budget. I do so because I don't want to spend the rest of my life buried under this mountain of debt and I'm looking down the road towards retirement, emergencies, etc. My mother goes out to the movies, to eat, manicures, pedicures, etc. all the time. my monthly entertainment budget is $10. Seriously, thats it, $10. I may spend more than that, but it is a rare special occassion, not every other week. That is the problem, its people who receieve "help" and don't see it as that. They see it as their right, that they deserve it, that its a part of their life, not the boost they need to get on the right self sufficient(at least partially) track. People who have had too much life deserve help. People who have made stupid choices and have realized their error deserve help. People who are worthless and stupid do not, unless they become willing to straighten up. I have no probelm with my mother receiving state insurance, but I do have a problem with the continuing poor financial and life decisions.

Guest's picture

When my husband was not permitted to work yet, and we were surviving on my disability benefits, we had to use the food bank. We used the government-operated food bank, and once had used the church's food bank. The contrast was dramatic.

The church's benefits were in the form of a voucher, where we could get whatever necessities we wanted from a small store owned by a member of the parish. The prices were half again that which I could find at a larger chain, but at least we could choose our own. The cashiers sneered at us while we made our purchases - an interesting reaction, considering the source of the voucher.

The government-operated food bank provided more food, in general. While they attempted to help us with our food allergies, there was still a grocery bag of food from every month's box that we couldn't use. The food bank also provided recipes so we could make the most of the foods we had, counseling was available, and the people who gave us our food looked tired - not condescending.

We're doing much better now, and I strive to buy 3 cans of food a week for the food bank, year round. I'm pretty sure we've given back more than we'd needed, and I hope that someone else is able to use what we've given to find their footing again.

Guest's picture

I feel compelled to point out that the tax rebate we may or may not be receiving later this year is not a social services program. It's OUR money, being distributed to us a little earlier than we would otherwise get it. Same with income tax refunds--it's OUR money, not the government's.

Guest's picture

I think part of the problem with people staying on systems like this is because it's so hard to get out... If you save $1 over some limit, bloop, there goes your assistance. Suddenly that $1 extra you saved has to make up for a couple hundred $ (or more) that you were getting in assistance, and then you're back where you started from (and start from scratch getting back on assistance). There needs to be some plan that allows people to truly save enough money to dig out of the hole without being instantly penalized for saving that $1 extra. It creates a system where it IS better to stay on then get off.

Guest's picture

The comment "People who are worthless and stupid do not [deserve help] unless they become willing to straighten up".

See, here is that prejudice I brought up in my earlier post. It's not even subtle, is it? You feel that you are able to discern who deserves help from those who don't. There are lots of people who feel the same way you do--you work hard and you can probably never project yourself being in a situation where you are on the receiving end of a hand-out. And it is admirable to work hard and save and try to never be a burden on society. I do the same myself, and am trying to raise my older daughter to take charge of her own future. As I pointed out earlier, my younger daughter is autistic, nonverbal and will probably never have an independent life. Which sucks, but that's the way it is.

Unfortunately, life isn't a linear if-then process, where you do the "right things" and then are rewarded with, if not riches, at least stability. You can do your very best, and then your spouse or child or mother has some major health problem that requires they stop working or that maxes out your health insurance, and then eats your savings and investments. And it frequently happens that this crisis occurs in conjunction with another problem: your wife gets sick, you lose your job because you need to spend time shuttling her to medical appointments, then you lose the house because you can't pay the bills, then you're job hunting and living in a relative's home and that's awkward, etc.

I'm a few years older than you, I suspect (42) and have had some time to look back on the beliefs I held with such certainty 20 years ago, and I am amazed at what an ass I must have sounded like. And by middle age, you witness a lot of the things you held so true get turned on their heads. There is a real tendency of people to conjecture about the poor and unfortunate, but it is not as large a divide as we like to think between comfort and certainty, and poverty and the kind of life that we would never imagine for ourselves.

There but for the grace of God go we.

Guest's picture

BigRed's comment on why Churches and most charities are not set to fill this need said pretty much everything I wanted to say on that issue. There is simply too much bias and judgment going on in these private entities to ever consider that a viable replacement for the government system we have now. I know so many people who would be either kicked to the curb or treated horribly simply by the virtue of their nationality, religion, sexual orientation or the way they look. I see the government system as imperfect as it is to be a far far better option where most of those biases are set aside and the need is what is focused on.

