Monday, November 10, 2014

Why I'm Not Ashamed To Use Food Stamps

I have heard that many people are ashamed to use food stamps when purchasing food from the store. For those who don't know, the Oregon Trail card is Oregon's debit card version of food stamps. More formally referred to as an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, one applies for these benefits through a program the Department of Human Services (DHS) offers, which is called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

I am proud to say that I am very thankful to be on food stamps and the new owner of an Oregon Trail card.

It seems to me that it's a touchy subject to talk about SNAP benefits. I don't personally know very many people who are getting these kinds of benefits. I'm not sure if it is because I don't actually know anyone on food stamps or if it is because nobody wants to talk about it. Why are people ashamed of this kind of assistance? We received government assistance to go to college and often joke about how much we are in debt from student loans, so why is assistance for food a big deal? It's a small drop in the bucket compared to the gallons and gallons of student loans.

From what I have heard in my limited experience living in this silly world of ours, many people will judge those who use food stamps when they buy food, like the cashier checking them out at the store or other customers standing in line with them. As they put items on the conveyor belt in the checkout line, onlookers might inspect the items purchased to make sure they are using their free money wisely. After all, the wealthy people out there who earn money and pay taxes toward assistance like this, their money is paying for these food stamps. So, they think it might be justified to make sure the benefits aren't wasted on junk food or other irresponsible purchases. That's how I think many people rationalize it, anyway.

When I made my first purchase with my Oregon Trail card, it crossed my mind that people might be judging me. I was in a Papa Murphy's buying pizza with Nolan. As I paid the cashier, I thought the people behind me in line might be judging me by looking at my clothes, trying to figure me out, deciding whether or not I looked poor enough to deserve the benefits. What made matters worse in my mind was that Nolan was playing with the containers of cookie dough on display. He exclaimed, "Daddy! Cookies! I want cookies!" As if I am an irresponsible parent who only feeds his kid cookies and pizza, maybe the people in line behind me thought I should have worked harder to get a better job and earn more money for myself before having kids. Then I wouldn't be depending on their tax money to pay for my food.

This all went through my head in the few split seconds as I bought my pizza. In reality, the people in line behind me were probably not judging me. They were probably only thinking, I think I'll get a large pepperoni pizza tonight. Heh, cute kid with the cookie dough. I'm glad I didn't bring my kids, they'd be saying the same thing.

I have to block out these thoughts in my mind. I should not care what other people think. It's not like I'm ever going to get into a conversation with them and explain to them that I am actually a full-time 5th grade teacher who doesn't make enough to live comfortably (according to DHS's standards, anyway) each month. What's even more humorous is that I teach at a private school, and many of my students' wealthy parents would probably be shocked to find out that their child's teacher is on food stamps.

In my previous post, I wrote about helping others in need. More often than not, people appreciate it when others help them out. That's how I feel about food stamps. I appreciate the fact that we live in a place where we can depend on each other in times of need. Personally, I'd rather depend on places like Neighborhood House and churches rather than the government, since it is more relational and less political. But I didn't write this to discuss politics... so, moving on...

Overall, in my heart, I know that I am doing my best for my family. As a husband who cares about his wife and a father who cares about his children, I know that taking a gift from others in the form of food stamps is something that I don't have to be ashamed of. If I think that I must earn all of the money for our family myself, well, that's just plain selfish. I work hard at my job and I earn a relatively small paycheck. Other people in this world work hard at their job and earn a relatively large paycheck. That's just life. Life isn't fair, but how you deal with situations that are unfair shows you where your priorities are in life. We probably should have applied for these benefits a long time ago. It really helps keep our heads above water. Even though I struggle with thoughts about what others think about me, I know that it's more important to be able to ask for help when I need it.