No Free Lunch

A good way to measure yourself, as a parent, is to ask yourself “are my kids eating well?” I wish my kids would make healthier choices, and that I didn’t have to fight with them so much on that particular issue, but I’m pretty satisfied with things as a whole. Right now. No cavities forming in their teeth. No obesity problems like I see in other children. My boys are growing up just fine, so I feel like a good dad who’s literally able to put food on the table. Up till now I’ve been making it on SNAP (or food stamps), so maybe you’d think I shouldn’t be too proud. But don’t worry, I was just notified yesterday that my benefits are being cancelled. Great! That’s awesome.

Currently, I’m making minimum wage and only working between 30-40 hours a week. I got this job specifically because it was the best schedule for raising my kids by myself. My rent is almost $900, so you do the math. Without SNAP, my budget is fucked. I’m not too worried though. I won’t ever let my kids go hungry. I won’t let this error in the system go uncorrected. It’s just going to be harder moving forward. My routine for the next week is fucked. I’ll have less time to do the other things I need to do right now. Since I have to call in to Family Services during normal business hours, I may even have to call in sick from work in order to handle this, but I can’t really lose those hours right now. I need that money. In this time of coronavirus, I’m finding it hard to believe that this is really the best the US has to offer me, as a single parent who is trying to be a part of the workforce.

There was a recent blip on the media channels that referenced ending federally enhanced unemployment benefits would be a good thing so that it would make people “hungry” enough to work. To find a job in this failing economy. This labor shortage. All these people who are supposed to be at home, lounging on this unfair welfare. Watching TV. Playing video games. Blogging. They’re just lazy. If we gave people a reason to get out and go to work, then, that’ll fix this labor problem.

Sure. That sounds like a plan. Hunger works. It worked for me as a kid. I started working when I was 11 years old. Been working ever since. The first job I ever had was a newspaper delivery boy. “Oh, that’s it?” you might say. “That’s not that hard of a job. It’s a classic American icon. Lots of kids had that job.” Oh really. Yeah. Well, lots of kids might have had that job for a summer or two, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up with it. I saw those kids wash out all the time from the biz back when I was a tween in the 1990s. I held my route for over 4 years. That means I woke up every morning before the rest of society, 7 days a week, rain or shine. You tell me why I would do that? Develop sleep issues over it. Hate that fucking route every day that I biked it, but kept with it for all that time? It’s because I was hungry. I could buy food with the measly wages I made. And it certainly wasn’t enough. But it was something I could sink my teeth into. My mom wasn’t feeding me enough, so I had to do something.

It’s funny how you start to become either more appreciative or extra critical of your parents after you’ve had children of your own. Growing up, I used to think my mom was great. The single mom to measure all other single moms against. She did the best she could, and I was proud of her. Now that I’m raising my own kids, I’m starting to realize that she really wasn’t as great as I thought. Unlike most people, and much to my own embarrassment, my back is covered in stretch marks from my tailbone to just under my shoulder blades. The stretch marks formed when I had a growth spurt during puberty. Right when my mom wasn’t making enough money to feed me and my brother. She probably knew then that I got those stretch marks because I wasn’t getting enough food to eat. It wasn’t just her crazy diets that she always made us follow either. For many years, we were on food stamps and still struggling. The skin on my back didn’t have enough nutrients to keep up with the growth of other parts of my body, and something had to give.

I’m having difficulty in understanding why my mom hesitated to get food stamps at first. She was way too proud. I’m sure she felt like she waited for the required amount of time before giving in and deciding to do what was right for her sons. But my brother and I think she waited way too long. Later in life, when my brother first had his own children, the two of us reminisced (and not fondly) of those days when we used to watch the mailbox for the food stamps to arrive. If you don’t know what it was like, the stamps came in printed booklets and it would remind you of Monopoly money if you saw it. It was so embarrassing to use at the grocery stores, especially if one of my classmates happened to be in line. Even with the assistance, there was never enough food in my house. That’s why, instead of getting a good night’s sleep, every day for over 4 years, I went to work while my friends were enjoying their childhoods.

You might be wondering how I got to this point in my life, now. How I’m so broke to be complaining about losing my food stamps on the internet. Usually, when you hear of someone who was dedicated to work at such a young age, like I was, that person usually becomes a success later in life. I wonder the exact same thing too. It’s a mystery to me. Really. I’m such a hard worker. I really do have skills. I put everything into whatever I do, and I’m not just saying that. I’m someone who actually has a work ethic. It’s just that most companies won’t pay a decent salary. Most employers don’t give you a chance at upward mobility either. If they have a job for you, and you’re good at it, they’re pretty intent on keeping you in that one job. That’s been my lot, unfortunately.

