Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A leg-up, not a hand-out

This post has to be one of my most personal. This is about me and my family and the help we get to survive.

For the last two years, we have been receiving Food Stamps and since the launch of Healthy Families program, our ENTIRE family is insured, which gave Jay & I access to medical care for the first time in years.

Every three months, we are required to send proof of income to DHA so they can determine if we qualify for food benefits and to calculate how much we should be receiving each month for the next three months. Because Jay is self-employed, we have to report expenses; we can either use a standard expense deduction of 40% or we can use actual expenses and send in every single receipt for every single business related purchase. We choose the standard 40% because even though we do keep every single receipt ever, there's no way I want to trust myself to report and send copies of every single one of them.

When we first started getting food stamps, we got something close to $600 a month and as the business grew and we made more money, I honestly reported the differences in income. I knew, eventually, we'd make too much to qualify for anything but at that point, we should be able to feed ourselves without assistance. I've watched our monthly food stamp balance decrease this year to about $250 a month and I haven't complained. I haven't called my worker. I've simply sent in my paperwork, our bank statements and whatnot, and waited.

I've trusted that the benefits we receive are what we deserve and I've used them as wisely as possible. I've stretched that $250 as far as I can. I figured the way things were going, we'd lose all benefits soon so I've been trying to learn to live without them. Especially since they are gone, two weeks into each month. I greatly appreciate every penny we get since it means we can use the money we have to pay rent and bills and other shit that we desperately need.

So imagine my surprise when I get a call from my worker yesterday, telling me that there's a problem with my food stamps. At first, I kind of freaked. Did I forget to fill something out? Wait, I haven't sent anything in recently...Then she tells me SHE MESSED UP. Instead of using the standard 40%, she chose the ACTUAL EXPENSES option and since we haven't been reporting ANY EXPENSES, our food stamps were cut drastically. She apologized, sort of, and said the amount of benefits that was withheld would be credited to us today.

I checked our balance this morning: $547 and some change. It's the 17th and I ran out of food stamps last week. Do you have any idea what this means to me? After months of empty cupboards and a bare fridge, after months of making dinner out of nothing, after months of struggle to put food on the table, I am able to feed my family. ACTUALLY FEED THEM. I can afford to get snacks for Phoenix. I can finally get some meat in this house. AND FRESH PRODUCE.

The food stamps I get go straight into my kids' bellies. I don't ask for more than I need and I don't want more than I need. I've survived on so little because I felt grateful that I was even getting that. I am not unaccountable or personally irresponsible. I'm not depending on the government to provide for me or looking for hand-outs. I am helping to build a small business in one of the toughest economies ever and it's hard. I need a little help to make ends meet and I am so thankful to have any sort of help at all. This is part of the American Dream. The knowledge that when you are trying your hardest but not quite making it, someone will be there to give you a leg up, someone will be there to help you, for a little while at least.

Eventually, we won't need this help but right now, we do; we need it so badly. When that day comes though, I won't begrudge the next person who gets help feeding their babies. I won't be angry at the folks who need state-run insurance. I will understand. I will know that they are struggling too, trying to live their American Dream. We are not bears in the forest, becoming dependent on campers for food. We are human beings, fighting to live.


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