How do I come to peace with my membership in a food assistance program?

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Most people in the country are feeling the strain of the downturn in the economy, but we as a household are feeling it on both ends. My partner and I are in luxury industries, so when the masses don’t have fun money to spend, our businesses decline. We recently made the decision to fill out the application for SNAP — a food assistance program — and are waiting for our response.

As a socialist and a humanist I have always believed our social welfare programs were deeply necessary and underfunded, but now, for the first time actually needing them I find myself feeling…awkward. Ashamed. I could really use some words of wisdom here, guys.

Comments on How do I come to peace with my membership in a food assistance program?

  1. When I was in elementary school I remember that we were one of the families that got food at Thanksgiving for the canned food drive. We were also on food stamps,and every other welfare program there was. I was mortified, and that was as a 9 year old.
    Flash forward to my college years and I contemplated applying for food stamps. I was 25 on my own, no help from anywhere, working two jobs and trying to go to school and wrestle. My boyfriend at the time was mortified at the thought of dating someone who was on food stamps and so I didn’t apply. Looking back I wish I had. Make life a little easier on yourself by not having to wonder if you’ll be able to afford eating two days before your next pay check. Eventually things will turn around and you’ll be able to give back to the program.
    Also, whenever there is a canned food drive now I always make sure I give legit/ delicious things, boxed brownies, quinoa, other awesomeness; no one needs 40 cans of pickled beets :/

  2. Does anyone know statistics for how much abuse of systems like this that goes on? I ask because, from a UK perspective, a lot of the ‘abuse’ of th system that goes on is massively overhyped by the media and govt to further the stigma of people using welfare systems. I find it interesting that even some of the commenters on here have mentioned how they are different from other welfare users because they don’t abuse the system – I think (as a person who has used uk welfare system) that we shouldn’t judge anyone using these provisions. I’m not saying there is never fraud but at least over here rates are often so much lower than you would expect, and how can you tell from looking at a person whether they are using it appropriately or not – my experience definitely taught me to be a lot slower to judge anyeone, because I didn’t ‘look’ like I needed the assistance I took (but anyone who spent a week in my shoes would realise I did need it). It’s hard in a society that so values autonomy and independence to admit we can’t do it alone but the more people that are honest about it, I’m sure the more we can fight this stigma. It’s bad enough having no money without feeling an extra burden for getting the help we sometimes so badly need.

    • Debs, I was thinking the exact same thing while reading through these comments. (Maybe we have the over-hyping UK media in common.)

      I think it’s such a shame that people who need help feel embarrassed, or need to say “I’m not one of those people who abuses the system”. It really goes to show the underlying prejudices society has about people who need support.

      At the end of the day, you are using this to buy food. Not luxuries. Just food. We should be proud to live in societies where no one has to starve to death. We should be proud that we have all collectively decided to support each other this way.

      To the original poster, all the best. The majority of us are 2-3 paychecks away from this situation. So please know that there are plenty of people rooting for you.

  3. I have always paid my way, made ends meet. My husband works hard and provides for our family. Due to childcare costs and the number of our children, it hasn’t worked out economically for me to return to work. It would cost us money for me to return.
    We couldn’t afford to pay our bills regularly. We couldn’t afford to pay them at all and ended up with a progressive bill of $1300 for our electricity and had the ‘calls’ telling us it was to be shut off. Our phone already was. Gas and water were on final notice. Mortgage was 2 months overdue.
    I rang the helpline and they came to visit. My feeling from that visit was that I had pimped out myself and my family for $120 worth of relief. Nothing towards what we needed. It sucked. It was fucking awful. I had to send my kids and my husband outside while they were there so they didn’t see me cry and I didn’t have to expain to my kids what was happening.
    What it actually did do was buy me the tiniest amount of time. Enough to keep the wolves at bay and work out some more bargaining time. Enough to get my shit together and pull the pride out of my arse and talk to the companies concerned and sort an agreement, even though it meant we would have nothing extra other than paying bills for months to come.
    It gave me the extra money that week to make the most of the cheap potatoes and buy what would last us through the darkest financial days we have been through. We made it.
    Suck up your pride as much as you can. Do what you need to do. Make it through. When things are better, do what you can to help others, even if only throwing the coins from your wallet in a collection tin.

