Stigma or Strength?

This post consists of my opinions only.  The statements are all based upon my own experiences and feelings.  If you are offended, I’m sorry.

Way back many years ago, I was forced by circumstances to use food stamps and HUD to keep a roof over my child’s head.  I was a young mom, and my ex refused to pay child support.  I hadn’t yet gone to college, so my job possibilities were limited.  To make things worse, I had made another bad partner choice.  I felt like I was stuck in a hole.  Was any of it my fault?  Yes, but I wanted more out of life.  In the beginning, I just wasn’t sure how to get it.  My self esteem was in the toilet, but I new there had to be a way out.

I remember the days before SNAP cards resembled credit cards.  I had to count out the actual food stamps with people in the line behind me trying not to pay attention.  It was mortifying.  For me, that humiliation and stigma served as a push stepping stones out of the hole.  I wanted to be able to support myself and not be embarrassed buying food.

I had to meet with a case worker on a regular basis to keep getting services, so I learned how to get into the community college.  When I expressed an interest in college, my partner said he’d “just have to leave” if I enrolled because I’d find a replacement for him.  (It wasn’t a bad idea, actually!)  I was confused because a true partner should be in favor of improving the family’s economy, right?  I applied to the college and filled out a mountain of forms including the FAFSA for grants and loans.  If not for the PELL and SEOG grants and child care services, I wouldn’t have graduated and transferred to the university.  As for my partner at the time, I called his bluff.  After wasting years of my life with him, I had had enough.  He had to go.  College was about me being able to earn a decent wage to support my daughter.  He was wasting my resources—food, money, energy.  He contributed nothing, so I learned how to eliminate people who were unwilling to contribute to my well being.  It was a hard lesson, but I learned it well.

I finally graduated with a BA, and then I proudly went to work.  I do not know what the current statistics are concerning recipients of public assistance getting out of the hole, but I have the feeling that many don’t make it out.  There are many reasons for this, and laws have changed since I was a recipient.  I sympathize with people who want a better life and are willing to fight for it.  It’s not easy.  In my case, the stigma of using food stamps made me strong enough to get my education and do better.



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