The initial concept of the "welfare queen" was coined by Ronald Reagan during his run for office in the 80's. It worked so well to create a hate for the government programs that conservative politicians and strategists have used some version of it ever since. They are largely to blame for what has become a large cultural stigma on these programs. It seems that every person who considers themselves a true conservative (tm) has some horror story of someone abusing the system. They all have the same theme of gross displays of wealth combined with use of a system. Sure there are people who abuse the system or stay on it far too long and that does not help matters. But many of these "stories" are embellished to create an excuse for a socially unexceptable behavior towards others.

I do think the programs need more revamping. They need to create two tracks. One track for those who are disabled or retired and need this assistance long term and for a valid reason. The other track as the temporary safety net to get people back on their feet. There needs to be more done for these people to direct them to getting back on their feet through some extra help tailored to their situation. Maybe they just had a job loss and health issue. There might be an opening to get them some help finding a new job, short duration retraining and that kind of thing. If you have someone without skills and hard to place in a job, get them into a program to build skills and get them employed. They should also set some progress requirements in order to keep benefits. They also have to change the cut off of aid formula. Cutting people off because they make a dollar more and other disincentives perpetuate things rather than actually helping people out of the situation. They need a gradual scale back of benefits that creates a slightly larger benefit as you do better for yourself. IE: you end up with $20 more in your pocket because of that raise and your benefit rather than losing all of your benefit. I think there also needs to be some cut off for people who are not willing to help themselves. This may require some jobs programs in areas where jobs are scarce. But the career welfare recipient stereotype such as what came out of NOLA has to end. Either your capable of working or you need to go on disability.

This is a very interesting conversation going on. I have to add one notable story regarding food stamps. The state food stamp cards here happen to look very much like a Wells Fargo debit card, same color scheme. This well dressed woman in front of me was getting some serious dirty looks from the clerk and a few other people in line as she pulled out her card. The clerk very loudly and rudely asked her if it was credit or EBT (food stamps). This was so she could push the right button on the register. This woman was so embarrassed being accused of using food stamps and made a point of explaining and showing that it was her Wells Fargo card. Nobody should be put to that kind of shaming publicly.

What I find interesting is how irate some people get at some very simple items other people might have. Cell phones frequently are about the same price as a land line and many people getting assistance also work. There seems to be a compulsion that poor people must put on a public display of their poverty and wretched ness in order for some people to accept their use of government benefits. I find that really disturbing.

Guest's picture

Ahh, Lucille, you have hit the nail on the head there. I'm not sure why folks seem so intent on labeling and identifying poor folks, and insisting that they 'look' and 'act' poor.

I too had a year in my childhood on public assistance; food, Christmas presents, and pretty much all clothing. I still remember how proud I was to recieve a barely worn second hand pink sweatshirt with puffy kittens printed on it - very stylish at the time, and retailing for $30. I was accused of stealing it during gym class by a wealthier girl, as everyone 'knew' I couldn't afford it. Talk about shame that will last a life time, along with the nickname "Second-hand Shan" that came out after the truth was widely known. Very cruel.

However, my parents worked their way out of the failed business, and we gradually grew our wealth. Although on public assistance in many forms for only one year, my parents immediately began to give back. I spent many hours of my summers in middle and high school volunteering to teach cooking classes at the food bank. I still spend my Christmases sorting toys and clothes for various toy drives. I know how important it is to that child who thinks they aren't really going to get a present to actually get one, an have her faith in kindness restored.

One thing that has stuck with me is that when you are not actively involved in something, you tend to generalize, and think about others as 'them' and this is my plea to all the posters here.

If you felt fired up enough to post here, go down to your local food bank and donate two hours of your time. Two hours isn't much, and you obviously have lots to give. Get to know who is actually using these resources. Don't judge. Be helpful. Because you've made good choices you are in the unique position of being able to give back something of quality. Your time, and friendship. And please, if you see a little girl in a brand name sweatshirt, don't automatically assume that her family has spent their money unwisely. I agree with many posters that direct ties to those you are helping will help your community and yourself.

