When I started writing this post it had a snarky tone. Now that I’ve given myself time to sleep on it I thought about how I can go about addressing this topic in a less aggressive manner. I grew up benefiting from what some call “entitlement programs.” When I hear that phrase it makes me cringe and it upsets me. In fact I even find it a bit insulting. It upsets me that people don’t realize just who exactly benefits the most from social welfare programs. It’s all about the children. As a six year old living on food stamps, Medi-Cal and housing assistance I definitely did not feel “entitled” to such things. I felt like it was normal to have food on the table, a place to live and ability to see a doctor when I was sick. I did not feel like the government should be helping us because hey, we’re poor and they SHOULD be helping out my mom! No, that was not the mindset of my young self (or ever). I just wanted to have my basic needs met so I could become a thriving adult. I didn’t feel entitled to anything, just wanted to live.
I’m not here with an answer to social welfare reform. There should definitely be changes, I just don’t know what the good middle ground is and I’m not involved in government. I’m just here expressing my past experiences and it just stings when I hear people painting this picture of greedy, entitled money grabbers. The people who benefit the most from social welfare programs are children. I was not pickpocketing Uncle Sam. I did not feel smug and entitled as I stood in line for my crappy, cold, sometimes partially moldy free sack lunch at school. It was a little embarrassing and I yearned for a homemade sandwich or even one of those fancy Lunchables that came with a Capri-Sun!
Certain life choices were made and my mom ended up raising three daughters alone. It wasn’t the way she planned or hoped things would turn out but that’s how it ended up. So she had three kids to raise alone and knew she needed a helping hand to get her through hard times. She did her best, I know she did in those early years before meeting my ex-stepdad. She worked as a Veterinary Technician and at one point took on a second job as a cook at a bar. She also did other things like letting people store things in our garage for a fee. Occasionally she’d rent out a room to a woman in need. Under housing assistance you’re not supposed to do that but she needed to earn extra money to make ends meet. We also had a live-in nanny that watched over us when my mom was out working to pay rent and put clothes on our backs. Don’t get the idea that this was some governess watching over us–no this was a Mexican immigrant that worked for room and board as part of her wages.
Kids do not control what their parents do. Adults make certain decisions and conduct their lives however they want. Children are just along for the ride. If you happen to be born into a poor family you don’t feel entitled to eat everyday or have a place to live with basic utilities. You just know that your stomach feels hungry that you want to eat and a simple bowl of ramen noodles or rice and beans will do just fine.
Were it not for the housing assistance we would not have lived in a comfortable three bedroom house with a fenced in backyard located in an okay (not bad but not the best) neighborhood. Were it not for the food stamps my mom would barely be able to feed all three of our rapidly growing bodies. Food stamp days were the best, we’d visit the grocery store and load up on essentials like oatmeal, milk, fruit juice, beans, rice, bread, cheese, tortillas, and some meat. We never bought junk or even organic groceries, only regular food that my mom could cook with.
Were it not for Medi-Cal my sister’s case of pneumonia or my ear ache or when we all came down with bronchitis–would have racked up expensive medical bills for my mom–or even caused us further suffering by avoiding a doctor visit she could not afford. Were it not for the free lunch program there would be no lunch! Maybe a tortilla and an apple. She would have found a way but the school provided lunch was more filling. Although it was not exactly nutritious and was actually really disgusting. Often times children would find bits of feather still stuck to the cold fried chicken. Strange bits and green specks in the cold “chicken nuggets.” They served food that was supposed to be hot but the school had no means of heating up these foods. Nevertheless, as I got older and our situation changed sometimes this lunch was the only food I received.
I’ve heard the thought that people should be drug tested before receiving certain benefits like food stamps. This is a good idea but at the same time not everyone utilizing food stamps is a single adult only responsible for themselves. Food stamps really saved us on so many occasions. If my mom were to be drug tested and then denied benefits–that would have effected me and my sisters. We would have gone hungry. I know there is abuse out there, it absolutely exists. I believe regardless of how adults conduct themselves children need to be factored in to the decision-making process. If a person is totally taking advantage and not using the food stamps to feed their children then Child Protective Services should intervene.
We did get off social welfare programs slowly but surely. First we moved and no longer needed housing assistance. Next, food stamps were dropped. We continued to receive free lunches through the end of high school and even used Medi-Cal to the end (until we hit age 18). I should also note that of the three children only one received child support payments. A whopping $60 bi-weekly. Sure my mom could have demanded more, but she felt she would be taking away from his other 4 children he had with his wife.
My college was almost completely paid for by federal and state grants. Due to my mother’s low-income I qualified and got a full college education debt free. I also won some scholarships and used some of my own cash savings to pay the last semester’s tuition. Now I have a career I love and my future children will not have to be raised with any government assistance. Unless of course something tragic happens and we suddenly need help…but I don’t want to think that way.