This morning I came across a link on Facebook to a blog post a young woman wrote about the need for welfare/state/federal assistance reform. I agree we need reform, but what I didn’t agree with–the idea everyone on assistance is a lazy bum defrauding the government who needs to find a job. This girl was trying to say the right thing, but before you go preaching about what you’ve witnessed as a cashier at Wal-Mart you need to get to know the real story.
I’m not telling this to gain sympathy, but for those out there who don’t get it to maybe open their eyes to the possibility that we’re not a bunch of lazy bums. This my readers is my real story:
Growing up in a poor family I was embarrassed beyond words because of the stigma associated with welfare/state/federal assistance. My father was on disability and had been since he was forty due to a mental illness. This was well over 30 years ago when mental health medicine was not what it is today. Hell, he didn’t get a definitive diagnosis until 6 months before his death in 1992 (he was suffering from schizophrenia). My mother was his primary caregiver during their marriage and there were 3 children of which I was the oldest. For many years I was oblivious to the fact as a young child exactly how poor we were. As I grew older and realized not everyone lived as we did I became horrified.
At fourteen I got my first job through a government program. It was full-time (40 hours a week at $3.25 per hour, min. wage at the time) during the three months school was out of session. I busted my ass doing such things as stripping and sealing both tile and hardwood floors, painting, raking shale in the driveways and parking lots of the local school preparing for the coming school year. The money I earned was mainly put toward school clothes and supplies for the coming school year with a rare buy my mother considered frivolous (my first summer at this job I purchased a 19 inch black and white television for my cracker box of a bedroom). I did this job for three summers leading into high school.
There was no money for a college education and my only option was to either marry straight out of high school, join the military or move away trying to find work. Thankfully I had an aunt who realized how desperate I was to get out of the one-horse town I was in and distance myself from the stigma of my upbringing. I swore the day I left my parents house I would never–NEVER–rely on government assistance until I was old and gray.
In 1986 I moved to St. Louis and in with my aunt who was like a second mother to me. I had some major league adjustments to make before I could learn the way of being an adult. In late 1988 I moved out of my aunt’s house and in with the guy I was seeing and never looked back. In 2003 I was laid-off from a decent paying job ($10.00 an hr.) after which I suffered an accident that required surgery on my left leg. With no job, no insurance, and depression settling in I struggled to keep the promise I made myself all those years ago. Unemployed for a little over a year (part of which I could not draw unemployment due to being out of commission from the accident) my retirement savings depleted to feed myself and keep a roof over my head. Just when I was ready to give in and lose my apartment fate blessed me with a part-time job.
The weight was just beginning to lift, but after a year the business I worked for went under and I was without work again. This time though the fates were looking over me and the owners of the building I lived in hired me as a manager a month into my unemployment. It was never meant as a long-term thing, yet the state of the economy left me with little opportunity. Despite two letters of recommendation from my previous two employers and a solid employment record I could not find a job. Employers would rather hire some young kid straight out of college with no practical work experience than someone such as myself. Hell, I couldn’t get hired at a damn restaurant despite 13 years of experience doing just that.
After two years of struggling to survive on around 300.00 a month (my rent and utilities taken care of) my best friend threatened to kick my ass if I didn’t apply for Food Stamps. I did exactly that and it wasn’t easy. When I made the trip to the local office I felt like I was a failure and my stomach turned inside out. Two hours of waiting, tons of paper work, and a kind smile of approval later I burst into tears. I remember what the social worker said and did. She squeezed my hand and told me to hang in there that things would get better, I just needed to stay strong.
That was in late 2007. At the age of 39 I had done what I swore I would never do–accept assistance.
Last winter I found a second part-time job through a friend doing industrial cleaning 3 nights a week. I was clearing just under $400.00 a month from my day job as property manager and a $130.00 in Food Stamps. The moment I reported this new job (an extra $200.00 a month) my assistance dropped to $70.00 a month. I’ve managed to make it work, getting occasional support from friends and praying a great deal. Life is not what I imagined at 18 or for that matter 28. During all this I also lost my mother, my aunt, and an uncle. But as a wise woman once told me the powers that be do not give you more than you can handle.
Apparently, they have more faith in me than I have in myself. I will be losing my second job in a few weeks, the owner having decided to sell and the new owner choosing to do the accounts on their own and not keep the employees. The weight is gaining again and yes I will be getting an increase in my assistance come the end of March. So tell me again that all those on assistance are simply too damn lazy to get a job.
As the title of this blog says–Before preaching, know the real story.
Until Later…Blessed Be