Guest's picture

Please know that while the goverment tax rebate that will be floating our way so very soon might be our money, but it seems we are robbing ourselves to get this. Look at the terrible state the government is in and the huge debt it has. Seriously, this money isn't going to help that much. In our opinion (in our home) we view it as government waste and will put it in our savings. Seriously, we ALL need to spend less. I look at our family and see the waste. Clothing, toys, junk foods, cell phones, satellite t.v., frivolous entertainment....the list could go on and on and yet most all of us today view this stuff as necessities of modern living. Look at how much this modern life costs us - computers, internet, phones, television services....we spend sooooo much, yet how much could we really cut out at this point? Probably not much. Kinda sad. Anyway, $600-$1800 dollars or so doesn't go very far in this modern day world of expenses - just a drop in the bucket. I truly wish that everyone who received this money would "one up" the government and just SAVE IT!!!!

Will Chen's picture
Will Chen

Wonderful article Linsey. I don't think there's anything wrong or shameful about public assistance at all. During law school I did some volunteer work as a welfare advocate.  I saw that lot of people on welfare are not there by choice.  One catastrophic medical emergency or a couple of hard months of unemployment could easily send a lower income family into poverty.  These people were not lazy, they've simply had bad luck. "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me."

Guest's picture

serving the country as a VISTA straight out of college instead of hitting corporate America up for a job. My husband's bad choices include serving in the National Guard (yes, in Iraq). We also made the bad choice to have children as they are so costly. We thought we had our ducks in a row first, but we were wrong.

State medical coverage is calculated based on income and expenses. There was no line on the form for entertainment or cosmetics. My children are entertainment enough and I don't wear makeup, so that's okay with me. The state determined what I could pay. I had no choice in that or maybe I would have requested they allow me extra cash for bowling or something.

I'm making the choice to stick with my downsized job because of nonmaterial benefits. One of those benefits is flex time that allows me to be with my children. It absolutely is my fault that my children have to get the sideways glance from the school nurse and trust me, I feel the shame. But it's not my fault that medical care in this country is outrageously expensive so as to be exclusive of people like my family. That's a societal ill.

During one of my childhood hospital stays the other kid in my room was dying with brain cancer. His family had just sold their multi-generational farm to pay the medical bills. I think it's much more shameful on society to live with that. The devout Christian in me believes that everyone, even those who make stupid decisions with their money (like the prodigal son), are my brothers in Christ. That being the case, why shame them for asking of me what I've been directed to give?

A person can't be judged when "on the dole" because there is no telling how a complete stranger came to need help. I consider myself a hard-working, tax-paying American who has served my country and whose husband has served the country. Without an instantaneous background check, there's no telling if the next person in line is as well. So, why the need to cast help in such shame? And though I'm beating a dead horse about this, why shame my kids for my sticking with a downsized job?

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

I really love this discussion.  When I just moved to America my parents were graduate students and didn't have any money.  So I went to public school and was in the free lunch program.  I had absolutely no shame in taking the free lunch because I figured it was just part of school and I didn't understand English anyway.  Later I found out that other kids actually paid for their lunches and I was able to sell some of my lunch tickets that I couldn't use and it seems like other kids had no qualms in using it.  I didn't think that I was an abuser of the public assistance, but I know some people do sell their food stamps and use it for drugs and alcohol and that is really horrible.

Guest's picture

Guest post #34 mentioned all of the trappings of modern life and are they really that important, how many more do you really need.

In a way that has sort of been what tripped up our economy and caused so many people even more problems financially. There was either a Corporate or a Government strategy that depending on people buying more and more and more. People have in general started to hit that over-stuffed overload of "stuff". Places are also finding it harder to come up with the next new cool thing that people just gotta have. Or they come up with one and everyone kind of yawns. This is sort of a side note but when our government starts depending on us to go into more debt on disposable crap in order to keep the economy running we have some big problems.

The reason I saw this as relevant is that if the economy, finances and jobs start coming down on more people, more people will need help and have a harder time finding a new job.

Maggie Wells's picture

I grew up in a military family where we and all other families were assisted with just about everything (housing, medical, moving allowances). My mother often resisted these allowances so that we could have better than bottom of the barrel housing, air flights, etc.

