Even customers in the check-out line at the grocery store have strong opinions on one side or the other on welfare and whether or not it goes to the right people—the people who sincerely need it. Some middle-class couples who struggle to pay for their SUV’s and kids’ piano lessons might feel like they get gipped because they barely make ends meet but have no government financial breaks or assistance with their groceries or medical bills. Where’s my help? they ask, hands on hips, eyes squinting in frustration.
It’s confusing when you see someone who looks “normal” checking out at the grocery store with food stamps (“normal” as in they don’t look poor because they’re not wearing a potato sack like you might have seen on TV in the 1950s). And so, in typical American fashion, we pick them apart for either looking “too fancy” and therefore not really in need of assistance, or stereotyping them as “too lazy” and not working as hard as you think you are.
With California Food Stamps being available on a debit card now, it makes the task of checking out at the grocery store a bit less public. It’s more discreet and convenient, instead of the traditional exposure of your financial situation to a long line of nosy people and a cashier who doesn’t know the first thing about processing what they will no doubt still refer to as “Food Stamps” despite the many name changes the California food assistance program has undergone (currently dubbed CalFresh and federally as SNAP) in order to be current and change the negative stigma.
But have we made it too convenient? Where is the line between living within your means and abusing social services?
There was a recent Facebook post of a woman in line at a grocery store had a caption that read “Someday I hope to afford a new iPhone…like the girl in front of me with the food stamps,” and it brought up many emotional responses. Some felt offended at the idea of judging a stranger who is already going through a difficult time. Others felt the picture was justified as they themselves have given up cell phones at financially trying times. And who’s right?
There are many of us who are quick to judge that person who has things we want—a phone, a car, diamond earrings, financial assistance.
But does that justify our jealousy or resentment aimed at a stranger? Does it mean that we know the whole picture and can solve their problems with our catty wanna-be solutions? How will someone be reached for a potential interview? How will they get there if they sell their car? Are those their grandmother’s heirloom diamonds or just C.Z.’s from Wal-Mart?
People experience hardships for different reasons. Job loss, injury, illness, family needs. And while, yes, there are sure to be some out there to abuse the programs aimed at helping people get through financially difficult times, we can’t let them be representative of the norm. There are students who cheat on tests and get away with it, spouses who cheat on each other, people who cheat on their taxes (even though income taxes were never really legally ratified, but don’t get me started on that!), but that doesn’t mean that everyone cheats.
Part of being human is believing in humanity. Believing that people (for the most part) are good. We hear so often about the bad ones that it can be easy to forget how many truly amazing people there are out there. People who volunteer at soup kitchens and shelters. People who pay for a stranger’s groceries because they forgot their wallet or their credit card was embarrassingly declined. People who perform random acts of charity and help pay off people’s mortgages when their homes go to auction. People who are just plain nice and good and pleasant with good intentions. Yes, they exist, and in more numbers than you might be able to read about when compared to the stories that highlight crime and scandal like the recent Fox News story about the local Section 8 housing fraud by Rita Aleksanyan.
Many people are learning to live with less, but sometimes all the cutbacks you make still don’t make income appear from thin air. And once bills become past due, it gets harder and harder to catch up. We really are lucky to live in California where we can depend on our state to take care of us through it’s many social service programs like State Disability and Unemployment, even if paid into by the worker, it’s great that we can have assistance to bridge the otherwise (and still) devastating gap between earning income and going into debt. It may not provide it all but it will soften the crippling blow that a job loss or sudden injury or new baby can do to an otherwise steady and stable couple.
Instead of passing judgement on the girl in line paying for her groceries with a CalFresh EBT card talking on an iPhone, you should consider your own life.
Consider what would happen if your securities were stripped from you suddenly, what would you fall back on? This could be your health or your house. Or your job. Or your wife. Or your mother. Your anything. Your everything. You would not want to be judged by anyone and you certainly wouldn’t want to be accused of “taking advantage” of the system.
No. The system is in place for a good cause and instead of scorning the less fortunate for their alleged abuse of the system, we should feel ashamed that there are those out there that ruin it for the good ones, making awful, inaccurate stereotypes.
If you need help, don’t be too proud to ask. You’ll have to fill out forms and provide financial documentation, along with in-person interviews (so to answer my other question-No. They certainly aren’t making it too easy or convenient by any stretch of the imagination), but then you will have a golden card in your hands (because that’s what color they made it) that will fill your fridge more than your empty checking account would. Everyone deserves to eat and everyone deserves to check out at the grocery store without being judged. The overweight person buying donuts and diet soda. The single guy buying microwave dinners and frozen pizza. Or the woman buying formula for her crying baby and Fruit Loops for her screaming toddler.
If you want to do something to reach out, you can find a full list of places to volunteer in Los Angeles, covering a wide array of community needs and many opportunities for your participation. If you are struggling and need assistance, you can contact the DPSS to find out how they can help.