How Government Support Saved Me, Too

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D. L. Mayfield (whose career I’ve followed ever since she and I were put together in a “cover package” at Christianity Today about alcohol) has a piece on what it was like to be on food stamps at Christianity Today:

Two years ago when my second child was born, I wasn’t able to work, and while moving across the country, our only car broke down. By the time we finally found an apartment to live in and a job for my husband, we didn’t even have enough money to buy curtains for our windows. We applied for food stamps, or SNAP, along with WIC, and I don’t know what we would have done without it for those few months. I felt sweet relief being able to go to the grocery store, swipe my card, and purchase food for my family. Each time, I was incredibly grateful for my country.  [Read more]

She goes on to explain how her family got from there to where they are now (they can, if they get them on sale, afford curtains) and the difficulties those with a less vibrant safety net than she had can face when trying to make the same journey.

Her whole story brought back many memories. In 2011, 3 weeks after my husband and I found out I was pregnant with our second child, he found out he was losing his job as a college professor. Due to the nature of academic contracts, he actually had the job until May of 2012 and our insurance ran through July of that year, but still. He was hired back to teach his own courses as an adjunct, which was about a $30,000 pay cut, and we were having a baby. I signed up for Medicaid to cover delivering the baby.

I still remember sitting in the Medicaid office, 30-odd weeks pregnant, and being asked (by a really quite lovely woman: the piles of bureaucracy were not her fault) if my husband was the father of my children. (Yes, if you’re counting.)  She also said, “What’s your highest educational level?” I said, “I have a Ph.D.” She said, “The highest I’ve got here is B.A.” I said, “Well, I certainly have one of those. Put me down for that.” (That must be really screwing with the statistics about how many academics are on welfare, by the way.)

I did get Medicaid. I got $2000 towards the delivery of my baby. I also got piles of paperwork that followed me at every turn, and very small amounts of time to get the forms back to the proper places.  In January of 2013 I missed turning a form in by one day because I was out of town and lost access to my benefits. By that point we knew that our lives were taking a turn that ultimately resulted in employment, so I never tried to go back. Others, I know, are not so lucky.

A professor at the small Christian school my husband was leaving asked me to come in and talk to her social work class. They had never met someone on any form of welfare before. I showed them my Medicaid card and discussed how I was simultaneously grateful and, in many situations, embarrassed. They asked if the government was handing me money. I talked about the $2000 and then I talked about the piles of paperwork. It was harder to get the money than it was to apply for graduate school, I told them.

Some people will say at this point: “This is the church’s job, not the government’s.” And the church did step up. Someone put $200 under my husband’s office door in Walmart gift cards (to this day I don’t know who.)  A group of online friends, fierce female Christian theologians all, organized an online baby shower and sent us nearly $300 more. People babysat and took us out for meals and did all kinds of loving things.

And I still needed, desperately needed, that $2000.

As a card-carrying Distributist and believer in the principle of subsidiarity, do I wish that we could arrange this in some way closer to home where we could give the benefits without the bureaucracy? Absolutely. But whether this takes place on a national or a local level, it won’t take place at all unless we believe that the common good is our good. All of our good.

Mayfield says near the end of her article:

Now that I have a mortgage and pay heavily on my freelance earnings, I am happy to think that some of it goes towards my friends and neighbors. I am happy to know just a small part of my debt is being repaid to all of those precious people who took care of me, and so many others.

Me too.

(image: Flickr)

 

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About Jennifer Woodruff Tait

I'm the Content Editor for The High Calling at The Theology of Work Project, the managing editor of Christian History Magazine, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. I'm also the author of The Poisoned Chalice and Histories of Us.