welfare queenPolitics. You can’t miss it right now. Every night a new city hosts a new debate or another attack ad blasts on the radio. I don’t write about politics here, not really. But in a sideways way, when I have written about my family’s experience with health care, unemployment, and public assistance I have been sharing how my life has been caught in the net of politics.

Recently I read that Food Stamps will play a large factor in the presidential race this year. Some have, perhaps in an attempt to insult, called President Obama “The Food Stamp President”. I hope he does not take offense at such words. I hope he sees that it makes him infinitely more relatable than a candidate that is out of touch with the reality of our hungry nation.

During his election years Reagan painted a portrait of a woman he claimed to exist . She was called the “Welfare Queen” and she was a terrifying entity to think about. Imagine a woman who cheated the government! She somehow earned 6 figures from scamming, had fake deceased husbands (that provided her with multiple social security numbers), gave birth to 2 babies a year (that she fed soda she got from her large food stamp account) and of course she wore designer clothes and drove a Cadillac. And she was coming after YOU for YOUR hard earned tax dollars. According to CNN we should be on the look out for this Welfare Queen this year.

I’ll let you in on something – I drove a Cadillac and used food stamps.

My Grandmother was incredibly fond of the car and it belonged to her. It became mine after her death.  When I was pregnant the service engine light went on and I was terrified. We had no money to even ask someone to investigate what was wrong much less pay someone to repair the car. When we had to leave Florida we packed up our entire lives into the Cadillac and at one point wondered if we would need to live in it before we found a place to stay. As the months went on and our financial stresses became heavy we slowed down our use of the car because we could not afford the gas.

When I came out of the grocery store one afternoon and saw that someone had backed into the car breaking the red tail lights into a fine powder on the asphalt I collapsed into tears. Of course no note was left on my window, no one had witnessed it happening. All we could afford to do was purchase red tape from an auto store and tape recreate the shape of the light.

More things began to beg for attention. The air conditioning stopped working. We rolled down the windows. The heat stopped working. We put on extra clothes and tried to force in heat from the engine. Driving in the rain was a nightmare without defrost working. The rear windows could no longer be lowered.

But we were so lucky. Seriously. We HAD a car. We had the ability to go to the grocery store and use our food stamps and purchase food. We had a car that allowed me to drive the thirty plus minutes to my freelance web work – the only job that was bringing in any kinds of funds for us. We had a car that allowed Mom to drive to job interviews and training seminars.

In every state where I applied for benefits I declared that I owned this car. It was no sneaky secret that I hid from the government. In fact several case workers were relieved that I had a vehicle because many families don’t. Many families get to the point where they have to sell their car and then what follows is that they are no longer able to get their children to school, to the doctor, or get food from the grocery store.

I drove a Cadillac and I used food stamps – the butt of all of the “Welfare Queen” jokes. My son wore designer clothes and I used food stamps. We were so blessed to have friends gift us with hand me downs. I had a cell phone and I used food stamps. Without a phone I would not have had a way to work.

Almost a year after moving to Philadelphia we were in a position to trade the old Cadillac in for a new used car. It was oddly a sad moment for us. This car was one of the last tangible links that I had with my Grandmother. It had been a life saver for us. Literally the vehicle to a new life.

There is this anger out there that people on food stamps should not have things. And certainly not GOOD things. And oh my goodness NOT a Cadillac. I think people are under the assumption that if only the Welfare Queens on food stamps would simply sell their car that they would be so much better off.

Chew on this:  our Cadillac was worth less than one month’s rent of a studio apartment.

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