I have a confession to make. Something that only my real life friends and family know about me.
And it scares me spitless to confess this outloud…to the world.
I am a Welfare Queen.
Yep. Food stamps. Medicare. Section 8 Housing. The whole 9 yards.
The only thing that my family does not receive is WIC (no more babies here, thank God!) and TANF (Temporary Assistance to Need Families: that’s the welfare check if you didn’t know).
Why am I telling you this.
- To show others (bloggers or otherwise) on welfare that they are not alone.
- To show the world that you can’t tell who is on welfare by looking at them.
- To show the world that many people on welfare want to work and get off.
- To show the world that people on welfare are people too. #poorpeoplematter
- To explain the slight shift in focus of this blog
- God told me to.
Well, all month long God has been telling me to write this post. To be transparent. And if I do so, he will reward me.
The term Welfare Queen actually became popular in the 1970s when Ronald Reagan made it a key stumping point in his bid for presidential election. Some say that he deliberately chose to make her a black female despite the ranks of males and whites on the welfare roll. Others say that he just magnified the story of one woman convicted of a vast welfare fraud scheme, Linda Taylor. (You should really research her. Welfare fraud was the least of her offenses. Seriously.) Ms. Taylor’s story (along with episodes of Scandal) show how sensationalizing one part of one’s persons story can affect the political climate and force the public to ignore other parts of their lives. In Ms. Taylor’s case, the Welfare Queen story trumped investigations into her spree of murder, child kidnapping, and even insurance fraud. Or ignore the fact that politicians chose a psychotic sociopath to be the face of Welfare.
Which ever story that you believe, politicians pull out the welfare villain to criticize social programs ever since then. Mitt Romney attempted to do a Ronald Reagan Welfare Queen scare with his 47% comments, and, frankly, it cost him the election. (Donald Trump is attempting again but his target is, well, anyone who is not white, rich, and male. Yeah, you need to be all 3 to be on Team Trump.) Until recent times, the story of the Welfare Queen was used to distract the public from meaningful conversations on the growing income gap making the war on poverty actually the war on poor people.
“If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket,” said President Lyndon B. Johnson. “Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.”When a politician drags out the Welfare Queen, they are in effect distracting you with a war on… Click To Tweet
This, despite the fact that welfare fraud is actually less than 2%. And those mandatory drug tests in order to receive benefits came back with a rate of less than 3%, most of which was attributed to trace amounts of marijuana. Interesting enough, the biggest track of welfare fraud was actually found to be healthcare. Yep, people just wanted to be healthy. Imagine that.
Oh, and the oh-so-subtle vision of the Welfare Queen being black is being debunked as well. In fact, whites make up 40% of food stamp recipients, blacks are 26%, and latinos are 10%. Owsley, Kentucky was identified as the food stamp capital of the country, a 99% white and 95% Republican community. In the town of Brushton, New York, 30 people were arrested for food stamp fraud. Can you guess how many people were black? None,. All of those arrested were white. Even I, a black woman, thought blacks were definitely the majority.
In addition, the so-called savings in welfare are not from welfare fraud but by decreasing the amount that a family is eligible to receive and increasing the income levels required to be eligible. So, in essence, making the poor even more poor. Or, making it better to not work than to work unless you find a really, really good paying job. The likelihood of that which is probably less than zero.
Anyway, I digress. If you don’t believe me, you can research all of what I said on your own. Google is your friend (or bing, if you are trying to earn the points).
Let’s get back to the point of this post: Me.
So, how did I become a welfare queen?
Frankly, a combination of bad choices and bad luck.
Yes, I do take responsibility for the bad decisions that I have made that have led me here.
No, I was not born the daughter of a welfare queen.
My parents worked all my life. And they worked hard.
My dad paid his child support every month (remember when they use to come in those child support envelopes?).
My mom remarried a Navy man and she still worked.
In fact, she is to this day proud to brag that she never took welfare while raising us.
So, cut to me.
In August of 1992, I headed off to college on a full ride.
Being the first in my immediate family to even go to college, no one pressed the importance of applying for scholarships rather than just accepting the loans. Also, they neglected to prepare me to be on my own financially and the credit card offers were everywhere. Plus, with dinner being so early (4 p.m. – 6 p.m.), I spent a great deal of money eating out or charging it to my school i.d.