My son was born right when both my husband and I were out of work! ( Dotcom crash era).  We used WIC and I used Medi-Cal for our second child since no one would quote us insurance under $600 a month.

And I've never felt bad as an instructor, taking unemployment for the few times classes were canceled for a semester. To me, those little patches were my unofficial NEA grants.

Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture

I wanted to clarify from comment #37, we are a military family, but with the state militia - the National Guard. We only have health insurance during deployment. We had problems with Tricare in terms of finding providers who would accept it. Even those who did weren't that happy about it. But we weren't perceived as leeches, though Tricare is gov't provided too.

Guest's picture


I have no animosity towards those who seem less deserve, nor do I presume to judge who is deserving. Some people, whether deserving or not, will always appear undeserving. I'm willing to support those that might be undeserving to help those that truly need assistance. I clearly state that I support continued government assistance and encourage everyone to voice their opinion. Can the programs be improved upon - certainly. But that hold true for most things.

Guest's picture

Folks, I apologize for noting the post numbers--I realized after my posts were published that the numerical sequence was different (so posts 23 and 26, for example, were directed at Guests, NOT Beth). Beth I do apologize for seemingly calling you out--not intended at all!!!

What I was attempting to address was the somewhat cold-hearted nature of the posts that pulled out the "Welfare Queen" cliche (and thanks to the poster who cited that as a Reagan quote--I should have figured as much, since my "Reagan-Republican" colleagues are the ones who I've heard use that term the most) as evidence that all entitlement programs are being abused. I hope I managed to soften it somewhat by saying that we could all be in that boat at some point (and some of us HAVE, from this thread), so maybe we shouldn't heap scorn. Words have a funny way of coming back to you, one way or another.

Again, my apologies for misidentifying the post numbers.

Breakfast time--look, humble pie AND crow! Mmm, mmm good :)

Guest's picture
Amy K.

I live in Massachusetts, and I used the online calculator to figure out exactly HOW poorly off I'd have to be to qualify. If I was working 20 hours a week at minimum wage, had no car, and shared a 2 bedroom apartment with 3 other people? I still wouldn't qualify. On the upside, I'd have free health insurance, thanks to the compulsory health insurance here in Massachusetts. Now, if only 2 of us were splitting the rent on that 2 bedroom, rent would be more than half my take-home pay, so I'd suddenly qualify for food stamps. And with food stamps comes a panoply of other benefits, like utility assistance. I really believe that the system here in MA is structured poorly, and encourages lying, because you must be in truly dire straits to qualify.

I do give food and toiletries to our local pantry because I feel there are a lot of people who just need a little help. That link is to an article about our local pantry that profiles several people who receive help, and still own cars. I believe selling your car is one of the requirements to receive food stamps here in Massachusetts, which seems like it would hamstring any attempt to find better work.

I'm off the original thrust of the article, but I agree with many above: The system could be better, but people still need help when things go awry.

I was in Detroit at Thanksgiving and read an article about Mitch Albom, who was visiting a homeless shelter. The article really drove home the fact that anyone can be homeless, like someone said above if "too much life happens all at once." He's a famous author, but the homeless men and women there assumed he was one of them, because it doesn't take much to make that leap. Untreated mental illness, medical bills, downsizing (especially in Detroit!), drug addiction, or a host of other things can put you in a bad financial situation and in need of some help. Take it. It can happen to anyone, and feeling bad about it won't make the situation better. Getting out of the situation will make your life better.

Guest's picture

As the first person to post a comment relating to this article, I want to apologize if my comments offended anyone. Thanks.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I'm sure it's appreciated.  This article was intended to get a good dialogue going, and I think we've achieved that!  (Plus I've learned alot from researching it and hearing from everyone.) Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

Guest's picture

I doubt anyone is still reading this, but I wanted to say one more thing (I was poster #5). I am a conservative (oooh, dirty word these days - though I am more libertarian than republican) and I strongly believe in personal accountability. I just can't stress that enough. I think it's absolutely essential and not nearly common enough. It's beginning to be that people don't even know what personal accountability looks and sounds like. I'm sorry, but circumstances are almost always dictated by decisions we make. Situations that are beyond your control are the exception, not the rule. I can't believe that drug abuse and parenthood are even on anyone's list of things that "happen to" someone. Drug abuse doesn't HAPPEN TO YOU. You choose to take drugs. Parenthood doesn't HAPPEN TO YOU. I think few are unclear on what causes pregnancy. Even most things that do indeed "happen to" you can be planned for.

