A Human Face

happy 2018As one year comes to a close and another opens, full of possibilities and potential, it is only natural to reflect on what has transpired over the past year, and to look forward and plan for the upcoming year.  Many set resolutions for themselves based on goals they wish to attain, and others start new ventures.  I am no different than most.  This morning I made friends with my treadmill again and started logging my daily water intake, in hopes maintaining a better level of hydration.  I have not limited my reflections and resolutions to just my personal life, however.  As a result of stepping away, over the past year, from my bi-monthly schedule of locating, researching, and writing posts about interesting and informative topics concerning poverty and food insecurity, I have been able to think about what I hope to accomplish by writing the blog, to what degree I have been successful, and what, if any, changes need to be made.  Consequently, I have decided to introduce monthly narratives about people I encounter as I assist those who are experiencing food insecurity.

The decision to write these monthly narratives stems from a frustration I havecoffee frequently experienced when talking with others about poverty, especially with regard to public assistance.  The comments causing my frustration concern the questioning of the deservedness of those who receive any form of public assistance, whether that assistance is welfare (TANF), food stamps (SNAP) or food from a food pantry.  I’ve heard individuals classify those receiving assistance as lazy and living off the hard work of taxpayers or as illegal immigrants who have only come to the United States to get a handout.  Running through all of these comments is the theme that those in poverty are at fault for their situation, should feel shame, and any help they receive should carry a punitive component.  Over the past few years of writing this blog, I have presented statistics and facts about the average individual receiving assistance in an attempt to educate those who make such statements as to who the typical individual receiving public assistance is and the typical circumstances causing his or her need.  Unfortunately, I do not think I have made much headway in convincing those critical of public assistance that the majority of those receiving it are truly deserving.

teacupRefusing to give up, I have used my time away from writing to think about another strategy I can use to encourage these folks to stop and consider the possibility that the majority of individuals receiving public assistance are in dire straits, are working as hard as they can to get out of their situation, and do deserve the assistance they are receiving during their time of need.  As I have engaged others in a dialogue about poverty and the deservedness of those receiving public assistance, I have noticed that quite often the individual questioning the legitimacy of those in poverty to receive assistance is familiar with a person or family’s story which demonstrates for them genuine, legitimate need.  Those critical of public assistance give a pass to the individuals in these cases.  As a result of this observation, I have decided to write each month about a real person who is struggling with poverty and food insecurity, and whose story will hopefully give pause to someone who doubts the necessity of a strong social safety net in the United States. For these monthly narratives, I intend to draw on firsthand encounters* as often as I can in order to assure the veracity of the narrative, but will occasionally include an account I have read or heard about, so long as I can satisfactorily verify its accuracy.  I welcome your stories as well, either in the comments of my blog posts or privately, for me to include in a future narrative.  My hope is to put a human face on those who are struggling with poverty and food insecurity.hot-chocolate

Finally, the reason I have included pictures of warm beverages in this blog, other than it is cold and snowing, is to let readers know that I will once again be collecting warm beverages to give out to clients at the food pantry during the month of February.  This beverage drive was greatly appreciated by our clients last year, so much so, that we now routinely get asked if we have any coffee or tea available. It was also popular with readers, as I received numerous donations from many of you and have had readers already inquire this year about whether I was going to be collecting beverages again.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the warm beverage drive I held last year, I will provide a link to the blog post from last January so you know about the drive, and like last year, regular coffee, black tea and hot chocolate made with water are the best options.

*I will not use names or any other piece of information which might cause the subject of my narrative to be identified.




Who is on Welfare?

About a month ago my husband was reading an article on why people who live in impoverished areas of the country have started to vote against their own best interests by supporting politicians who campaign on abolishing votingsocietal safety net programs.  This article caused him to ask the question “Who is the typical person receiving welfare?”  We have since had a few conversations on both the topic of why some people are voting against their own best interests and who the typical public assistance recipient is.  When we have a minute or two, both of us have been searching for an answers to his question.

So I wasn’t surprised when a few days ago when I received an email from him with a link to an article written by a woman calling herself a welfare mom.  This poignantly written article discusses the nightmare in which this woman finds herself and her children living after her husband abandons them.  Prior to her husband leaving she was a stay at home mom, so when he left she had no way to support her children.  Realizing she needed to take drastic measures to keep her family from ending up homeless and hungry, she went to the Department of Human Services for help.  After waiting for 6 hours with her infant and toddler, she finally was able to see a social worker, only to be told the waiting list for section 8 housing was 5 years long and they were not taking any new applicants.  The social worker gave her information about a shelter, which offered a maximum of 6 weeks residency, when there were beds available.

She tried to get cash assistance, what used to be referred to as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and is now called Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF).  She qualified for the meager amount of less than $100 per week for her family of three, but would have volunteer 20 hours per week as a requirement to get the assistance.  She had no complaint with the requirement to volunteer, but she had two young children who would need daycare during the hours she volunteered.  Unfortunately, she was told the waiting list for daycare assistance was 6 month long, meaning she was unable to receive this assistance because she was unable to fulfill the required volunteer hours.

She did sign up for, and receive benefits from, The Special Nutritional Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and thefood pantry good Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  She was forced to give up the WIC benefits because she lacked daycare for her kids so that she could attend the classes required by the program.  Her SNAP benefits took 6 months to get because of a delay due to an in-house paperwork backup.  In the end, her SNAP benefit is so low she is still forced to go to a food pantry monthly to have enough food for her family.

She and her children also got free health insurance trough Medicaid, but have suffered heartbreaking experiences nonetheless.  As she put it, “We have free health insurance, but that doesn’t mean we have healthcare.”  Her children’s pediatrician is located several hours away and her local hospital is considered out of network.  She has a special needs son, who at the time she wrote the article, had hospitalbeen waiting 18 months to see a specialist.  The receptionist confided in her that he would probably never see the specialist, because privately insured patients would constantly be moved ahead of him.

All of this is pretty horrific to me, but perhaps what seems to be the most egregious aspect of her situation is that she is trapped in this state of poverty.  If she makes $100 more a month she will be ineligible for almost all of her public assistance, what used to be referred to as welfare.  She will have to cover the total cost of her children’s daycare, food and health insurance.  She can not plan ahead by saving her money, as you and I do, because she becomes ineligible for public assistance when her savings account exceeds $3,000.  So for her to lift her family out of needing public assistance, she must somehow accumulate the money necessary to pay all those bills in a month’s time with her current income.  That is a herculean task, which I am certain very few accomplish.

Neither my husband, nor I have found an article defining the typical public assistance recipient, but all of my research, reading and volunteering experience indicates that this mother and her family are fairly typical.  The manner in which she found herself needing public assistance, due to circumstances beyond her control, is fairly typical.  I have encountered or read accounts of numerous individuals who find themselves in desperate need due to loss of a job, illness, injury or abandonment by a spouse.  Not only is her reason for need typical, but her experience once she requests assistance is typical too.  In the book, All You Can Eat:  How Hungry is America? I encountered this quote describing our food safety nets as providing “enough food to prevent widespread starvation but not enough to actually end hunger in America.”  This assessment is accurate for all our societal safety net programs.  They provide just enough to keep people from slipping further into poverty, but never enough to pull themselves up and out of poverty.