7 Quick Takes: Ethical Dilemmas of a Welfare Queen

I’m not here to argue politics!  I’d just like to describe what it’s like for a conservative Catholic to be on welfare–a lot more welfare than she’d like.

I’m very disappointed that a search for “crazy lady in Market Basket” didn’t turn up much. This one’s from the Onion: http://www.theonion.com/articles/middleaged-woman-angrily-demanding-price-check-on,28520/

 

1.  WIC is nuts.  Imagine me, 9 months pregnant, in the grocery store aisle, trying to find three WIC-approved cereals, each at least 12 oz. but adding up to not more than 36 oz., that my kids will eat.  Now help me find the orange juice that is 64 oz., because for some reason most of them come in 59 oz.  Now look for an approved bottle of 100% juice that is not apple juice, because you’re sick of that, but don’t get Juicy Juice, because that’s made by Nestle, which does that horrible formula stuff in Africa.  You’re not even sure if the government money goes to Nestle, but you feel bad anyway.

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2.  As aggravating as WIC is, I think it’s a good model for welfare; you can only buy super-healthy things, it’s based on nutritional need (e.g. pregnant women get extra protein, and young kids get full-fat milk), you have to buy the cheapest brand available, and you have to show an ID and sign your name.

wic voucher, censored

Food stamps, on the other hand…

3.  Food stamps do not cover alcohol, restaurants, or non-food items.  (If you hear about someone using their EBT for strip clubs or whatever, it’s because they’re using cash benefits–Temporary Assistance for Needy Families–not food stamps.)  They do cover soda, candy, and junk food, however.  But I’d feel bad using the government’s money for that.  Well, what about tortilla chips?  What about whole-grain tortilla chips?  How about chocolate syrup, for my kid who won’t drink milk otherwise?  How about those weird chocolate straws, for my other kid who drinks lots of milk, but has been a very good boy at the store?  What about chocolate chips?  It’s better than buying cookies, right?  Well, what if I buy the cookies in a separate purchase?  What if I buy beer for my husband in a separate purchase?  What if most of my groceries are healthy, but I hid a carton of ice cream in the middle?  Will someone yell at me?

4.  I used to separate my junk food purchases, until a couple of check-out ladies told me not to bother.  And when you’re already making 5 separate purchases, believe me, it’s a big bother.

5.  I’ve never been yelled at or shamed for using food stamps. (Well, except online.)  However, I am THAT LADY who harasses the poor teenage cashier with three separate WIC vouchers, an EBT purchase, and a regular purchase.  My record is 6 different employees called to my register at the same time.  I’m pretty proud of that.  On the other hand, when you happen to work at that grocery store, and several of them recognize you, that’s not so fun.

6.  We got on food stamps so we could afford the extra $200 a month to move to an apartment where there weren’t drive-by shootings down the street and gang symbols spray-painted on our porch.  I’m okay with that.  Now I’m thinking, we really shouldn’t spend all these food stamps we’ve accumulated, because we don’t eat that much.  But if we do, we can save money to pay off our student loans!  Oh wait, not sure if that’s okay.

7.  I haven’t even mentioned the fuel assistance, medicaid, and free tracfone, but you get the idea.  Welfare is a LOT OF WORK.  Think going to the DMV, times 10.  Every few months there’s a new round of frantic searching for paperwork and documents, phone calls, chasing down the landlord, getting a doctor’s note, photocopying everything, and trying to make an appointment that I won’t have to bring all three kids to.  This isn’t an easy way to make money.  I don’t know why you’d do it if you didn’t have to.

Join Kelly for the rest of the Quick Takes!

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9 thoughts on “7 Quick Takes: Ethical Dilemmas of a Welfare Queen

  1. I am visiting from the 7QTs page and just wanted to say thank you for sharing all of this. I am not a mom so I don’t have any great input re: your specific dilemnas but it is great to have a Catholic share openly and honestly about government assistance (and also the crisis pregnancy post). I know some conservative Catholic families in serious financial straits who are afraid to receive government assistance because of the stigma and shame. Which is insane! It saddens me how quick we are to judge over the silliest things (and the most serious and personal).

    Surely politics (of any kind) should not preclude mercy! May God forgive us, and may He bless you and your family.