This is not to say that people don't need help sometimes, even when their choices did lead them to need it. I just don't happen to believe that it's the government's right to take my hard earned money, or your hard earned money and dole it out as they (or you) see fit. Maybe I would rather my money go to the family whose child is struggling with cancer rather than to someone like my husband's father who sits his able body at home on the couch with a beer while he collects "disability" for years. This is not to say that all people are abusing the system, or even that most people are (I happen to agree that most are not), it's just to say that it is MY money and *I* should decide who I would like to help with it.

Some have mentioned that they believe that private organizations would not be able to judiciously distribute money to those who need it. To that I say, that is the BEAUTY of privatizing charity. I would NEVER give my money to a charitable organization that would not lend a hand to a same sex couple, or a single black mother, or to a recovering addict that really is trying to get his life together... as I am sure you would not. Give your money to an organization that is in line with your beliefs and your values.

Speaking of values, I want to mention one other thing about them. There is a lot of room for further discussion on values when it comes to this topic. Someone that they were made fun of for having hand-me-down clothes in school. I am afraid that the only solution to that is a completely communist form of government. It's the only way to make sure no one ever has what you do not. Unfortunately, not enough people are teaching their children that wealth is something that A.) has to be worked for, B.) doesn't happen overnight, and C.) doesn't reflect on your character. My children spent most of their early years on an extremely right budget because we (their parents) chose to have children before either of us had an education. While their dad was in school, we shopped at consignment shops and ate a lot of rice and pasta. When they complained when they couldn't have Gameboys and clothes from the trendy store, we talked to them about how hard we were working so that we could be more comfortable. Now that we are quite comfortable, we continue to teach them about how hard it was to get to where we are now, how long it took us, and how they shouldn't let having or not having some THING determine whether they are happy. I guess what I am saying is that complaints like the one above really come down to the values we teach our children and will not be affected by who does and does not receive government assistance.

Guest's picture

Social Security payments to retirees should not be considered as government assistance or an entitlement program. This is a forced program by the government to collect money for retirement and those receiving the payments have paid into the system. A self-employed person is taxed at 15.3% of the first $97,500 that he/she earns for Socal Security and Medicare taxes. An employed person has the same amount taken out only part of it is paid by the employoer. So, yes, people certainly depend on their Social Security payments to fund their retirement but it is definitely not a handout.

I am all in favor of the government stepping in to help people who need it but do not like to hear that Social Security is a handout when it's a system that many people pay up to $15,000 a year into, people who could invest that $15,000 a year to most likely get a better return on their investment to use for their retirement.

Guest's picture

Very Few realize the system is doesn't make sense and won't be fixed until the whole system breaks down.


Those who receive entitlements now outnumber those who pay for those entitlements (taxpayers). People vote their own interest .... so, those with the voting power - entitlees - will always vote for more government assistance, more programs. The deficit will grow to unsustainable levels and the dollar collapses. Financial and social chaos ensues.

Just wait until the Democrats take power!

Guest's picture

I am one of those people who receive food stamps and disability. I am embarrassed every time I use my food card. Believe me if I could work I would. I have Tourette's Syndrome and Lupus and I don't receive enough money or food stamps to keep me going, after rent I have 60.00 cash left a month plus my food stamps without them I would starve. We should all try not judge anyone, you never know when you may get in a car accident or get a life treating disease and be disabled and not able to work and you yourself will have to rely on some of the Government programs. I hate the looks I get when I use my food card. I can almost read their minds your to young, you don't look like you need it. So until you walk in someone else's shoes try not to judge. Patricia

Guest's picture

I was commenter #31 as well, but thought of an additional point to make... I happen to be on food stamps now (and am working with Vocational Rehabilitation to go to school to be able to find work that my disability will "allow" me to do, to try and dig out of it... ... BUT, when I was not on food stamps, you might've still seen me using a card. Why? Because I do my Grandmother's shopping as well. She's not able to get out herself. I think it's "normal" for women in her generation to be in a place where they need food stamps. So, even during times when you see someone young like me using them, know that they may either have hidden health issues, and/or they may be shopping for an elderly relative/friend/neighbor. You really never know someone's back-story by looking at them.

