Mothers Shouldn’t Have To Feel Ashamed Of Using Food Stamps To Feed Their Kids

New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin recently appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss entitlement programs in the US. As many Republicans have been discussing, more families are receiving food stamps in this country than ever before. This probably has something to do with the fact that one in five children was living in poverty in 2009. It might just be because 17 million children in the US live without consistent access to enough nutritious food for a healthy life.  It makes sense that in the face of these staggering statistics and a huge economic recession that families would be enlisting the help of the social safety net to feed and nourish their children.

Even though it makes sense, Mr. Goodwin is a little upset that all these parents don’t seem more ashamed of their poverty. According to him, the lowest on the socioeconomic ladder aren’t suffering enough, because they don’t have even the decency to be embarrassed about accepting the government’s help. ”Shame used to be part of this,” said Goodwin referring to the culture that used to accompany applying for and receiving government assistance. ”Now we look at it we’ve seen this explosion of entitlements and the sense of shame is gone.” And obviously, he thinks that this lack of shame is a bad thing.

Well, I have a little message for Michael Goodwin, as a mother who was actually in a position to possibly ask for the government’s assistance. It’s not a part of my life that I talk about very frequently, but I think this conversation might just need a little insight from someone who has been a single mother trying to support her child.

When I first had my daughter, I was a single young mom. I worked full-time, but for a small business owner that didn’t provide any employee health benefits. I was making less than $3o,ooo a year as an office manager and receptionist for a salon. I paid for my own apartment, insurance, and obviously, full-time child care. I was back at work a mere three weeks after having my daughter. And really, I was barely keeping my head above water.

I distinctly remember my mother sitting me down and asking me to please consider applying for some aid. “You could just get some help with childcare costs. They have subsidies for that. You can’t scratch by every month. What if something happens and you don’t have any savings at all?” She tried to convince me that there was nothing wrong with accepting help. She said that we were all paying our taxes so that we could get some help if we ourselves in a position like this. This is what the social safety net is supposed to do, after all.

And I was the exact person that the social safety net was made for at that time. I was a single mom who was working as hard as she could to support her daughter without much support from my daughter’s dad. I was asking for help so that I could continue to work, hopefully pulling myself up to a level where I would no longer need assistance. I had a right to ask for help.

I couldn’t. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. And it was the most horrible feeling in the world. Of course I feel proud that I managed to find a better job, that I worked my way into a promotion that put us on a sound financial footing. I feel lucky that I met and married an amazing man, which obviously helped to stabilize me financially.

But I would not have been any less of a mother if I had accepted the help that our government offers us. In fact, my daughter probably would’ve been better off, because her mother wouldn’t have been nearly as stressed or frustrated. I let my own pride stand in the way of doing what would have been best for my daughter. And no, I wouldn’t have continued to use government assistance. I wouldn’t have stopped striving for more simply because I had help. I still would’ve had ambition and goals, and I still would’ve found myself more fortunate later on.

Instead, I let that shame that Michael Goodwin is so positive no one feels anymore keep me from accepting help when I needed it. I’m lucky enough that I had a supportive family who helped me when things got really difficult. My mom helped buy my daughter’s new clothes when I was having a close month and let me pay her back weeks later. My parents kept my cell phone on their plan, “because it’s cheaper to keep it on the family plan anyways.” I was lucky and I know that.

What is the sad state of our country that children are living in fear of whether they’ll have healthy food to eat for their next meal and political commentators are worried that entitlement recipients don’t feel the proper amount of shame? I, for one, can promise that the shame associated with programs like childcare assistance , WIC and food stamps is still alive and well. And I would argue that the existence of this shame is the actual issue.

(Photo: Progress Illinois)

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