How I got off of welfare
How things can get started
Welfare can be a life saver when left bereft of a husband who has felt the need to see if the grass really is greener ‘over the septic tank’. (Erma Bombeck - The grass is always greener over the septic tank) Generally speaking it should be used as a hand up not a hand out. It doesn’t take long for it to become a regular routine in accepting that check each month.
This is my story, the one of how I got off of Welfare, never to return. It spans through the years sporadically of being on and off welfare to finally come to a final conclusion. A decision that I have never regretted and can only feel proud of.
My husband left my in 1982 with a 6 month old child. He left me with a $10 bill, because I needed diapers, and also told me I would never see a dime of child support. I had a part time job at the time, but was unable to meet the income that I needed to pay my bills. I spoke with a neighbor and she directed me to my local welfare office. I applied and was soon accepted, I was to continue working, report my monthly income and I was good to go. This was easy!
Getting caught in the trap
Working part time left me with plenty of time for playing with my son and meeting new people. My bills were all on vendor, (sent to the proper places) so I had no worries, they were never late and I didn’t ever get any shut off notices. The money that was left over was mine free and clear, it wasn’t much but it was free.
Only 1 time did I forget to send in my monthly report form, I learned quick not to do that again. You get cut off instantly, no money, the bills weren’t paid what was I going to do? I had to move out of my apartment and into my parents basement. They helped me out as much as they could, I paid rent and was still able to save. I moved within 3 months to a place of my own.
I had to quit my job from harassment of my soon to be ex-husband, I notified my case worker, she said that was fine. We filled out the proper paperwork and I was getting what was called ‘full’ benefits.
I met and married my second husband and he decided that I didn’t need to be on welfare ever again. ' Ever' didn’t last very long. It was difficult for him to find a job that paid well, so we got back on welfare, because he didn’t have a driver’s license we were eligible. Didn’t make sense to me, but hey, we needed the money.
So for the next 10 years we would be on and off welfare whenever the mood hit us. If he wanted to quit a job because he didn’t like it, he’d quit. We’d go apply and we’d get our welfare checks, Medicaid and anything else we needed including food stamps. All good things must come to and end.
Learning not to abuse
The year was 1996 in the fall, my husband purposefully lost his job. He had gotten his CDL (Commercial Drivers License) 6 years prior and could not pass a drug test. He had driven for 3 companies by this time and at the most he worked for 1 company almost 3 years. He didn’t want to work for this company any longer due to illegal practices. Rather than look for another job then quit, he did it ass backwards.
I went to apply for welfare, this time it was a little more difficult. I filled out all the paper work as required, there was 1 thing I couldn’t prove. 2 years prior we had won $1000 on an instant lottery ticket (No we were not on welfare at the time) they wanted to know where the money went. It was gone, spent on bikes for the kids, bills and whatever was needed at the time. I couldn’t prove that. How could anyone?
Time was passing, bills were due, food was gone. My husband was looking for work, and couldn’t find a job. He’d cleaned up his act and could pass a drug test blindfolded. My cupboards were getting more empty by the day. Thank goodness the kids got free lunch at school, sometimes it was their only meal of the day. November came and along with that deer season, my Dad came over and shot a deer on our property so at least we had venison, but that wouldn’t last long. When you have 5 kids and 2 adults and that’s the only thing to eat a deer really doesn’t go far.
My phone had been shut off so I had to make some trips to the welfare office. This was difficult because what gas we had in the car would need to last. The case worker kept putting me off, telling me more paperwork was needed. I was beginning to get desperate. I was finally able to get a job, my husband also got a job but neither of us had gotten a paycheck yet.
I got a shut off notice in the mail for my electric, it was due to be shut off in a couple of days but I hadn’t heard from my case worker yet. My refrigerator was empty, my electric was due to be shut off, with no electric I could cook food, but if I paid my electric we wouldn’t eat. My license plates on my car were expired and of course I had no insurance on it either. I drove to the welfare office yet again, not even having the required quarter for parking, I just hoped and prayed that I didn’t get a ticket.
I went in signed in and waited, the place was full of people waiting. Finally my name was called, I expected to be taken back to a cubicle as was the norm. Instead because I didn’t have an appointment, my case worker talked to me in the waiting room. This was quite possibly the best thing anyone could have ever done.