  4. Yup. Been there. Oh wait, I’m still here. I put off going on foodstamps as long as I could because I felt like kind of a mooch- even though I’ve always supported such programs and could get pretty vitriolic defending those who used them in arguments with people. This culture is still drenched in Puritan Work Ethic, and the Lone Cowboy Who Fends For Himself mentality. It’s funny how that social conditioning can seep in at an emotional level even when you’ve rejected it at an intellectual level. I have little to offer because you have to make your own peace with it, and because I’m still trying to make my peace with it. So far it helps to remember that not everything I think or feel is real and true, and that neither thoughts nor feelings last forever and just let them run their course without really believing them.

  5. You are supposed to feel ashamed. The program is designed to produce that shame. The culture that supports and even produces poverty intends for people who are poor to feel ashamed and even agree that they don’t deserve the right to eat, have health care, decent shelter, etc.

    It makes sense that you have internalized that shame and judgement. We all have. Just remember that that shame and judgement is why my kid’s medicaid doctors waited until suspicion of stage 4 melanoma before removing a mole on his face, why my health has been destroyed after years of chronic infections with no health care, why my partner lives with constant and debilitating pain but can get neither health services nor disability. There is a very real violence attached to this shame, a violence that is as much about rewarding isolation and community break down as it is about defining an expendable class.

    Before the world became privatized, before anyone decided something so ludicrous as the idea that they owned things like water, land, air, and the minerals of the earth, no one would feel ashamed that they need food and shelter. The idea that we need little stacks of paper or, more ridiculously, abstract amounts of credits and debts to justify our existence and claim the right to survive is just– well, stupid. And profitable, very, very, very profitable to those who have the power to gain from millions going hungry.

  6. I completely understand your feelings. I would feel the exact same way and I bet if our positions were reversed, you would tell me the exact same things everybody here is telling you : there is no shame in needing help, you’re using the program exactly for what it’s intended, this is not permanent — you will bounce back.

    So here is what you should do. Write down everything you would tell a friend in this position to raise her spirits. Then read it to yourself whenever you feel low.

    Then have an ice cream cone. 😉


  7. I look at it this way, do I see ANY of the banking institutions, auto makers or any other sundry of corporate “individuals” feel any sort of shame, remorse, gratitude, etc whilst on corporate welfare? nope! At least you are caring for your family, these guys are just sending jobs overseas and paying their CEOs millions and millions a year. corporate greed at its “finest”. GE paid NO income tax this year…. GE!

    my dear carry on for your post is already less entitled and more values driven than most of wall st.

    Keep calm and swipe ya some SNAP!

  8. I just applied for and received the maximum amount of food assistance my state will give a single person. I could not be more thankful right now for this program, but going from a perfectly self-sustaining individual to somebody who needs help is very humbling. It’s easy to feel like my autonomy has been really threatened, and like I’m taking from those who need it more. I try to remind myself of the services I do for my community daily, and I also volunteer. By feeling active in the community where I live, it’s easy not feeling guilty when that community gives back. If you have any spare time, go somewhere that needs your help and give a few minutes, hours or days a week. Then you can just think of that food assistance as a hug your community is giving you in exchange for your contribution.

  9. I’ve been there too, and I’ve felt those exact same feelings you did. It is tough when you realize that you need help and that you can’t take care of yourself when you feel like you should be able to. Remember that you are not alone, those programs are in place to help many people!

    I spent 4 years of university going to our university’s food bank. I had to make the choice because the reality was that I didn’t have enough money for both food and school supplies (architecture is an expensive business). The first time I signed up, I was honestly embarrassed. But then I sat down and looked at my living situation. It was the choice of either be smart and get food for free every week or live on ichiban noodles.

    If its possible, maybe consider giving back to the system or another system, after things get better for you again. Its a nice way to say thank you after you’ve been helped

  10. Food stamps kick ass! I was so happy to have $200 bux in free food per month back when I was having trouble finding adequate employment. I live in an area with a better economy now but it sure was nice to have help when I needed it.

  11. I appreciate this post very much. You are certainly not alone as the comments prove. Times are difficult and for the first time at 28, I am using food stamps. At first, I struggled with the decision, embarrassed for having to even enter the DSS building, but many people who have been huge support reminded me these systems are in place for these kind of circumstances! There is so much talk about people abusing the system, because obsessively discussing people who are living paycheck to unemployment check instead of talking about the CEOs getting raises while their employees get laid off, that I too got caught up in the guilt and shame put on people requiring assistance. I agree wholeheartedly with the comment before, empathy is what we need; and compassion, for ourselves and others. I have written about unemployment (and using food stamps) several times on my blog; here the most recent post on the topic:

