By: Ali Blair

“My husband had just gotten out of inpatient rehab for opioid addiction, and he went right back to using drugs. Rehab was the last straw for me in the marriage. I moved into subsidized housing: a two bedroom apartment, with three kids (ages 7, 5, and 2), with no job, and $40 to my name. I signed up for welfare the next month.”

After infrequent child support payments from her ex-husband, who served jail time for non payment, Ali eventually moved to Kentucky.

“Since I have moved, I have a job with a merchandising company. The hours are very dependent on retail season and sales, but it offers a flexible schedule and self-management. I’ve also been doing a fair amount of leather work. Back in the summer I vended and performed at a few festivals.”

Ali is excited about her new work with a burgeoning food co-op/restaurant/community space called Village Trough.

“Being able to pursue our passions as best we can in the midst of the dark times and the poor times helps to energize and give our lives meaning. This is why hoop dance has been so important for me. I try to create and participate to barter, trade, and swap – getting creative and innovative about other means to provide for my family, and to ultimately not rely on food stamps at all because I’ve helped to open a restaurant that allows me to feed my family healthy food and support area farmers (my community/economy) while doing so.

“The system is broken. It’s not designed to help you rise above, it’s designed to keep your wheels spinning. I wish more people would realize they are their own best advocate, and to take matters into their own hands. Legislation and policy won’t offer us the light at the end of the tunnel. We can help to create the change we wish to see.”

Ali is a hoop dance and fire performer and teacher. Photo used with permission.

Ali is a hoop dance and fire performer and teacher. Photo used with permission.

The 10 Whys of Welfare

Why is it so easy to vilify and dehumanize those of us who struggle to provide for our families?

Why is it so easy to dump so much negativity and judgement onto the single mother receiving food stamps and medicaid?

Why tell her to work harder and make do with less, and shame her choice to parent a child?

Why is she treated like she is always playing the system and spending her benefits on luxury items?

Why is she left without a support system?

Why is she never asked if SHE is ok?

Why is she blamed for all our troubles?

Why call it a “handout” when she’s paid plenty of taxes into the system?

Why do folks say their children will never grow up to be like her because they’ve been taught better?

Why keep her stuck between a rock and a hard place?

My Experience on Welfare/SNAP/Medicaid:

Case workers are condescending and careless, or so over worked they can’t possibly treat you as more than a number. Administrative errors cause frustrating problems.

  • “Oh you say you dropped off the required paperwork but we lost it, again, for the 3rd time.
  • “Oh, since you are on assistance you have entire half days to devote to waiting rooms with small children in tow. No worries.
  • “Oh, you tell me you aren’t receiving child support, but we have to have proof that there’s none coming in for 3 months before we can remove that income from your case and increase your benefits.
  • “Oh, when you kept me informed about your increase in income, like you are supposed to do, I accidentally entered the income in twice stripping you of all your benefits 3 days before you are scheduled for surgery, followed by being out of work for 3 weeks, and then finally after 2 months of appeals, and major financial setbacks, all you’ll get is, ‘yes we made a mistake, sorry.'”

This has all happened to me and much, much, more.

Ali also supplements her income by hand stitching leather crafts.

Ali also supplements her income by hand stitching leather crafts.

What Other People Say

The middle class tells us we don’t work hard enough, and they are pissy about us taking their hard earned money to feed another baby that we shouldn’t have gotten pregnant with. The state says we have to leave our young children with strangers while we work a minimum wage job at least 30 hrs a week. When I was on welfare I received $236 for a family of four, hardly what we are told is playing the system.

People are not supportive of those of us who take staying at home with our children seriously. A strong family core is important for the next generation’s well being and success. And, most people in my situation are beat down – physical/emotional abuse, cycles of addiction, may have just lost a spouse, while having the stress of worry about providing for your family, with little to no means, weighing on you at all times.

We love our children just as much as anyone. It is not our wish to be dependant on other people, and there’s where the problem lies. We aren’t being dependant. The system is designed to keep us exactly where we are. $7.25/hr to be the provider for 3 kids with no child support? That’s not a living wage!

To find resources, like little known limited funded programs/options, you have to be willing to dig and dig to search them out, which isn’t easy. There’s not really any emotional support services for us. Society acts like we shouldn’t FEEL anything about what we’ve just been through, or where we are at. We could be suffering from depression, PTSD from physical trauma/abuse/rape, but we are supposed to just get back to work and dig ourselves out of the hole, without skipping a beat.

The marginal few who are fraudulently using the system give us all a bad name. We are stereotyped and bad mouthed. I’m talking about what politicians say, and what I hear on NPR, and the comments my community makes in response to news articles. As a society, whether we want to admit it or not, that message is louder than the one of support and encouragement.

“She’s using a food stamp card AND holding a smart phone?! My tax money pays for that! “Oh she says she working her ass off but only working 30 hrs a wk? She needs to work harder. “My God, did you see her wearing $300 Frye boots?”

And we keep hearing about how we are doing it wrong.

Ali Village Trough

Working at this new food coop/restaurant has brightened Ali’s spirit and increased her skills set.

This is My Truth, My Story

We have no real options. WIC / Headstart were some of the first things to get cut during the government shutdown. What does that say sbout the value placed on mothers and children? I’ve been struggling for 6 years. It is absolutely 2 steps forward and 3 steps back. Every time something negative is said about the stereotypical welfare mother – you say it to me. I’m frustrated because this is my truth, my story, and I don’t understand why people aren’t more outraged that we keep segments of our population oppressed in such a manor, and why so many people happily perpetuate this thinking.

Personally, I think I’m kicking ass with what I’ve dealt with in the last few years. Don’t judge me. Don’t judge any of us, especially if you have never lived in poverty.

© Allison Blair, 2014.

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