In January of 1994, while in my second year of college, I met and married a Navy man.
We had only been dating since the summer and we really didn’t know each other being as he was out to sea a lot and I was 4 hours away at college.
By August of 1994, I knew that 2 things would be keeping me from returning to college that year.
- The amount of debt that needed to be repaid from charging life to my student i.d.
- I was pregnant. (Not a mistake. Just bad timing.)
And to make matters worse, dear ol’ hubby decided (without talking to his pregnant wife!!), to leave the military after only 2 years.
Mistake (but not mine, thank you very much).
After months and months of him looking for (and unable to find) employment, I womaned up and got a job. See, what you will probably never see in the history books was the fact that it was easier for a black woman to get a job in those days than it was for a black man. At least it was here in my corner of Virginia. Maybe that still has true today. I don’t know.
Regardless, off to work I went. But, boy, was it hard. Not the work. That was just boring and a smidgeon stressful considering I was calling people at home.
No, what was really hard was being pregnant with my very first child. That is when I discovered that morning sickness was a complete misnomer.My first pregnancy was when I discovered the morning sickness was a complete misnomer. Click To Tweet
I was sick morning. Noon. And night. There was never anyway of telling when I would have to worship at the altar of the porcelain god.
And tired. Boy was I always tired.
Let’s not leave out having to constantly use the commode for its intended purpose. Yep, I was peeing every 10 minutes it seemed like.
Needless to say, I was eventually, uh, asked to take maternity leave…indefinitely.
Which meant no income.
At that time, I didn’t even know about any social services programs.
Remember, dear ol’ Mom was never on it.
Well, maybe she got the cheese every once in awhile.
Remember the cheese? Best grill cheese sandwiches in the world! Once you hacked off a piece with a saw that is….
Since we were struggling, the hubby moved his entire side of his family (again, without talking to me first), from Chicago to live with us in our 2 bedroom apartment. I exaggerate. It wasn’t his whole family. Just his mother, her husband, his 2 younger siblings, and 1 siblings as pregnant as I am girlfriend. See. It wasn’t his entire family. (Yet, anyone with common sense can see that too many hens in the henhouse can spell trouble.)
Still, we all got along as well as to be expected until they eventually moved out into their own space a couple of months later. But it was his mom that told me that I needed to go to the WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) office and to social services for some help. Ironically, we lived around the corner from the social services building. Really. I could see the building from my apartment window but I never knew what it was.
WIC, I got right away. Social services, at that time, I had to make an appointment to talk to. Before my appointment though, out popped my lil’ angel a month early amids congratulations and fussing because I had not gotten a single drop of prenatal care because:
- No one told me that I needed to
- I had no way of paying for it if I did know
Nope, no one even told me that there was help to bring my lil’ bambino into the world. And that, if money was an issue, I could have these services for free. It was a blessing that despite being a preemie, he was very healthy with only a pinch of jaundice that was cured with daily exposure to sunlight. As for me, well, I got to stay in the hospital for 5 days due to hypertension (which was probably the cause of my illness that, thus, caused me to lose my job.)
Eventually, though, I made it to my social service appointment and we were approved for medical and emergency food stamps. Do you know, at least here, that if you tell them that it is not an emergency, that they have up to 45 days to approve your food stamp application. Would the food that you have in your house right now last you 45 days??? In addition, if a woman tells social services that she has a man living in her home, the household is most likely to be denied the welfare check. Yes, even if neither parent is working. Without admitting or denying anything, I will suggest that my first worker, a male by the way, strongly hinted and had a strong look in his eye when he asked if I was living single. See, there is your incentive for welfare fraud right there.
Because I had a choice:
- Admit that my husband was living with me, be denied, have no money coming in and a reduced amount of food stamps.
- Lie. Get that $132/month check. (Yep. If I remember correctly, that’s all I got for having just 1 kid.) and receive enough food stamps to feed all of us.
