How It Feels to Be a Kid on Welfare
My Mom really needed the State's help.
So did I. I am alive today because of it.
Not too long ago, I woke up, opened Facebook & was saw a photo of a food stamp
with a note to 'those on welfare' who 'donít work' and to those who 'milk the
system.' The post was calling for 'accountability.' I just shook my head
While most political comments donít hit me very hard (we all have a
right to our opinion), I have a difficult time with those that group any
set of people into a section and blame and berate them. Itís especially
disturbing when people I know make these kinds of statements and then
look me in the eye and say it to me as though Iím above some kind of
fray. Quite frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach. Yes, there are
people who abuse all kinds of systems, regardless of their tax bracket,
but too often I hear people equate poverty with laziness or worse,
criminal behavior and itís heart-wrenching for me on a deeply personal
My less-than-humble beginnings
I have made no secret that I come from way down. I grew up in various
cockroach-infested apartments with a violent, drug-addicted ex-felon
father and a mother who did me both a favor and a great disservice by
leaving. The only person I had to watch over me to make sure that I had
food, water, and ice for my wounds was my beloved, hardworking, retired
grandfather who supported me with a $500 monthly budget that was paid to
him via pension and social security. That included rent money.
When we lost our home (thanks to my father skipping bail) we moved into
our fishing trailer and ate pork and beans nearly every weeknight for
dinner. On weekends, we lived lakeside and ate the fish we caught.
Finally, after we had to spend one third of our income on my eyeglasses,
we went to sign up for food stamps and stood in line for our boxed block
of 'government cheese.' For a former foreman and a little girl who was
already made fun of for a number of reasons and who was particularly
sensitive to her grandfatherís feelings, it was humiliating.
I hated seeing my proud and dignified hero grampa standing in line for
handouts. This was a man who prided himself on being self-sufficient and
instilled a sense of duty and independence in me from day one. We were
not drug addicts living the high life; we were just poor.
"You will be educated and life will be better for you when you get
older, Brenda Lynn," he promised. He was going to fight like hell to see
that it happened. "You just need to go to college and youíll never have
to go through this again." But I was five years old. We had a few years,
hospital trips, pairs of shoes, and meals to worry about.
My saving grace
My grandfather had a moral fiber as thick as wool. He was a God-fearing
man who treated everyone with dignity and respect, volunteered to help
others, worked odd jobs to make money for us and taught me to also treat
everyone with dignity and respect reminding me that, 'We are all equal,
and we all put our pants on one leg at a time.' He may not personally
have agreed with your way of life, but heíd certainly vote for your
right to live as you saw fit as long as it didnít hurt anyone else.
He tipped his hat to women on the street. He firmly shook the hands of
men. He opened doors. He gave what he had to help others, and he kept
his word. He pressed and polished our cheap clothes and shoes to make us
look as nice as possible. He didnít smoke, drink or do drugs. He paid
his taxes on time.
My grandfather wanted what all good, decent and loving fathers want for
their daughters ó the best, safest and most dignified life. While heíd
have to save up for a few months to buy me a new dress at Sears in order
to see the bright surprise flash across my face, I believe we were rich.
Very few children enjoyed the conversation, love, companionship and
connection we had. Having a hamburger and slice of pie once a week was
our 'big date' when we could afford it and believe me when I tell you
that there is still no better 'date' for me today.
I was raised to believe in hard work, the value of education, human
interaction, honoring your word, equality and making your own way in
this world and helping others. When he passed away, everything beautiful
in my world went with him.
I was bounced from home to home and turned to the system only once when
I was cold and needed somewhere to sleep over Thanksgiving. I walked
into Juvenile Hall and asked to stay there. Those two days were enough
time for me to realize that I needed to stay under the radar. God knows
it would have been easier to have food stamps or medical insurance to
offer someone to take me in, but I had to make due without both. On the
occasion that I needed to go to the doctor, I went to Planned Parenthood
ónot to exercise my right to choose, but for breast exams and free
medical attention in a facility that treated me like a human being.
When I tried to work at 14, I was told I wasnít old enough to get a
full-time job so I worked under the table when I could and accepted
food, clothes and shelter from those who felt sorry for me. Equally
When it was time to go to college, I had the grades and essays to get
in, but I was under 21 and that meant that I needed a parental
signature.I was on my own and never a ward of the court, a painful
purgatory for someone who ached to just get to the starting line like
Welfare literally saved my life
Thanks to President Clinton, an amendment was made making it possible
for kids who had been on their own and who had stayed out of the system
(i.e., bounced from home to home or on the streets) to apply for loans
on their own and go to school. With that, a scholarship and loans, I
attended American University and eventually, interned at the White
House.Shortly after I got my break from him, he closed down welfare
so that a mother could only get 4 years and then she had to get a job
no matter how many children she had.
This law is still in effect. No food, no rent, no help at all. They have
workfare now. I would have had four years with food, the other
16 starving, homeless, my mother morbidly depressed. Do you want
to do this to a new generation of American citizens?
I am writing this because I want to say that I was one of those
'welfare' people so many people callously group into the 'lazy' section
of the room. While Iím now often told by these same people that I am one
of the hardest working people they know, the reality is that there is no
way I would be where I am today without the help I received in my past.
Some tell me, 'Yeah, but you are an exception.'
No, I am not.
Iím just one of the many people born under difficult circumstances who
wanted to do better and needed a little help getting onto my feet. Now
that I am on them, I do my best not to forget what it felt like when I
was not. If anything, my past has benefited me in that it has served as
a strong warning not to play the 'we vs. them' game as one day you might
be the 'them.' Or your grandchildren will be if the PERMANENT WAR
ECONOMY continues in America.
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