Guest's picture

I'm not a big fan of social programs. In theory they are a step up for people in a tight spot trying to make ends meet. Or for those who truly aren't able to work. In reality though I have seen too much abuse. Too many where it has become a lifestyle. Too many that choose not to work when they are really capable.

I have a brother that has a handicap and has always worked, yet almost all of the other people I know with the same handicap choose to collect their SSI. Yes their choices are limited by their handicap, but there are jobs they could do. They choose to milk the system.

Here is where you may think I'm a hypocrite. We do qualify for some social programs, and we use them. I don't think there is any shame in that. I don't think it would be wise to not use what is available to us. My husband works. I clip coupons. We live very frugally. If those programs weren't available, it would make things even tighter around here, but it wouldn't make me angry to lose those benefits.

Guest's picture

I really don't understand this entry. People are supposed to proud of nice looking food stamps? Maybe that's not what you meant.

People should view forced charity as an "opportunity" and not a hand out? I don't get that at all. What does that mean? That it isn't a hand out (it is)? That hand outs are good as long as you are getting them? *confused*

Linsey Knerl's picture

The point was simply to state that asking and accepting help, whether it comes in the form of government aid or a church or individual, doesn't have to be shamefully embarrassing or an indication of a mark of lesser  humanity.  It was to stimulate discussion, bring an awareness to the kinds of people that use these helps, and to educate.

And I never meant to hint at the fact that we all should be trying to take advantage.  The word "opportunity" is, in fact, defined as, " A chance for progress or advancement."  That is a hand-up, not a hand-out.

As far as me saying that "people are supposed to be proud of nice-looking food stamps".. you're right.  That's not what I meant, or said.  Just because you have the ability to eliminate shame, doesn't automatically mean people will become proud.  Maybe they'll just feel a little less like a loser.  And that's a good place to start.

Thanks for the comments!

Guest's picture

One way to deal with the "policing" problem is to increase welfare to cover everyone, so there's no means-testing involved. We've done that with roads, schools, fire fighting, and libraries. There's no stigma involved in driving on the freeway, going to school, not letting your house burn up, or using the library.

In fact, if you're the kind of person who doesn't drive, doesn't go to school, lets the old shack burn up, and doesn't support the library, you're called "ignorant trash" because you're not participating in society in the right way, by using those recommended welfare programs.

What about, if, instead of food stamps, we had some food that was free, for anyone to use? We'd all be eligible to get an EBT card, to get a limited amount of this free food. Or, it could be a general subsidy, like some countries have for bread, so that by eating these foods, you save some money. You could also choose not to eat these things.

Here's an example. Think about how much healthier we'd be if things were cheaper: whole wheat bread, brown rice, soy protein (leftovers from making soybean oil), dried milk, cabbage, carrots, greens. These are already, basically, cheap foods, and cheaper to produce than more refined foods like chee-tos, white bread, and yogurt... yet some of them cost more because they're "healthy" and in-demand by middle-class people who want to stay thin. The government could intervene, and reduce a loaf of whole wheat bread down to 50 cents. This would help everyone, and it would help people making $7 an hour the most, who, due to their poverty, will opt for the .99 loaf of spongy white bread.

Guest's picture

If it were not for food stamps, I would have died in childhood of starvation. Sure, let's starve some kids, that's not shameful.

Guest's picture

Since most people on here are talking about welfare and food stamps what about the Wic program? My Husband and I use this program but don't qualify for the others. It's nice for us because of the rising prices of milk and eggs. I like to see it as a "Hand up" not a hand out like some. Oh and here is some more food for thought... My husband is active duty. Now I'd like to hear someone tell me the Army gets paid too much. *Sigh* Anyway, we try our hardest to save as much as we can. Our tax rebate will go right into our savings so we can try to get ahead.

Guest's picture

I have a long complicated medical history and am facing medical disability. I'm currently into week nine of a medicasl leave of absence (today is day 65) in 25 days I would qualify for my company's long-term disability insurance benefits.