Did it ever occur to politicians that this might be why the roll call of welfare is mostly single women? I bet it did not. Because they never actually come down off the mountain to chat with us.The truth about welfare is that it forces you to tell them that the father is not in the home… Click To Tweet
Luckily, he eventually found a job and we were able to keep the lights on. Unfortunately, it came too late to stop the eviction process. We also had some marital problems during this time including domestic violence and adultery (let’s just say, it wasn’t me).
Fortuitously, if you want to call it that, we lived in a 4 unit apartment building in one of the worse neighborhoods in the city. While he was at work, and while I was in the bath, the bottom right unit caught fire. We learned later that it was drug related. Why I say that this was fortunate was because the Red Cross stepped in and paid the security deposit and first months rent for a new place. Homelessness narrowly avoided.
I realized that this post is getting rather long so, suffice it to say, this became the pattern of the last 21 years. (21 because my oldest just celebrated his 21st birthday this past January.)
I managed to have 2 more kids (a boy and a girl) until one day God told me that my child bearing days were over. No, not physically with medical diagnosis. But, rather, spiritually. I just knew that I was done.
During that time, I would find a job. Lose a job.
There were times were money was so tight that we had to make other choices of what to do with our food stamps and, so, food was scarce and less than nutritious. (Ever wonder who keeps the ramen noodles on the grocery shelves?)There are times when food stamp recipients have to make other choices on what to do with their… Click To Tweet
Even the Dollar Menu was way out of our price range. You know those Halloween gift certificates that people give out. That was the way we treated our kids to McDonalds.
Once, a local restaurant gave the kids certificates for making good grades so they got to go to a real restaurant for the second time in their lives. I ate off their plates and the staff was kind enough to through in desserts for them for free. (I tear up a little as I type that. Go figure.)
(Actually, the first time that they went a sit down restaurant was after a pretty vicious row between their father and I, so I just bundled the kids up and walked away with no plans on where we were going for the day. On a whim, I decided to get something to eat but I wasn’t in the mood for McDonalds. Right next door to Mickey D’s was a Mexican restaurant. This occasion was memorable to me because my oldest son actually asked me why that woman kept coming to our table. That woman? The waitress. It was both funny and sad. Poignant.)
There were times when we would be doing better financially and be almost completely welfare free (only medicaid until job health benefits would kick in).
And then life would turn around and kick us in the teeth just when we thought we were getting it together.
For example, at one point, we both were working. Great, right? Only I was in training with my brand new job and we were not allowed to miss a single day of the 8 week training. Well, during this period, I had applied for daycare assistance. (As an aside, do you know that daycare assistance, at least at that time, does not pay for you to go look for a job? Does that make sense to you? Other than their father, I had no family who could watch my kids. And although I had acquaintances, I had no real friends that I felt comfortable leaving my children alone with.) Since my job came with a higher paycheck, guaranteed 40+ hours/week, and a great benefit program, it was decided that any problems at home would have to be handled by him during my training period. No daycare meant we had to chose between his job and my job. In fact, my training started right after school let out for the summer. I wasn’t actually approved for daycare assistance until well after the school term started back up in September. That’s right. It took this government program nearly 4 months to approve me for assistance.
I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t I just pay for it myself, right? I said it was a good job not a great job. Have you ever priced daycare for 3 kids? We would have been working just to pay for that. Not to mention, as soon as I reported an income increase, my food stamps went down (waaaaay down!), my TANF check was gone (I was making too much money. Yeah, right.), and my rent went up (we were in public housing by this time). After crunching the numbers, we would have been in the hole about $200/month. That’s right. We would have been earning a negative $200.
Now, with his child thrown in the mix, we may have been alright. But the kiddos had other plans as they caught the summer flu that was going around and he had to take days off from work to handle it. Being as it was spanking new, his job suggested that he might be better off seeking employment elsewhere. Yep, he was fired.
The stress of his not feeling like a man for not being able to provide for his family, adulteries, and physical violence led to the doom of our marriage.
And that job that I struggled to keep for the 8 weeks of training only lasted a year because, once again, the kiddos got sick. Only this time, as a single mother, I had to take time off from work. Now, if they would have all gotten sick at the same time, then my leave would have fallen under just one absence (my job was awesome like that), but, no, my kiddos decided to get sick enough to miss school a few days apart. In other words, I missed work on Monday and Tuesday for one sick child. Called in. Alls good. Go back to work on Wednesday. On Thursday, I had to call in again. Went back in on Monday. On Tuesday, that third child went down with the illness. You can see my utter bad luck happening here, right. I would have been better off just taking a week off straight.
