I decided in February of this year to not reapply for food stamps. My monthly income as a freelance writer, on average, hovers just below the cut-off for a single parent family with two dependents. But I decided to not reapply anyway. I didn’t want to be in the system anymore. I wanted the mental freedom. I wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t want to feel personally attacked whenever I saw videos surface like the one on YouTube of a woman berating a man at the checkout line at Walmart.
In the video, which begins after their argument had already escalated, the woman swears it’s her tax dollars paying for his groceries.
“You know, I put in 50- to 60-hour weeks... trying to provide for my family,” the man says, but some of his words are muddled.
“You’re not providing for it, I am,” the woman snaps back. “The government is.”
“You’re not,” the man says.
“They take it out of my check,” the woman says. “Bullshit they don’t.”
There's talk that the video might be fake, that the whole thing was staged. It's possible, but the fact is, scenes like this one happen every day in America. This scene, unfortunately, doesn’t surprise me. Maybe the woman got upset because the man bought cigarettes or alcohol, or that whoever was paying for the items at the register was using a smartphone to record the conversation.
There are countless memes circulating on Facebook that outcry similar rants: "If you can afford cigarettes or alcohol, then you don't need food stamps," along with the usual, "Can't feed, Don't breed." These memes are meant to spread the stigma that people receiving government assistance are lazy, don't work and take advantage of the system set up to help them feed their families, supplementing low, impossible-to-live-on wages.
Unfair and disturbing, but even more disturbing than this woman's outburst is that sitting in the man’s grocery store cart, holding a box of Kix cereal, was a small boy.
I don’t care what that man bought, no one should talk to a parent that way in front of their young, impressionable children, especially a parent who is doing everything he can to provide for his family.
Close to 70 percent of food stamp recipients are families with children. Children who would go hungry, who would miss a meal, if it weren't for the small amount of help the government gives them (often $3 to $5 a day) for food. The child in the cart holding onto a box of his favorite cereal doesn't understand this. He also probably doesn't understand that his parents stress over any food that gets wasted and carefully budget each meal. He doesn't see them not eating to make sure he does. What he does see, hear and will remember is a woman yelling at his father for buying groceries.
If the woman were as smart as she claims in the video, maybe she'd know that $1 of every $5 spent to purchase items on food stamps is spent at Walmart. And that because of Walmart’s low wages, even full-time employees often still qualify for benefits. She would know that the amount of taxes coming out of her paycheck specifically for the food program amount to only about 10 cents a day ($36.50 a year).
While she made sweeping claims that it was her personal money coming out of her paycheck going to his groceries, she seems to forget that the man himself also works and therefore pays taxes, funding all the same programs with his hard-earned money, which isn’t even sufficient to provide food for his family.
This exchange is common. I wonder if the intense anger this woman has, and perhaps the ones who are most against low-income families receiving government assistance have, isn't the result of thinking people are taking advantage of the system, which she accuses the man of doing, but because she barely makes ends meet herself and wishes she qualified for help.
Three days into my second month without food stamps, I’m looking at $360 for the entire month to feed me and my two young daughters. That is all the money I have remaining after paying bills. My youngest just started full-time day care, so with that added expense and less money for food, my fixed bills have doubled. My income has not.
Getting home from the grocery store today, unpacking cans of beans, bags of rice and jars of peanut butter, I thought for a second about applying for WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) checks again, which would give us gallons of milk, some juice, rice, beans, peanut butter and possibly some tuna or a few bucks for produce.
I physically shook my head at the thought. In all my years of being in the system, of using food stamps to pay for food while I put myself through college, the only times I was ever heckled at the register, by cashiers and paying customers behind me, was when I had to pay with those huge, visible and very specific checks. I couldn’t go through it anymore.
And it’s because of people’s attitudes like the heckler in the video.
This woman and conservatives nationwide who think that anyone who needs government benefits to make ends meet is just taking advantage don’t understand the reality. Those of us who’ve needed the extra help aren’t trying to be dishonest and get something for free. We’ve needed the help because we are working an impossible amount of hours, have children and can’t bring home enough money to pay the bills and purchase enough food to fill their bellies.
Because how hungry, how desperate would you have to be to put yourself in situations like the one in this video, which are all too common. I hope that woman is deeply ashamed of herself, as should all people who have been in her place, mumbling under their breaths at the sight of a family buying groceries with food stamps, for speaking to someone simply trying to provide for his family, especially speaking that way in front of his child.
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