Thursday, August 27, 2015

Under the Poverty Line

       Gabriel and I are poor

       I’m not complaining—we just literally live below the poverty line. I used to complain about being a ‘poor college kid’ while going out to eat with friends, buying copious amounts of wine and brand new books. I now envy those days. I thought I was poor then, but now Gabriel and I know what it really feels like to be in need. And we are poor in the most privileged country in the world. I can’t imagine the desperation of those in poverty in third world countries.

       We have been on food stamps for over a year. We benefit from WIC. Theodore and Gabriel have Medicaid insurance. Luckily, I can still be on my dad’s insurance until the ripe old age of 26—which is swiftly approaching.

       I know the shame of pulling out my EBT card at a grocery and the clerk staring puzzled at their screen and then exclaiming, “Oh! It’s food stamps.” They punch in a special code that allows me to buy groceries. It’s even more humiliating if I incorrectly calculate the remaining balance on our food stamp card and it is declined. I’ve never felt like more of a failure and an idiot than when a cashier looks down their nose and informs me that there doesn’t seem to be enough money on the card. Baby on my hip and cheeks burning red, I mumble, “Oh really? Shoot. I must have counted wrong. Can you subtract those bananas?” Deducting food items I can’t afford, quickly prioritizing while attempting to recreate meals in my head with the remaining items—while the line of impatient shoppers grows behind me—is demoralizing.

       In the past two years many people have told Gabriel and I, “You are exactly the type of person who should benefit from these services.” I never know how I should respond.

       “Thank you?”

        I want to ask them what they mean. Do we deserve aid more because we are young? Because we have experienced hardship, therefore our poverty is not entirely ‘our fault’? Because we probably won’t need aid forever?

       I often think how blessed I really am. I am not the first 20-year-old college student to get pregnant. But not many women who have only been dating a guy for four months can rely so heavily on them, like I did. Not every guy will stick around. Not every woman in my situation has family that will support her financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. In fact, most women who are young and pregnant can expect to face the hardships ahead of her—alone. I can’t even imagine being pregnant, working full time, finding an apartment, preparing for the birth—and then going through a traumatic birth experience like I did—without the help of my family. I wouldn’t have made it.  And that’s all before you leave the hospital and you are entirely responsible for a fragile little human.

       I have come to realize just how difficult and painful raising a child can be when you’re poor. Standing in line to apply for food stamps was a breathtakingly raw and vulnerable experience. I cried that whole night after I put Theodore to bed. We are currently struggling with the reapplication process for food stamps. The office of Family Services lost our identification information so we had to fax new ones over. But my purse was stolen with Theo and my social security cards in it. (I know it was dumb to have them in my purse.) We faxed over what information we had; and then they lost that information. There was a complication because I’m a student. Then there was another complication because Gabriel just started a new job. It has been over a month and we still don’t have food aid.

       We have borrowed hundreds of dollars from nearly every member of our family. Without their support we wouldn’t have made rent, paid our utilities on time, or fed ourselves. Our families have bought us diapers, meals and new jeans when our old ones were too big. (Gabriel and I both lose weight when we’re stressed.) Most people in our situation don’t have the support we do. They get evicted, go hungry, their credit is destroyed, and obtaining the government aid they are entitled to—is sometimes nearly impossible.

       I don’t know what people mean when they say we ‘deserve’ this more than other people. The people who deserve government aid are the people who qualify. Period. I think it’s safe to assume that everyone who lives life below the poverty line is struggling, even drowning. I don’t know the story of everyone standing in that line for food stamps. Maybe it’s their first time applying, or their 30th time reapplying; but no one there was smiling. No one wanted to be there. Everyone had to be there. That is how they survive. There is no story more deserving than another; and who are we to make that judgment call, anyway?

       Living poor in this country is demeaning, frustrating and draining at best. At worst—it is impossible. I have a friend who works in the Columbus public school system. He told me the story of a second grader crying on the last day of school because he knew he was going to be hungry all summer. During the school year he knew he would get at least two meals a day.

       Gabriel and I do not plan to stay on food assistance forever. Affording our own groceries and having a small date-night fund is the ultimate dream. And I have faith that someday we will get there. But only because we have dozens of people helping us move forward. Most people do not have the resources we do. They can only dream of survival.



  1. Hi Em, I'm your mom's friend :-)
    First, thanks for your honesty, dignity, & courage. The fact that you're humbled by this shows you don't plan to make this a lifestyle for generations.
    Second, you are doing it RIGHT, a temporary hand-up. Nothing wrong with that.
    Third, you might also try going to area food pantries/food banks when your food stamps run out. I volunteer each week at a local food pantry and many of our clients have food stamps but run out before the end of the month.
    Best wishes in your writing, family life, and future.

  2. Emily, I have always enjoyed reading your blog. I think you offer a unique perspective that often encourages your readers to do some critical thinking. This particular post has left me with mixed emotions. I think that sharing your experience with using government aid is great. It allows your more privileged audience to better understand part of the demographic that utilizes public aid. That being said, I think you left out some important parts. I know that the governmental aid systems are flawed. Especially when you have a problem with your case it can be difficult to remedy the situation, and becomes even more frustrating when your aid is delayed. But there are many different governmental and non-profit organizations that are willing to help. Wether it be for rent assistance, food pantries and/or hot meals, baby supplies or school supplies there are people and organizations who want to help. Hand On Central Ohio is a great resource, I have used it multiple times when trying to locate organizations that will help meet a specific need. I understand that living at and below the poverty line is a daily challenge, but there are resources to help.

  3. "In the past two years many people have told Gabriel and I, “You are exactly the type of person who should benefit from these services.” I never know how I should respond." Try: " Thank you. I know I'm not the stereotypical Welfare Queen, but I really have no control over the fact that I'm White--I was born that way."