Stories Of Being On The Dole

Hello, I’m Gawker Media! You might remember me from such previous Internet hits as “the Privilege Tournament,” “mocking people in Vows columns for having too many vowels in their names,” and my lengthy, dramatic frenemy-ship with Emily Gould.

But I do have a softer side. Recently I wrote about statewide efforts to cut into the social safety net and asked to hear stories from you, the real people affected.

Are those who receive government benefits not working by choice? Are food stamps an unjustified handout? We would like to hear from the people who actually receive these benefits. If you are currently on food stamps or are a recipient of other significant public assistance for the poor, please write and tell me your story

Without worrying that we would make fun of you, you replied. (Thank you.)

In the past two days, we have received dozens and dozens of stories from Americans who were kind enough to share their experience of life on the receiving end of the social safety net. A selection of those stories is below. We will share more of these with you over the coming days and weeks.

Here is possibly the most heart-breaking letter: 

[From a 35 year-old NYC man who was laid off]:

Applying for assistance was simple enough, but it was a nightmare when it came to getting it. You have to open a chase checking account with a ATM card that never came. I basically was on public assistance for 2 &1/2 months on the books but only ever received a months worth of actual assistance. I lucky had enough savings to scrape and skim by and ended up spending the summer walking to every job interview in midtown i could get.

It was a very ruff few months, but i was very, very lucky, as my landlord was actually sympathetic to waiting things out with me, and I found a great new job that was the same as my old job but virtually paid double… Being on public assistance for the first time in my life only taught me that i really never want to be on public assistance again. It’s like having a sketchy boss who may or may not be paying you this week, and trying to find an actual person that you can have a face to face conversation with something about is virtually impossible.

I subscribe whole heartedly to the chris rock theory of public assistance, in that good, hard working people, don’t want to live on it, and that it is truly designed as a safety net. Its great when you need it, but it’s just a net. You can’t comfortably live off it, as you have the same real world problems that one one have anywhere, rent and food. I also lost about 25 pounds over that summer of job hunting, not from stress, but because i was literally eating only the cheapest most protein filled meals i could cook at home. Being poor is truly unhealthy on multiple levels.

The Washington Post has some charts making similar points, if you like charts.

The survey provides no evidence that the poor are wasting their money on delicacies. Indeed, the results show that regardless of income, Americans make very similar choices at the grocery store. The wealthy spend more overall, of course, and less as a share of their total spending. Yet the rich, the poor and the middle class all spend about 19 percent their grocery budget on fruits and vegetables, about 22 percent on meats, and about 13 percent on breads and cereals.

And the Daily Beast is exasperated too:

States like Kansas with a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled legislature are in the forefront of the crackdown. In Missouri, a Republican state legislator has introduced legislation that would ban “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak.”

What’s behind this wave of legislation, says Brookings scholar William Galston, is a familiar grievance felt by the middle class and the working class that programs of assistance are “either not going to the right people, or they’re not spending the money in a responsible way.” …

The only evidence anybody can cite of a remotely recent abuse is a widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance. But apparently that was enough to resurrect and perpetuate that long-ago myth first spun by Reagan.

More stories? Send ’em our way. I promise we’ll keep being nice — to you, at least.

ETA: Or you can send them to actual-us, here at the Billfold. We are friendly *and* we pay. Mail to: ester@thebillfold.com

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