Saturday, October 12, 2013

I Receive Food Stamps

I go grocery shopping with my Maine EBT card palmed in my hand. I hide it from other shoppers. I pray nothing will malfunction on the register, drawing attention to my method of payment. I feel shame every time.

I am tired of being ashamed. I am tired of holding my tongue while I listen to people insult me, not knowing that as I stand there in my carefully washed clothes with my textbook in hand I am holding in my pocket a card that they equate with lazy, dirty drug addicts.

I am tired of feeling badly about needing a little help.

I left my parents home at eighteen years old. For nine years I worked multiple jobs, many times pulling in between fifty and sixty hours a week. I didn't receive help from the state. I paid my rent. I purchased a vehicle. I paid taxes. And after working two or three jobs each week I often volunteered at wildlife rescues and arts programs. I was busy.

But I grew afraid that I would spend the rest of my life as a number in a corporation.

I wanted something more. I wanted to be able to come home from work and be proud of what I accomplished. I wanted to be able to do something I am passionate about. For me that means teaching, and to teach I needed an education. So I went back to school.

For the last three years I have taken full time classes. I have worked between twenty and thirty hours a week. More during the summers.

But last year my wife got really sick. The medical professionals have yet to solve the problem and because of it she can't work. We had a series of freak circumstances that caused us to move into a place an hour and a half away from school, increasing our travel expenses. Meanwhile we are both struggling to keep our grades up and praying we will still be able to follow our dreams.

I was counting meals, putting off eating dinner just so I knew I wouldn't be hungry again before bed. There were many weeks we fed both of us on less than $30. Honestly, I was scared. I'm not being dramatic. I have no interest in dramatizing the issue. We were counting pennies, borrowing from some wonderful friends and family. And something had to give.

We signed up for food stamps and (one of the most humbling experiences of my life) we went to food pantries. When faced with the choice between asking for help and starving we chose to eat.

I haven't felt a lot of pride in my country the past few years, but I am grateful to my country. I am grateful to live in a country that cares about people. Cares about the less fortunate. About folks who can't always pay their bills in a competitive economy. A country that protects its citizens when they are unable to protect themselves.

Our unemployment rate here in the state of Maine is currently at 7.0%. 18% of Maine citizens get food stamps (according to MPBN news today). Over half of the people who receive food stamps in this state work. They are working and still aren't able to purchase their own food, or are unable to purchase enough food to keep themselves fed all month.

They are people like me. People who are working, going to school, spending hours attempting to build a career in a difficult climate.

So when you decide to insult people who get food stamps, to generalize them all as "moochers" and "lazy" and "addicts" I am asking that you think about me. Twenty four hours ago I wouldn't have said that. I didn't want to be thought of in relation to food stamps and welfare. But yet another glance at my Facebook wall where more and more of my friends keep posting negative comments about food stamps drove me to admit it.

I receive food stamps. Hopefully I won't have to for long. But for now, I do.

A few people I know who are or have been homeless have said to me, "It only takes a blink of an eye to end up where I am."

I hope you never find yourself in a position where you have to receive food stamps. But more than that, I hope the program still exists if you do.


  1. There is no shame in needing or asking for help. The people that cause the comments about negativity are generally people that don't want to work or are too lazy to. it bothers me when I see someone buying lobsters, steaks, soda, candy and junk food. If you can waste your allotment on that, my opinion is you have no problem eating the rest of the month. And then there are people who sell theirs because they want the money to party with. the people who genuinely try are the ones that end up feeling so ashamed and it should not be that way. Just to pay the rent in coastal Maine far outweighs what the jobs pay. How does anyone expect you to put yourself through school, work, and try to pay more than you should have to for rent? You need help to be able to continue to achieve your dreams and obtain your education and you should not be ashamed, period. When I first relocated, my daughter was young and I couldn't find a job and my husband didn't work in the mill then. I am not ashamed to admit I needed food stamps just to help us keep three mouths fed. The jobs do not pay enough in Maine. It's not that you don't work, it's that people that work can't make ends meet because the wages are not in line with the economy on Maine. I hope your blog helps people who really need the help and are in the same position as you, struggling in this tough time, to reach out for the help that is there for now. I understand that sometimes pride gets in the way, but sometimes too, you need to look past the pride to feed yourself and your family and there is nothing to be ashamed about. Be thankful that the opportunity is there as Katrina said. You work, you pay your taxes, and as far as I'm concerned you directly contribute to the exact programs that help you, where's the shame in that? Hold your head up Katrina and know you are doing your best to survive. As for people that comment on facebook, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones or judge because one never knows when the tables can be turned.

  2. Very well said Katrina! Makes me proud to be related to you! I love you. Mum

  3. The program is there to be a safety net , that is exactly what you are using it for, there is no shame in that. Many people find themselves in dire straights at one time or another in their lives; poor health, loss of employment, escaping an abusive relationship or bettering themselves to become a happier and more productive citizen are just a few reasons I can think of off the top of my head. Thank goodness this country has programs in place to aid people when they are in need. Unfortunately there are some folks and I believe they are the minority, who take advantage of the system. Those few people give the entire system a bad name. Welfare, housing assistance and food stamps were never meant to be a way of life, they were meant to be a "hand up", not a never ending hand out. Katrina, you and most recipients of these programs are not an issue, you have or will pay more back into the system than you will ever receive. Do not be shamed by your present need, you are aligning yourself to be a teacher, you will give more to the world than you will ever know. Love you!

  4. I live in Texas and I work a full time job but my hubby has been out of work for some time now and we are raising 4 kids. As you can imagine that is hard to do and pay mortgage payments and electric and keep the phone turned on too. We have begged and borrowed and even just not paid some bills altogether. We have been on FS for about 5 years now and without them my children would not have food in their bellies. No I am not proud that I need help but that's why its there. I am glad that you have found peace with your situation.

  5. Katrina... *I* am ashamed that our country doesn't do MORE to help folks like you, who are trying to make a better way of life for themselves. Obama care will help.... sign up for it....and keep plugging away, work hard and vote for those who will help us ALL. My husband and I plan to move to Maine in a few years from CT, where we have lived all our lives... we are lucky, even tho he has had 2 strokes, one very serious in 1999---I helped raise his kids, who no longer speak to us, have taken the best care I can of my wonderful husband, and now, I am retiring earlier than most folks do.... I want a different filled with creativity, and with making beautiful I am leaving the work I have done for 40 years, and changing my life... I am excited, scared and I have to say, reading this has made me feel more hopeful.... If I get into trouble, I know I can get help...if I need to work, I will, and I will work really hard to make my jewelry business a success...I know it's not a necessity, like food, or shelter...but every life needs a little beauty...blessings to you and yours!