Why I came out as being poor. By Stephanie Land in the Guardian, August, 2018
For nearly a decade, I thought it was obvious that I was poor.
Cashiers saw me and knew, without asking, that I’d pay for my groceries with food stamps. My car was always the oldest in the parking lot when I brought my daughter to ballet classes – the family there by scholarship, by the good graces of the owners. I sat on the entryway benches with all the other moms, listening to them complain about their husbands working so much. “I’m practically a single mom,” they’d say, exasperated. I clenched my jaw and stared at the floor.
Every Friday afternoon my kindergartener’s backpack was filled with free food for the weekend. The local parent-teacher association always had an in-depth discussion over what to include. I didn’t tell them that I knew, firsthand, that the granola bars were inedible; I didn’t want to make the other parents uncomfortable knowing there was a “food bag” recipient in the room.
That fear of being singled out never left me; I wore it like a weighted vest. I felt the stigma of poverty every hour, even in my own home, but I never admitted to friends how desperate my situation was.
I stared potential landlords down with a seven-year-old standing next to me and a baby on my hip, asking to apply for a tiny studio apartment I could barely afford. I spoke to a dozen secretaries at local churches, asking if they had funds to help me pay for childcare. I went hungry and bounced checks to order pizza for dinner.
Struggling to take care of my daughter on my own, I needed whatever government assistance I qualified for – a few hundred bucks a month in food stamps, free school lunches, childcare vouchers and coupons for milk and cheese – while I simultaneously worked as a maid, juggling 10 clients between going to class to put myself through college. Very few of my friends knew. They didn’t know the work I put into finding these resources – hours on the phone, standing in line, handing over thick packets to prove my need.
These food stamps, coupons and vouchers were not resources the public deemed vital to my survival. They were handouts, donations – alms. We call aid programs “entitlements” but, for those who depend on them, they feel less like rights and more like privileges given, or yanked away, at the caprices of a cold and unsympathetic state. The hours I spent applying for food stamps, Medicaid and childcare vouchers became akin to begging…https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/aug/27/why-i-came-out-as-being-poor