  12. Let me give it to you from 2 different prospectives. I was on foodstamps as a child, both of my parents worked and we didn’t make ends meet. We were greatful to have this and didn’t get so much that we could get soda, candy, and stuff like that. Ok as a teen I got a job at a local grocery store and have been there 10 years working my way up to management along the way and although I still feel it’s a great program that many people need, especially since our economy is in the state it is but I now see people who take advantage of the system. I don’t feel its okay for people to get candy, soda, non nutricianal food and talk on their iphone with more jewerly on than i have in my jewerly box. In no way do I believe that someone should have $2000.00 in benefits while a little old lady who have probably worked her whole life gets $15.00 to buy food for a month and gets bread and milk and thats about it. Now Taco Bell, Mcdonalds, and KFC are trying to pass a bill where people will be permitted to buy the food products which is not what our nation of already over weight people need

    • I strongly disagree with this whole response. Stop judging people.
      Just because a person is wearing jewelry at the check out doesn’t mean they are abusing the system. You can’t tell anything just by looking and it’s none of your business anyway. That and SNAP benefits are the same each month. If someone wants to use it all in candy and soda then okay. Stop trying to police what goes into another persons body. You are not better than anyone.

  13. you were, most likely, receiving government benefits before applying for snap. tax credits are government money in your pocket – some of it liable to buy you food.

    more so, mind that the reason most of the food at the grocery store isn’t far more expensive is because of government entitlement/welfare programs to producers of corn, soybeans, rice, etc. i may not get snap or wic benefits, but that is still government money making my food bill less (unsustainably and in bad faith, but nonetheless…)

    the highway system? government program most everyone feels entitled to.

    i could go on, but i suspect you get the idea. i imagine this question is mostly to do with your internal concerns, but i think the above is a valid response to anyone inclined to give you shit as well.

  14. You just need to remember one thing–YOUR taxes, YOUR parents taxes, YOUR family’s taxes, have paid for these programs since they were instituted. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you aren’t entitled to use them when you need them. Were you a working member of society and will you be a working member of society again someday? Then you have a right to be able to use them without shame. That’s what they are there for. Yes, I have used them, and have to use some of them right now, thanks to the economy. I know that every little bit of tax I pay goes some ways towards funding them for myself and others who have to use them. You aren’t abusing the system, you are using the system the way it was intended. And I have to say that all the politicians who want to disable it should rot in a very special hell!! Or at the very least should have to live on our salaries and budgets for a year.

  15. Well, after 9mo of lurking, who’da thought it’d be a “welfare” post that would get me to write a comment?

    First, it is so heartening to see that there are so many folks who really “get” it. Public assistance isn’t for the lazy or the unambitious or “those people”; it’s for anyone and everyone (or their families) who has ever paid a penny of taxes into the system. It is your RIGHT, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of accessing something you have a right to.

    Second, if there’s anything good to come out of this horrific economy, let’s hope it is compassion. Let’s hope for empathy. The Great Recession has shown many the very structural nature of poverty that before had been dismissed as “those people who just don’t try hard enough.” I am hopeful that we’ll all try to help each other get through the tough times and that we’ll remember that one accident, or layoff notice, or tragedy could have us needing public assistance.

    Finally, as others have noted, to the OP: once you get back on your feet (and you will!) pay it forward! It doesn’t have to be with $$, either. You can volunteer to bag at a food bank, babysit free for a neighbor, etc. Good luck!

  16. All foster kids in my state qualify for wic and fee waver/ free lunch in school. My mother was embarrassed the first few times that we used it, but once she saw how beneficial it was for my foster brothers she got over it…
    It may feel awkward at first but its a gift… Pretend its a gift certificate the first few times and it will feel less strange

  17. *hug*

    It’s okay.

    I think it’s normal to feel a little squicky, especially if you come from a background of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps.

    Admitting that you need help, and especially that you need help from a social program, can be very, very hard and very humiliating.

    You’re not alone in those feelings.

    After I lost my job in 2009, I was on unemployment for two years, my church helped pay for my rent, and my boyfriend had to pay for my groceries (I was about a week from losing my unemployment and having to go on food stamps when I got hired at my current job).

    I was so fucking embarrassed to need that kind of help…but…?

    I learned invaluable lessons about humility and grace in the face of poverty. I also learned that accepting help where it’s offered is a blessing to the people who are offering it.

    All that to say,
    you’ll wade out of this, you will.

    You are not dumb, or lower than anyone else for needing help. It’s just a part of being human. Hang in there!

