I ran into a blog post this week that asked, Is using food stamps a sin? You’ve got to admit, the headline was catchy.
The writer described her pastor’s stance on the issue (“Yes, it’s a sin”) and to her credit, she disagreed. I am always encouraged when we minions question what’s preached in the pulpit, blared at us from the flat screen, or pronounced at the front of a classroom. It shows that we’re still breathing.
The pastor’s opinion was standard fare: people who take government assistance are lazy, and lazy people are sinners. Boy, I’m sure glad that I don’t go to that church. What’s funny is that part of the speaker’s salary probably comes from donations of people on food stamps, although, maybe not after this particular sermon.
But back to the issue, which we’re not describing, or worrying about as being a sin — what if you, or someone you know, is on public assistance? Are you, or they, financially inept? Do you have any right to talk about finances since you’re obviously so bad at them that you can’t get by without a handout?
Whoa, let’s back up here. My favorite concept of a government handout has always been the eminently respectable mortgage tax break, in which one is allowed to deduct the interest paid on one’s house mortgage. While this sounds great and middle class and everything, the more money you pay in interest — which means the more expensive your house and the larger your income is to afford it — the more you benefit from this break. Realistically, the people who get the most out of this sweet deal are those who really don’t need the money to put food on the table. In other words, if they’re middle class, they’re in the upper regions.
And they’re benefiting from a government program, just like people on food stamps, or energy assistance, or health insurance subsidization, only they probably don’t experience the demeaning aspects of standing in line, hat in hand, to fill out forms and be shunted off to the waiting room.
Don’t get me wrong — people cheat the system — rich or poor; it just looks different and is called by different names. But many programs are supposed to be safety nets, and while they don’t work perfectly or even well (what government program, really, ever does?), they wouldn’t be as necessary if more employers hired fulltime workers and paid them decently. For one reason or another — from corporate greed to just the economy, stupid — too many people are underpaid and unable to meet basic necessities.
If you are one of these people, or related to one (parents with grown children negotiating the New Economy come to mind), remember this: your finances are your own business, just like your sex life, the latter which we dearly wish more people would keep the details of out of the newspapers and talk shows.
Because each family, and its financial situation, is unique, each family individually negotiates what it has been given, and nobody has the right to get in your face and call you a reprobate because you bought potato chips with your EBT card. People outside your family have no idea if this is part of your regular diet, or a once a year purchase for your child’s birthday.
And anyway, individual people in the grocery store line are not the ones we need to be yelling at.
Times are hard, jobs are scarce; pensions and perks in most of the private sector are non-existent; wages have not kept up with housing, transportation, food, or medical care; the public sector is bloated: these are problems, and most of America is set adrift to figure out how to make a decent living and craft a reasonable life with a significant number of enormous challenges.
If you’re struggling, and having a hard time, don’t add to the stress by belittling yourself. If you need help, get it, and don’t feel as if you have to defend your actions.
If you’re doing okay, and life is good, look around: there are a lot of
hurting people out there, and if you paid for one of them to get his teeth cleaned and a cavity filled, or bought a birthday cake for her 10-year old twins, or just smiled instead of frowned in the checkout line, you’d make a difference.
Join me on Fridays for articles on Financial Health for the regular, ordinary person — that’s what I am: a regular, ordinary person who uses what I have been given to live the best life that I can. My book, Live Happily on Less, is a series of essays — like the one you just read — that explore how you can make the money you get stretch farther.
We own our own house, and have never had a mortgage on it. We bought our car with cash. We run a business — Steve Henderson Fine Art — which has no creditors. And we raised four really decent kids — and most of the time we had a very moderate income at our disposal. Your life will look different from ours, but the essential things — learning to live contentedly and well whatever your situation — is in your grasp.
Live Happily on Less retails for $12.99 paperback at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but it’s generally on sale. Digital, it’s $5.99 — as a happy reader reviewer said — ” . . . if you are reading this on your Kindle, then you too are already on your way to living happily on less!” And if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow the book for free.
This article was originally posted in ThoughtfulWomen.org.