    And I definitely agree about it being the best use of government money! 🙂

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    • Thank you! It’s such a shame to hear that about the families you know. I understand the reluctance, but taking care of your family comes absolutely first! No one should feel bad about doing what they have to do for their family.

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  2. I never had WIC, but before my 1st was born, if it hadn’t been for food stamps, we would have had to choose between food and shelter. I was never food insecure in my life before that so it was very humbling, but thank God our government does do something to keep the poor fed (even though it is a total paperwork nightmare!).

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  3. Yes, use all your EBT (Friends have said they eventually get mad at you if you don’t) and use it to pay off your student loans. Look, they assume that a household of your size has certain expenses. The idea is to cover your food so you can afford the other expenses. You’re not splurging on some things, so pay off the loans.

    I think food stamps are a terrible model because— wouldn’t it be more efficient to just give you cash and let you decide on rent v. fuel v. food v. debt? I mean, different families have different needs, and most govt. programs treat people as unchangeable cogs. I think you should have the option to buy cheap and use the savings for non food items!

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    • Oh, that makes sense! And anyway, once we pay off our stupid student loans, we can probably get off welfare. As a welfare model, though, I don’t know–I feel like it’s the government’s duty to help out poor people with necessary things like food, rent, and heat, but not necessarily things like student debt, which is my own darn fault. The thing is, I have a ridiculous amount of EBT saved up, because they gave me extra while we were both out of work, and now we’re working again. I could probably buy frozen pizzas and mixed nuts and fancy cheese and all kinds of luxury stuff every day if I wanted to, and I would definitely feel bad about that! But who am I kidding, we eat a _lot_ more convenience food than we used to. And as a mom of 3 young kids, that is feeling more and more like a necessity instead of a luxury.

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    • Yeah, I’d prefer the government not just give cash straight. But I think the food stamps would be a great model for other systems. An EBT balance that can go towards any rent or mortgage payment would be so much more flexible than Section 8 housing. If we gave all parents an EBT balance with tuition funds on it that could be used at any school, and let public schools set their tuition rates, then competition might drive the quality up, and parents would have a bit more choice about their kids’ school. (If we gave *adults* an EBT balance with educational funds on it, we would make our economy more adaptable to changing trends, improve upward mobility, and I think reduce unemployment.) And then there’s health care… if we stopped trying to use insurance to pay for health care, and instead just gave people who need it an EBT balance that can only be used for health care products and services, then competition would drive health care costs down (like it has with Lasik and other things not usually covered by insurance); it would also free people from insurance’s restrictions and paperwork, and give medical facilities more motivation to put the customer’s concerns first.

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  4. It’s sad that I’m really excited to hear about another Catholic mom being on food stamps… But I am! 🙂

    WIC *is* nuts. I have decided that food stamps is a much better model for welfare. I mean, conservatives are all in favor of maximizing personal autonomy and letting people make decisions for themselves rather than the government making decisions for them, right? So we should appreciate the fact that food stamps gives people much more personal autonomy to decide which foods are healthiest or most suitable for their family, instead of the government picking the best foods for them. Other welfare programs should be based on the same principle. I would even support expanding food stamps to include restaurants, not that I could really afford to go to them even if they were.

    #6… I so relate to that. There’s been a number of times I wanted to just stop jumping through hoops and feeling obligated/dependent on the government. But then my husband would sensibly point out the damaging effect that losing even that little bit of extra help would have. Sometimes it’s like “but we would have to live off pizza and mac&cheese”, but other times it’s like, “then we couldn’t afford to pay off our debt” or “then we couldn’t put anything aside in savings for an emergency” and I wonder whether it’s ok to use taxpayer money to let me do those things. Right now I’m paying $121/mo to put my middle-schooler in an awesome private school instead of sending her to the local public school; if I was willing to let my daughter get a lesser education in a more difficult environment, maybe we could afford to stop getting that $135 in food stamps that we’re still eligible for? But mostly I’ve stopped feeling guilty for those things. The fact that every week, I have to be careful not to buy all the groceries I want to, helps.

    #7…. Also very true. I look forward to the day (if it ever comes) when I can give up the hassle of dealing with welfare.

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