While I was married to my first husband, we were on welfare because he couldn’t hold down a job. After the divorce I was forced to stay on aid because I had two children under three at the time and their father still could not hold a job so I was not receiving child support or any support from him.
Now contrary to belief, welfare is not a “handout.” People who are on welfare must participate in a program where they are trained to look for work. Let me tell you that no one on welfare is living the high life unless they are cheating the system. However, while I was on aid, when my children were young, they made a new rule that a single parent with two or more children under the age of two years old were exempt from the work search program. When this rule ran its course and my kids got bigger and I added another to the brood, I went to these classes. I also went to school where I was able to get my books paid for through welfare.(They do not pay you to go to school. They will only pay for the books and there are some counties that don’t do that any longer.)
While I was on aid with my three children I was medically exempt from participating in the work search program on doctors orders. I have a heart condition that can cause me to pass out unexpectedly and because of this condition, welfare paid for my children to be in daycare during the day so that I could rest. I did eventually have heart surgery to “fix” the problem but I still experience symptoms to this day.
For my family of three children and one adult, we received $762 a month in cash aid and $560 in food stamps under the SNAP Program. I know that looking at the number it seems like at lot. But if you really think about it, that is all you get for the entire month. I learned in a welfare orientation, ironically enough, that they only give welfare recipients about $4.50 a day per person for meals. Let me tell you that it is very difficult to buy nutritious food for that amount.
Where we were living at this time is what is considered California’s wine country, Sonoma County. This is where I was born and raised and this is where my children were born. I think that this is one of the most beautiful places in California. It is surrounded by fields and fields of vineyards and redwood forests. But because of the beauty, this is a very expensive place to live. My children and I lived with my mother in a two-bedroom townhouse. Our rent was $1050 a month with water and garbage paid.
My mom had her room and my children and I shared a room. These rooms were very large so it fit my full-sized bed, a set of bunk beds, and a toddler bed, easily. I paid $500 a month in rent and then had a $100 phone bill that I had to have because my children were at daycare and because of my doctor appointments. After I paid my bills, the money I had left over was for diapers, pull ups, and our fun budget for the month.
I love to have fun with my children and just because we did not have a lot of money did mot mean that we were not going to have fun and they were not going to have memories. We went to the ocean a lot because we lived 20 minutes away. We went to the the river in the summer. Our cousins lived in the same apartment complex as us, a couple houses down, and we have kids around the same age so we would take them to the complex pool. We would also sit with them in front of our apartments and watch them play together. The adults in my family love to act like kids so we played cops and robbers with the kids at night outside. My cousins knew that I did not always have the money to do many things so we would keep our eyes out for free educational events that were going on in our county. When we planned to go somewhere special I would save our money for a few months or I would collect cans. One year I did not have much money to go to the county fair and the kids really wanted to go. So I took our Nintendo Wii and the games to the local game store and traded them in for cash. I didn’t get much but it was enough for us to have fun and eat at the fair as the boys were too small to ride the rides anyway.
I know that there are many stereotypes concerning people on welfare. While I was on welfare, I heard some of the most rude comments and looks. There have been many times where I went into a grocery store and the second I pulled out my EBT card to pay, the cashier gave me an eye roll. This happened so often that I would take my mother shopping with me and when it got time to put the groceries on the belt and pay, I would have a panic attack and would have to leave the store and go sit in the car.
I have had many people tell me that I was a free loader. I have had a child support worker tell me that because I received welfare benefits I don’t deserve to get the full amount of child support that my ex-husband was paying. When receiving welfare benefits, you do not receive the entire amount of child support. In fact you only receive $50 no matter the amount that was paid into child support unless the amount is under $50. I have also had people be very angry with me because they were not eligible for daycare aid as I was.
By writing about this topic I am in no way saying that I am not grateful for my time on welfare. It helped when I needed it and it got me back on my feet. Now I am off the aid and feeling great. I wrote this to show people that not all welfare recipients are “freeloaders.” Most of us are just trying to figure out how to feed our children for the rest of the month, and if we’re going to have to skip meals so our children have enough to eat.
See, even though I am no longer on aid, I would never look at anyone on aid as anything other than my equal. I don’t know their story nor is it my business to know. Everyone walks their own journey and we all have our obstacles to over come. I do not judge because I know what it feels like to be judged for something that is outside of your control. To all of the people that are against welfare, I pray that you will never have to take that road one day. Being on aid does not make you any less of a human just like not being on aid doesn’t make you any better of a person.
So the next time that you think about getting upset over welfare, remember that it is there for a reason and try to think how you would feel if you didn’t have food to feed your children and they were crying, telling you their stomachs hurt because they haven’t eaten in a few days. Before you judge, put yourself in their shoes and try to think about what you would do if you were living in your vehicle with your children and they are crying because it is cold. Wouldn’t you do anything and everything for your family? I dealt with the constant eye rolls and judgement because I love my family and I was not going to see them starve to make someone else feel better.
Never let anyone make you feel wrong or that you owe them something because you are on aid. You are just as important as anyone else. If you feel like you are the only one on aid that is dealing with these feelings, you are wrong. Know that I was there also and everything happens for a reason and if you use it right, the system can give you a hand up in your family’s lives.