    (and another *hug* for good measure)

  18. I was an AmeriCorps member and was working a part time job just to make ends meet (50-60 hour a week). When you are an AmeriCorps member your income is considered $0 for food stamp eligibility, so really all they would count was my part time job. I knew I would qualify and yet I didn’t want to have to apply. Finally I started to get very burned out from working so the point where my boyfriend (now husband) couldn’t standing me because I was so overtired and grumpy. I quit my side job and applied for food stamps. I got them and shortly thereafter my boyfriend proposed to me. I felt like such an awful person using my food stamp card with a diamond ring on my finger. I almost wanted to tell the cashier that my husband and I been together 10 years and has been saving up for a very long time to buy me a ring..its not like he took 1 paycheck and went out and got the ring. I would take it off sometimes and put it in my pocket. My AmeriCorps host site was a health department where I had to dress business casual. I had about 10 outfits (clothes where bought from goodwill and the clearance rack at target), but I was felt like I was dressed too “nice” to be using food stamps. Whenever I went shopping all I could think about is what the cashier thought of me. My AmeriCorps supervisor would tell us that most of us having been working a few years before we started the program and will work several years after. We paid our fair share of taxes. Its just one brief time in our lives that we need assistance.

    • Whenever I was a cashier, I honestly never thought badly of anyone on food stamps because of their clothing. If anything, people that dressed nicer got more respect from me, because I’ve always thought that just because you don’t have much money, doesn’t mean you to dress in a “poor” way. Dressing nicely shows that you have respect for yourself, and you don’t have to have a lot of money to do so.

  19. I’m a welfare worker in Canada, & let me tell you, I think if you need a gov’t benefit or aid, you should just apply for it, & not beat yourself up over it. Most people wouldn’t go through all the embarrasing & intrusive applications & processes, if they didn’t absolutely need to. We aren’t here to judge you, but we ‘are’ mandated to try & move you off the system & on to new jobs as soon as possible…and we ALL think, hey, you’ve paid taxes at some point, so that’s why the social safety net is here!! I also don’t start off by telling applicants,”take any job you can” (McD’s, graveyard shift at Walmart etc), but I do say, “don’t discount the idea, either”…esp. if a few months goes by & the person is still feeling stuck. It doesn’t have to be for life – it can be a temporary part time gig. Volunteering can also make you feel like you’re ‘giving back’, and add some extra value to your resume. And for anyone who can’t do any of that – who’s too sick, or has small kids, or isn’t close to local transit, hey – it is what it is, and you never know how your life will change in the future. In reality, welfare isn’t usually a ‘forever’ thing, for most people. And you have to eat, and pay your rent, because if you don’t and you end up homeless, I mean, really – just the business part of getting a shower, & having nicely pressed clothes, to go to a job interview – gets that much harder. Seriously, I wish the economy were so great, that my co-workers & I found ourselves out of work – it would mean that maybe the world was finally working in the way that it should be.

  20. I know that feel, bro. When I went on Medicaid and Food Stamps, I had previously been *extremely* Republican and felt very ashamed of “leeching” from these services.

    Before long, though, I began to feel truly grateful for it. I think that this started when I was able to throw my daughter a 4th birthday party *because* of Food Stamps. I had a hard time accepting assistance for myself, but couldn’t help but feel deep gratitude for what it did for my kids.

    It began a sea change for me, as I focused on that gratitude and the fact that people pay taxes into the system for this – so families like mine can get help when they need it.

    I’d recommend focusing on the good feelings of what this does for your family, if you’re struggling with your feelings about accepting it for yourself. Remember – the rest of us pay taxes to support this system *for you*. And ever since my experience of being in need, I for one do it *happily.*

  21. ”When I was working, I used to give to every food bank and charity. Now that I’m the one in need, I have absolutely no shame in asking for help to fill my kids belly.” A mother’s friend told me that when I was young. Now, every time I can give, I remember that I might be the one asking for help in a couple of years. I love this relationship to poverty, where I think as the one in need not as ”the other”, but as someone just like me.

  22. My family is on SNAP. This is our second time. Our first was right after a move when the job I got wasn’t making me nearly as much money as I thought it would and I hadn’t found anything else yet. This time the job my husband found didn’t give him anywhere near the hours they promised him so it is holding us over until he finds a better job. In my mind, I would feel ashamed if I let my pride get in the way of providing for my daughter and our family. We are hard workers and have always had at least one job each, and many times two. My husband is still in school. You just do what you have to do and hold your head up knowing you are providing for your family in the best way you can right now. Also, the snap card looks like a debit card now, so that helps. You don’t have to wait for anyone to come to the register to approve your “food stamps” or anything embarrassing. No one will even know it’s not a bank card.

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