10 Things People Using Government Assistance Want You to Know

This weekend I stood in a Walmart checkout line behind a mother of three using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a government assistance program designed to help low-income households pay for food. She had placed basics on the conveyor belt: milk, bread, cheese, children’s fever reducer, apples, raw chicken, Cheerios, rice, and a few other items. I looked at my own shopping cart filled with teeth whitening strips, steaks for grilling, water guns for the kids, and three fun nail polish shades and I thought to myself, “I don’t need any of these things” yet each item made the very deliberate transition from the shelf into my cart simply because I wanted them.

A couple behind me grumbled about how slow the line was moving and when they realized the cashier was having problems processing the woman’s SNAP EBT card, they began badmouthing her use of government assistance at an alarming volume. “Oh my God, must be nice to get your groceries for free!” while the other snapped, “Free?! WE’RE the ones paying for her groceries!”

I should have said something; instead I looked down. I couldn’t bear to look into the face of the mother who undoubtedly heard those harsh words. I couldn’t bring myself to turn around and say something because honestly, at that moment I just didn’t know what to say. I just stood there like an idiot with my head down feeling sad and disappointed. Shame on me.

Where was our human decency? Our sense of community? Our understanding? Our compassion? Have we become so smug of a society that we think less of those who have fallen on hard times? Please say it isn’t so. Show me a man who has never needed help and I’ll call your bluff.

I was deeply saddened that this woman who was not so different than me needed help feeding her growing children. I felt angry with the ignorant fools behind me who will surely go on making dangerous assumptions about those in need.

  • You ought to know 1 of 11

    I reached out to my community of readers for their experiences using government assistance; these are the things they'd like you to know.

  • Never assume you know the reason why 2 of 11

    "Our son has a disability and there is no "getting out" getting a better job, etc. so comments like that really upset me. " - V.


    Image credit: Shutterstock



  • Disability comes in many forms 3 of 11

    "I am a 26 year old mother of one on disability, food stamps, welfare, WIC, medicare and I use a handicap sticker. I get a lot of comments from people because I 'don't look sick.' I am on home dialysis 4 times a day. A lot of people say I am faking it or I am just too lazy to work or I am too young to be on dialysis. I just wish people would realize disability comes in all shapes and sizes." - L.


    "I have a liver condition that has made it impossible for me to work. I might look healthy to people, but I'm not." - Josie


    Image credit: Shutterstock

  • Beware of status symbols 4 of 11

    "Being looked down on because I *DO* have an iPhone and *might* spend that $30 to get my nails done every once in a while [is unfair].  My iPhone really was free and I think they are even available now on pay-as-you-go plans for a low price.  These 'status symbols' people use to say you if you can afford them you don't deserve assistance is just crazy talk. You can get name brand clothes at a thrift store, Goodwill, Ross, from friends who don't wear them anymore—so those really aren't good indicators either." - V.


    "I can't stand it when people remark on the fact that I have nice things, but receive food stamps and Medicaid. THEY don't know that I purchased those nice things BEFORE I lost my job due to my school being one of 100s that have been closed in Chicago over the past few years." - Christine


    Image credit: Shutterstock

  • The discrimination is difficult 5 of 11

    "I hate when people make comments or give dirty looks when I use my WIC or food stamps. Even cashiers treat me different when I say I'm using those cards." - L.


    "The mindset vilifying poor people who just need to eat is not just appalling in it's privilege, it's usually based out of a huge disconnect with the reality of poverty in this country and ignorance of how things really work in both our food and political system." - Jupiter


    "If you only knew the things people in line and even cashiers have said to me. I force myself to shop on off-hours just so I can limit the amount of people who see me use assistance. I'd rather just not deal with it. It's embarrassing and people act like they deserve to know my story." ~Amy


    Image credit: Shutterstock

  • Not what I’d choose 6 of 11

    "I didn't chose to be sick. If I had it my way I would work all the time; I love working, started when I was 15." - L.


    "Able-bodied people don't realize what a blessing it is to work. Instead they just complain." - Rob


    Image credit: Shutterstock

  • Accepting help is hard 7 of 11

    "It was a hard battle to convince my husband that we needed food stamps if we wanted to move away from his mother's basement... the social stigma of seeking government help, no matter the situation, NEEDS TO BE LIFTED!" - Paula


    "We tried to make it work the best we could and still couldn't make it. When your kids are hungry and without clothes, you do what you have to do. You would too." - Linda


    Image credit: Shutterstock

  • Don’t call me "lucky" 8 of 11

    "You're lucky [insert reason that you're supposedly lucky here.]' Lucky? What lucky person finds themselves relying on the government to feed their child? There is no luck in working full time and not being able to make ends meet. Another one is, 'You should go back to school.' I'm fully educated, thank you very much. I just don't make enough to do everything on my own anymore. I did once. Not anymore...and my kid still needs to eat." - K.


    "We're so thankful for the assistance my family receives, but we're far from 'lucky' to receive it. We paid into the system for many, many years until circumstances made it so we needed it ourselves. Our story is about the most unlucky one you'll ever hear but we're blessed to have a roof over our heads and food to eat." - Karen


    Image credit: Shutterstock

  • Please keep your comments to yourself 9 of 11

    "You shouldn't say anything at all. If you are fortunate enough to be healthy and working, you should thank the deity of your choice for the blessing, and show compassion for those less fortunate. Even if someone is cheating the system, that is a miserable way to live. If you see someone needs extra help and you have it to give, just give it to them without comment, or expectation of return." - Lane


    "You're not going to say something that makes it all better. You really think, 'Go get a job and stop being lazy!' is going to help? It's not. It actually hurts. Shame on you for saying those things in front of my kids!" - Mickey


    Image credit: Shutterstock

  • We don’t abuse the system 10 of 11

    "I think the main problem is that those who do abuse the system give a bad representation of welfare. Those who have never been close to someone on government assistance only hear about the bad apples." - Christine


    "Are there people who abuse the system? Absolutely, but people shouldn't automatically assume I'm one of them or that EVERYONE is trying to pull a fast one." - V.


    Image credit: Shutterstock

  • You’re not better 11 of 11

    "You're not better than me because you don't need help. Maybe you've just been dealt an easier hand. Maybe you or your kid isn't sick, or you haven't lost your job, or you have family help. Every story is different and maybe in a few years I'll be in a better position than you. If that happens you can bet I'd never judge you." - Peggy


    "My kids and I are good people. I'm a good mother and my kids are smart with bright futures. We won't need help forever but right now it's making a big difference for us." - Laura


    Image credit: Shutterstock


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