"Next," a woman would yell from behind the glass. I had a name, but did it really matter? Just another black girl using the system. Those workers always looked tired, their attitude reflected that. Conversations short. They wanted my info. They wanted to be done.
I felt small, unimportant. If welfare was supposed to be the boost I needed to get me into the next stage in life, those exchanges were definitely not empowering. However, unlike others, I was not ashamed. I knew this was simply a necessary step for survival, my comfort and ability to eat without stress was more important than what they thought of me. Still, I wonder, for those who saw no light at the end of the tunnel, how demoralizing that experience had to be.
This was college. I learned I could get food stamps because I was working at least part time, and my name was on a rental lease. Those, along with a small income, were the requirements. Again, I WAS WORKING. To be honest, I was kind of excited that I wouldn’t have to worry about groceries from month to month. This all happening as I interned at NBC for FREE, where I walked alongside news anchors making hundreds of thousands. They didn’t know I had food stamps. I was approved for $119 a month.
And then I got pregnant, which was a blessing in disguise. I couldn’t afford my final year of college. My parents made just enough money where the government offered zero financial aid, but not enough to pay for me when they had two other kids at home and their own expenses. Pregnancy allowed me to be financially (FAFSA) independent, and therefore eligible for government grants to finish school. And then new benefits were added, WIC, now I could get milk, cheese, eggs, cereal. I also could get medicaid. Mind you, I was still working, and interning, and attending school full time, and I was a new mother.
STOP. Before you take my story and twist it to fit a narrative of welfare recipients and my model behavior, and how others should be able to do the same thing that I was doing. DON’T. I also had the privilege of extensive family and friend support, beyond what some might consider as normal. I could not have done this without the village.
Anyway, I share my story because I’m tired. Tired of the narratives surrounding the people who need help in the ‘greatest’ country in the world. Government assistance helped me to survive, it was the bridge to where I am now, and sadly because of how our country is built (racism, sexism, poverty, capitalism, greed), many will never make it across that bridge like I did. But, even if they can’t, are they not deserving of food? And can they at least have the dignity to pick out what they want to eat, instead of recent calls to strip them of even that.
I had bigger, more educated perspectives when I started writing this, but my thoughts are rolling and this is getting long.
If nothing, I just hope this transparency inspires someone else. This news anchor/reporter was on welfare. I made it. Don’t you dare judge the others standing in line.