She informed me that ‘No‘, I would not be receiving any type of welfare, ‘No’, I would not be getting assistance in my electric shut off, and ‘No’ I would not be getting any food stamps. I didn’t understand, and she really didn’t have an explanation for me other than that $1000 we had won 2 ½ years prior. I began begging. I asked her if the money was coming out of her pocket. This was the one time I REALLY needed the system. I invited her to my house to look through my cupboards and refrigerator to see how empty they were. I told her how my youngest daughter was losing weight, she was only 3 and tiny to begin with, but with no food in the house she was starving. This was the first time I had not been able to provide for my children.
I stood there crying being totally humiliated in front of 30 or so people, begging for food stamps and being denied. The only thing she could tell me to do was go to a local Community Action Agency to see if they would help with my electric bill. Trying to see through my tears, I dejectedly left the building not sure of where to go or what to do.
As I reached my car a lady who had been following me, got my attention. In her hand she had a scrap of paper and she pushed it toward me. She asked me to call her later in the day, she said she had some groceries for me. That brought on fresh tears, to think that someone had heard my story inside and felt sorry for me. If it was possible I suffered even more humiliation, realizing that I’d just begged for food stamps and was turned down.
I made my way to the CCA and was turned down for assistance, they had run out of money for the month. This was after all December 18th, I was informed if I wanted help I needed to call on the 1st, the money went fast. They did allow me to use their phone to call the electric company and ask for an extension. I was granted 2 weeks to be able to pay my bill, now I could at least breathe knowing at least I could spend my first paycheck on groceries.
I found some bottles to return so I had some change and I called the lady, her name was Pam. She gave me directions to her home and I went there. She offered me a seat and a tissue. I was crying at her kindness, I wondered how this total stranger could help me out. She said she felt compelled to do so after over hearing about my daughter. We talked for a little while, but I needed to return home, the kids were due home from school soon. She was true to her word, she did indeed have groceries for me. It took me 2 trips to get them all into my car, my back seat was filled.
On the way home I did some thinking. I realized that I had been abusing the welfare system for some time now, and I had finally got my comeuppance. I started thinking on how to avoid this in my future. I had gotten a reprieve, and I wasn’t going to waste it. The food she had given me would last a while with only a few things that would be needed in addition, fresh milk and bread was a necessity.
I paid my electric bill as soon as I could, Christmas that year would just have to wait. I felt like Scarlet O’Hara in ’Gone with the Wind’ saying “I’ll never go hungry again” only my words were a little different “I’ll never be on Welfare again!” was what I said to my husband when he returned home.
It took me a little while to realize that I had not been the one to provide for my children, I had relied on society to do so. I am not saying that times haven’t been hard over the years, they have. I have taken jobs that in some peoples eyes would be considered demeaning. Working in a Strip Club, as a waitress/bartender, for a mother of 5 is in no way glamorous. If taking a more debasing job, that paid the bills and fed my kids was what I needed to do, I did it.
Times have gotten fairly lean in the last few years with the economy slowly declining. We have been laid off from jobs, but my husband has not quit a job since then. There have been times when my refrigerator has been nearly empty. There have been times my electricity has been on shut off, I call them and work out a payment plan that suits us both. There have been times when I have been tempted to apply for assistance, but the memory of standing in that waiting room with all of those faces looking at me stops me from doing it. The humiliation I suffered that day sticks with me, and I never want that feeling again. So with determination we push on, doing without some things so we can have the basic necessities of life. At least we know that we can say we are doing it ourselves, without assistance.
I am not saying that Welfare should not be there for those who need it, I am saying that I personally abused the system by relying on it, rather than myself. I do know of a lot of people who do abuse the system even more than I have, by never even attempting to get off of it. Women who have been on it for more than 15 consecutive years, continuing to have children along the way. One woman in particular has given birth to 9 children but has had 18 pregnancies (9 abortions) and is pregnant yet again. Of her children only 2 have the same father. She is only 33 years old.
We hope that we are teaching our children something in the process, that with time all things are possible, sometimes you have to do without, but in the end we can count on only ourselves to make things happen.
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