I knew I wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment benefits because I left my supervisory job voluntarily. Even though it was a “quit or be fired in a few months” situation, my HR friend had told me that our company automatically fights any unemployment claim over $7,000 which mine would definitely have been. I was witness to 2 unemployment hearings so I know that they would fight hard for it so I didn’t even try.
At this point we were out of options financially. Even if I did get an interview, I wouldn’t have had the gas in my car to get there and my due date was approaching. Luckily my husband had found a house for us to rent that the owners are our friends and have been very understanding about us paying what we can. I was still trying to find a way to pay our credit cards—I should have seen what was coming but I saw my parents go through bankruptcy when I was 15 and swore I’d never do that. I was so stressed out about money and our lack of it—I didn’t know if we’d find the money to be able to feed our family. I didn’t have health insurance and thought that if I couldn’t pay the medical bills my OB would refuse to see me.
With my stomach in knots and being raised to think poorly of people on “welfare,” I finally applied for and received WIC and a few months later, Medicaid and food stamps. I cannot begin to explain the shame I felt even asking for this kind of help in the first place and then using it at the grocery store. I wanted to find a way to let people know “this isn’t me!” and “I’m better than this!” and “I used to make a lot of money!” Needing government assistance made me feel like less of a person. Like I was a bad mother for not being able to provide for my children.
Every time I pulled out that card with the distinctive flag I cringed when I had to mumble “EBT” to the cashier like it was screaming “I’m poor!” When I had to use my WIC checks, I would keep my eye out for empty registers but inevitably as soon as I pulled up my cart there would be a long line behind me. Of course the cashiers were great about it and all of my worries were internal but they were still there. I learned that the WIC checks make checking out take three times as long because each one has to be done individually, then you have to sign each one, and then the cashier would always have trouble with at least one and need a manager to put in a key and fix something.
I now use most of my checks in one shopping trip so I only have to go through it once a month and I let anyone in line behind me cut in front (I want to avoid the eye-rolling people in line give when it takes so long). A few times I offered to let someone cut because “this is going to take a while” but they say, “No, it’s okay. I’m on WIC too so I understand.”
Judy J., via email