People tend to only see a small percentage of what is happening in another’s life, and they make a judgment call based on the little bit that they know. If they were to seek first to understand before casting judgment, they would discover that the person is just doing the best they can with what they have been given.
My husband and I never pictured ourselves as welfare recipients when we got married. We were both college students and we had both taken out student loans because unlike some of our peers whose parents had paid for their education, we were on our own. Without the student loans, we wouldn’t have been able to complete our education, and we wouldn’t have even met.
I had one year left, and I was so ready to graduate! My husband was a pre-med student just starting his undergraduate. I then became pregnant with our first, and our student insurance wouldn’t cover prenatal care. We were forced to look into other options, because we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford all of the expenses on our own.
Our church leader at the time advised us to apply for Medicaid. He said, “One day, you will be a contributing member of society, and you will pay back into the system. There is nothing wrong with those who need help seeking the help they need.” So with that reassurance, we moved forward and applied for Medicaid. I imagine if we hadn’t been covered, we would have just stayed at home and we wouldn’t have gotten the services we needed.
During that pregnancy we also applied for WIC. That gave us the basic foods necessary for a balanced diet.
Once our first child was born, we put her on Medicaid so she could get the pediatric services she needed. Some friends suggested that we apply for food stamps. We definitely qualified, so we applied. We found ourselves with much more food than we knew what to do with. We felt guilty having that much money to spend on food, but it was an all or nothing deal, so we chose all.
When our oldest was six months old, I graduated with my bachelors degree. This meant that by the time our oldest was a year old, I would have to start paying back my student loans while my husband was still in school. Around the same time, I became pregnant with our second. Back on Medicaid!
Funds became really tight shortly after our second was born. I remember looking up the many uses for vinegar and baking soda, because we could get both of those with food stamps.
When our second was nine months old, I found out I was pregnant again. By this time, my husband had changed his major several times and ended up deciding he wanted to be a teacher. Anatomy and Physiology was too much to handle, and he had considered becoming a marriage and family therapist, but as a teacher, he would be paid more with his bachelors than he would with his masters in MFT. With our growing family, going into the education field made sense.
When our third was nine months old, we began my husband’s student teaching. Our apartment was the best price we could find, but it was still thirty percent more than what we were used to paying. Student teaching is an unpaid internship, and because many students in the past failed their student teaching because of having an evening job, my husband had to sign an agreement saying that he would not seek outside employment during his student teaching. We had moved States, so food stamps wasn’t an option, but we did manage to get on WIC.
My husband graduated, and we felt like we should move closer to his family. We ended up living with his parents for six months. This gave us the opportunity to save up some money so we could move out on our own. But during that time we were on food stamps again.
I was pregnant with our fourth, and she was born about two months after we moved into our house. My husband had a teaching job, and if we didn’t have student loans, his income would have been sufficient to support us. Six weeks after our fourth was born, I went back to work part time. We were living comfortably for a few short months, when my husband was informed that he wouldn’t be offered a contract for the next year. Right away, he started looking for jobs. That was in April. He was told that most jobs aren’t posted until August. He continued to search and apply, but there was no luck. August came and went, and rejection after rejection came. Then came depression. Maybe all of the nasty things the last principal said to him were true.
I recently heard someone say that you can go for quite a while without food or shelter, but you won’t last very long if you don’t have hope. We found ourselves without hope. No one would hire my husband. Not even for non-teaching positions which he had more experience.
People would give their obvious advice like “why don’t you just get a job?”, not realizing how much effort was put into applying for jobs. After over forty applications, seven interviews, and all of them ending up as rejections, it’s hard to keep your head up.
People assume we’re just lazy welfare recipients taking advantage of the system. But we’re just trying to survive, and we’re doing the best we can.
I still want to hope that one day we will be those contributing members of society, but unfortunately that day is not today.