Anyway, as I said, that is the story of how I became a Welfare Queen.
I would take 2 steps forward and life would shove me 2 steps back.
Sometimes, it would push me back 3 steps and punch me right in the gut for good measure.
I have never done any drugs. I wasn’t even until the last 5 years that I could even swallow pills. (You can imagine how much I loathed those horse sized prenatal vitamins.)
No, I don’t deal drugs. I have never dealt drugs. I don’t date anyone who deals drugs. And I am definitely not the ride-or-die chick drug dealers are looking for.
I don’t even drink. Ever. Or smoke anything. Yep, cigarettes included. There are no needle tracks in my arms (I have trypanophobia: fear of needles. Made giving birth 3 times…interesting.)
I apply religiously for jobs. Almost any kind of jobs except those involving driving people around or counting money. I suck at counting money.
I have even gotten my kids and myself up at 4 o’clock in the morning to deliver newspapers every morning until my car broke down on me.
There was a time when I could lose a job on Monday and by starting work for the next job by that Friday. Not anymore. Not around here. Have you seen that ads requiring a bachelor’s degree to be a receptionist. A receptionist??? Why do I need a degree to answer a damn phone I’ll never know.
Let me tell you something, the poor were saying that it was a recession years before it started affecting the middle class. When the economy first started to tank, guess who got the ax first. The janitors and housekeepers, that’s who. Why pay 2 people when, in this economy, you can hire just 1 and force them to do the job of 2 while criticizing them for not being able to complete the work of 3.
Have you looked at the employment section of your local paper lately? It use to be 7 or 8 pages thick. Now, it is barely 4 pages and 2 of those pages are gigantic advertisements for schools.
My friend, after having making a decent living at the same job for 14 or so years, took 3 years of minimum wage employment before she finally found another job to put her close to where she was before. Her credit? Trashed.
Lately, I have started spending 7 days a week, 8 – 10 hours a day blogging, watching others make astounding incomes and wondering when it was going to be my day.
I bathe. I brush my teeth. I comb my hair.
I make sure that my kids are educated (2 in college, baby girl on her way in August 2017!!) and show them where I went wrong in hopes that they will avoid the same mistakes of dear old mom.
I wash my dishes and sweep my floors. CPS (child protective services) is not a frequent visitor to my house.
I don’t beat nor neglect my children. I only have the 3 by my husband. I am not out there sleeping with every Tom, Dick, and Harry.
I file my taxes. I shop with coupons. I put my best resume forward in the search for a job (in fact, I altar my cover letter and resume to suit the job for which I am applying.)
There is nothing wrong with me physically, psychologically, or spiritually.
I defy the public image that has been portrayed in the traditional media version of the the Welfare Queen.
If I had to do it all over again, there are only a few things that I would change:
- Fight harder to finish my degree so that I could get that good receptionist job (joke. kinda.)
- Have my kids (only if I can have the same 3 great kids!) later in life
But, and here is the part that is going to astound many of you who have been taken in….I am not the only one.
Most of the people that I know are on welfare. And the vast majority of them are the working poor. That’s right. They go to work (or out looking for a job) everyday and still can’t make ends meet. And to make matters worse, every time you turn on the news, another company is cutting jobs or just outright closing their doors.
So, now, hopefully, when you picture the so-called Welfare Queen, I hope that you realize that it is just another word for the Working Poor, even if it did not start out that way.Today, Welfare Queen is just another word for the Working Poor, even if it didn't start out that… Click To Tweet
That’s my story? What’s yours? Are you on welfare? Are you ashamed? Do you have friends and/or family on welfare? Would they even feel comfortable telling you if they were financially strapped enough to need the assistance? Maybe you think that I am just a lazy bitch that needs to get off my ass and get a job? Do you think that you could tell if someone was on welfare just by looking at them? The receptionist on your job? The driver delivering your supplies? The teacher in your class?
Meanwhile, I created a Pinterest board of self-worth quotes. Follow it for any time that you need a boast. And, to quote Tupac, keep your head up.