Do I really have to elaborate on how wages and opportunities for American workers have stagnated or decreased over the years to make my point? I might be poor now, and I’m willing to accept responsibility for my situation, but there have been enough factors (outside of my control) that have brought me to this present crisis too. If you want me to say it, I will. I’m finding it a challenge to feed and provide for the kids I have. Okay. That make you happy to have something to lord over me? I’m just one of those people who shouldn’t have had kids. Right? You might feel righteous, but I’m trying to be a working parent and our society is making it pretty damn hard to do that. How am I supposed to make this situation better?

Am I just ranting? Or wanting you to feel sorry for me? Maybe. But I’m also wanting to point out that SNAP is not a welfare or aid program. Alright? I don’t have to feel bad for needing SNAP. It’s not a form of welfare because it’s really a federally backed employer subsidy. SNAP is just the inevitable outcome when our government doesn’t set a reasonable minimum wage. Calling SNAP an aid program is just passing judgement on the recipients instead of the perpetrators. In a reasonable society, having a low paying job would mean you would have to do a roadtrip for your summer vacation instead of a trip to Rome. You’d have to buy generic items instead of brand names. That kind of thing. But no. Not here in the US. Having a low paying job means you can actually starve or be evicted while you have a job. You’re working poor. Fuck vacations. You don’t get those. Let’s not even get into affordable healthcare. Let’s just focus on food. Okay. Keep this simple. SNAP subsidizes low paying employers so they can have employees who don’t starve to death while they’re working. It stimulates the economy. That’s what subsidies do.

Oh, and let’s not talk about all those other industries that the US subsidizes which no one complains about. We spend billions in subsidies on agriculture, oil, and Boeing and no one seems to complain about that ruining our economy. I could tell you that the money spent on SNAP actually generates more spending in the economy that other subsidy programs, but do we really want people to starve? Do we have to use famine as tool to get people to work in this country? And contrary to popular sentiment, so called aid programs like Unemployment and SNAP aren’t causing the labor shortage. In my opinion, since no one has asked, we’re not having a labor-shortage. Actually, no. We’re having a people-shortage. These mystery workers who are missing from the workforce, who are allegedly kicking back at home (rich on handouts), they’re not sitting on the couch. They’re not taking advantage of the system. If no one has thought about it, then I’ll be the first to say it. Those people are fucking dead. We’re having a labor/people-shortage because a lot of people just died in this country. We’re acting like that doesn’t have any effect on our lives. But it does.

Nobody is having intelligent conversations about any aspect of this pandemic. Most people are just still fighting and placing blame on each other. They’re just like my kids. I’d like to point out that I live in Springfield, Missouri. Okay. I voted for Joe Biden even though (due to the nature of the electoral college and the overall red of Missouri) my vote didn’t count for shit. I could have stayed home that day and nothing would have changed. Most of the people who live in my town don’t wear masks. Vaccinations are low. But I’m not mad. I’m not glaring at my neighbors in hatred. Most of these people I live by are hard workers who don’t make very much money. Despite a lot of esoteric arguments that we could fight like hell over, my neighbors are a lot like me. We’re all just trying to get by in this shitty country. And I’ll let you now something: the way Biden is running this country right now, much as I hate to admit it, I just might vote for Trump next time. Just so I can watch it all burn. My neighbors will love it too.

Don’t get worried. We’re not there yet. But I think it’s coming. When my neighbors talk about fake news now, it’s hard to argue with them. We’re having spiking cases of coronavirus in our country, just like we did when Trump was in office. But the media and Democrats just want to blame the unvaccinated. The maskless. But where the fuck is the contact tracing? Where are the better testing facilities? Vaccinations are only one tool to be used in fighting the spread of viruses. There are plenty of other actions that could be going on to stop the spread. When Trump didn’t want to enforce quarantines that would stop the spread of transmission, because he was more concerned with the strength of the economy, he was derided mercilessly on news channels. Now that Biden is doing the same thing, he can just blame the unvaxxed and the media gives him a pass. 

Hey Joe, I’m doing what you wanted. I got vaccinated. I got a job. I know you hate my neighbors, but what about me? Why are my food stamps getting cancelled? Why did all the easy access and increased food benefits end on September 30th, when we’re still in a pandemic? I think I could do your job better than you. You know. I think maybe Trump could do a better job too. Even if Trump couldn’t, this would all be more entertaining. I’m sure I’ll have food. One way or another. Once Trump is back in office, I could just sit on the couch with my kids and eat chips while we watch the end to all this come sooner. And then everyone will be hungry. Rich and poor. And then, maybe we’ll all finally get to work.

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