Should You be Ashamed to be on Public Assistance?
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 GovBenefits.org for a complete listing of all the programs available in your state.