My situation is that I have had this disease/condition going on for over 20 years. I've had eight surgeries - the most recent at Stanford two years ago. That surgery was done by the best in the world and considered the surgery of last resort. When the pain started back up and I consulted with my doctors, they were all in agreement I was no longer a candidate for surgery and would better benefit best from a long-term pain management program. I starteded on Fentanyl, however, due to the recall and problems with mfg of the patch, the doctors switched me to methadone (ugh - horrible horrible drug) and now morphine. I'm not at a theraputic dose (I'm experiencing way too much pain) while suffering tons of side effects that make it impossible for me to perform my job. For instance, I can no longer drive a car - it is not safe. I can not do easy or complex math (I'm an architect - math is an essential function of my job). I tried making an Excel spreadsheet - what would normally take me 30 minutes to 1 hour took me almost 4 hours. Writing a comment like this used to take 15 or 20 minutes - now it takes 2+ hours. Writing a post for my blog takes up to six hours. This loss in cognitive function is significant for both me, my employer and my clients. I'm expected to make real-time decisions that affect the lives of many people and am unable to do so because morphine clouds my thinking.

This is all very scary and sad to admit. I ask myself constantly, by making this admission, I am doing lasting harm to my career and reputation? If other medications,pain treatments or alternatives can be used successfully without the side effects of the opiates, will my current employer take me back? Will a future firm take a risk and hire me?

My feeling is that I've paid into the system... the future is always uncertain - I may or may not have needed the benefits. Unfortunately, now I do need the benefits. Without them, I would be homeless. The private disability insurance pays 60% of my gross salary and is not subject to tax. It is good for 24 months. Later, I could apply for Social Security Disability... but the monthly payment will be far less. But I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

Guest's picture

Yes, I receive food stamps and will never be ashamed.
I'm in school and have to provide for my two blessings(kids) so my monthly food stamps come in handy and is much needed. I'm in my last semester and can't wait to work in my field but until then I go proudly to Walmart, Target, Family Dollar, and any supermarket that got sales with my food stamp card and can careless about what people think.

Times is hard and its a great thing that food is never a stress factor because of the help of our government. I make do with my food stamps each month because it clears my money for gas, electric bills, rent, insurances and etc. I know my masters will pay off and I will eventually have no need for this assistance but right now I NEED IT AND IS NOT ASHAMED...

Whenever I get the chance I do community work for the homeless or give out thanksgiving dinners from my church. I understand what others go through and its a blessing to receive and help others. People should be forever thankful that they can handle their own and it doesn't behoove anyone to knock the person down that needs food stamps or any other government assistance...

No one never knows when they may be in the same predicament...Count your blessings and be a blessing to others that may need help...Let's stop downing and rejecting those in need.

Nice topic Lindsay...

Guest's picture

You're spot-on, Linsey.

And many of the above posters don't seem to realize that "welfare"-- which meant AFDC -- was abolished under the Clinton administration. Its replacement, TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) is very temporary indeed, with very strict time limits and work requirements. It's not a lifestyle. The "welfare queen" stereotype was an invention of the Reagan Administration, not true when it was put forth, and certainly no longer true.

In fact, one could argue that TANF promotes work at the expense of children's welfare. Parents are forced back to work too soon after their children's birth, and are forced to leave their kids with poor supervision in order to go to work, when affordable daycare is unavailable.

Really civilized societies, like Canada and Norway, give parents time to spend with their young children. Our society is very, very stingy when it comes to moms and babes.

In Canada, each parent gets 6 months of paid parental leave. In Norway, a parent can get 1 year of paid (by government) leave. In the U.S., you get a discount on cheese. So take the damn cheese and don't feel bad about it. You should be getting much more help than you do.

Guest's picture

While I agree some people need foodstamps and have nothing to be ashamed of, it seems to me that most (and I mean almost all) who get it don't need it. My grandmother was 99 and living on her own and she only qualified for $40 a month in food stamps. I know of able bodied 20 year olds who recieve over $1000 a month! Some of them have kids just to be eligible for more food stamps! And another thing: there should be limits on what you can buy on public assistance. Of course alcohol and tobacco aren't allowed, but steak and gourmet dinners? If you can't buy it yourself you don't deserve it. You should be given just enough to keep you alive. Many people work hard and actually support themselves and can't afford luxuries like steak. I think our flawed "hand-out" system is part of the reason for our flawed economy. As John Smith said- "He that does not work shall not eat." I agree that we must help those that aren't able to help themselves, but the rest of those on food stamps need to toughen up and learn to support themselves. That's a price that comes with freedom and a part of what this country was founded on.

Guest's picture

I really think it is not about ebarresment or being ashamed it is just about surviving!

Guest's picture

It is nothing to be ashamed about. Just use some public assistance until you are back on your feet!

Guest's picture
OH Mama

Thank you for this article. I was recently laid off from a decent paying job and see assistance looming on the horizon. While I think social service programs need to be in place I never imagined having to use them myself-- it is very embarrassing. While my husband was a student I was proud of our simple living that kept us happy on just 16K a year, no help from anyone. I hated that friends in school used medicaid and food stamps to free up income so they could live more extravagantly than we did. I don't think that is what it is there for. But now, hardly making payments on utility bills, I think my time on assistance is coming, at least for a little while. While it is a blow to my pride, I'm glad those services are there.

Guest's picture

I've been on food stamps for a few months, and I'm at the point where I won't use them anymore. I would literally rather starve and die than continue feeling so much shame about it.

It's simply not worth it. What kind of life is that?

Guest's picture

Only the disabled should be getting any assistance from the government! To people getting food stamps and checks that are not disabled are FAILURES! The money should go to improving schools, building our infastructure, building hospitals, and etc. What else do you call people that can't support themselves while millions of other Americans are busting their butt working hard 8+ hours for their own pay, putting food on their own table, making sure their kids have clothing and education,and providing a roof over their own head? Welfare recipients should be ashamed of themselves taking money out of someone's hard earned paycheck because they wouldn't get off their asses and work! Also people complaining about the dirty deserve every one of them because it's their and my paycheck being used to fund your food stamps when they have their own kids and selves to take care of!

Guest's picture

@amanda, my husband is one of millions of Americans busting their butt working 12 hours for their own pay, putting food in the table, making sure their kids have clothing, and providing a roof over their own head. And also my husband is one of those people who is bitching every time he see people who are in welfare actually my husband is sound pretty much like you. But that was 2 months ago before he diagnosed a two serious health condition and then loose his job. Right now we have a public assistance called food stamp.

Guest's picture
Frugal Guy

I love all the judgemental comments. I seriously wonder if some of you would spit on the homeless man holding up a sign in a busy intersection, or otherwise persecute and individual down on their luck. Don't forget a lot of people who find themselves in need have been working and paying TAXES for YEARS. So they are moochers, eh? I firmly believe that none of you preaching have ever found yourself in need with nowhere to turn, even abandoned by your families? Do you volunteer to help a neighbor who needs a babysitter so s/he can work? No? Then really, really lets hope you're never in need! Remember, that karma can be a cruel mistress. Many won't give others a hand up, yet spite them for a hand out. Oh, and don't forget there are A LOT of people working, but don't make enough because, again, a lot of you believe a low minimum wage is good for the economy. Be glad for your own safety and the safety of your loved ones, that 'these people,' are not wandering around like hungry wolves. If you want to end all social programs, take a look at the conditions in Brazil and the Philippines (where kidnappings are common to extract money from the well to do). With downsizing, outsourcing jobs to China, insourcing immigrants--the rape of the economy in general--many are struggling to make ends meet. If you are young and strong and are against subsidized health insurance, can work 2 jobs if need be, just see what happens when you get older and cannot. Oh wait, you tell us you're a wise investor, have a big nest egg in the bank? The next bubble is on it's way, so you you'd better buckle down! Next time you look down your nose at someone using an EBT card and want to dehumanize him or her, you'd better hope beyond hope that you are never in his/her place. The bible says: "Judge not, so ye not be judged." What it really means that you ARE this person you judge (under different circumstances), and you won't need anyone else to judge you because you'll judge yourself realizing, at that point, your hypocrisy. I believe it's why many people jump off bridges when they get down on their luck. If I am in that position and hear you say anything while I'm checking out. I'm going right up to your face and say: "if you have anything to say, I'd prefer you say it to my face." And those of you on food stamps et al, instead of hanging down your head in embarrassment or shame, you do the same. Hold your head high and call these folks out.