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When I was going through my divorce, my daughter and I went to LA for my mother's 70th birthday celebration. While we were gone, my husband closed our business. The office had been emptied of everything. He also took whatever money was in the business account, which was the only account we had. I had nothing, except a place to live until the bills came due. I also had one 6 year old daughter who was inclined to eat periodically. My parents were living exclusively on Social Security, so they could offer little financial help. With few choices and much trepidation, I applied for AFDC and Food Stamps.

Never having done this before, I was very frightened. Fortunately, the woman who handled my case was very kind. She told me that I didn't need to feel embarrassed; that things would change and I wouldn't need their services forever. I wasn't embarrassed. I just felt so vulnerable, never having been unable to care for my child before. But I thanked her for her kindness and we proceeded with the interview. At that time (1985), the monthly benefit for two people was $210/month in NM. Even in NM that wasn't very much money. It wasn't even enough to make a house payment. But we also got a food stipend which was adequate.

At the same time, I decided to return to school. That gave me additional income through loans and grants. Serendipitously, I happened to become friendly with a woman who just happened to be married to the dean of the Business College. He gave me a work/study job and got me immediate acceptance into student housing. Some serendipity!

When I finished school, I got a job as an eligibility worker at the welfare office. So I know about welfare mothers from both sides of the desk.

Each person is different, but I'm going to take the liberty of speaking in generalities for the purpose of this diary. Also, everything I write is solely my opinion.

Welfare mothers are magicians, and, rather than being scorned for their situation, they should be honored for their cleverness and their devotion to making a decent life for their children. They have figured out how to live on (after a rare raise in benefits) $310 for two people and $389 for three people. The average welfare family is three people. Most of my clients were young Hispanic women who had never finished high school. Many had gotten pregnant in high school. Some had just dropped out because they either had to work to help support their family or they didn't see the value in finishing. Being Hispanic, they were very family-oriented, and took great pride in raising their children. Several gave me school pictures of their children. Initially, I put them safely in my desk drawer. When I had accumulated eight or ten, I bought a bulletin board to display them. That encouraged others to follow suit. By the time I left, the bulletin board was more than full.

While they were so good at parenting, they were very naive when it came to financial matters. They were so vulnerable to vultures who knew they could take advantage of them. I saw contracts that were downright abusive. But they didn't know how to negotiate their way through these things, and didn't know anyone who knew either. I had a client who was an older woman (Food Stamps only) who had taken out a loan to buy a new washing machine for one of her children. She used her home as collateral. She could lose her home over a few hundred dollars. That home had been in her family for over 100 years. She wasn't able to make the payment one month, so she was charged a $5 late fee. But then she was charged $5 every month because the finance company believed that every payment was still a month behind. With smoke coming out of my ears, I called the finance company. I told the man that what he was doing, while legal, was unfair and cruel. I asked him if he would want someone to treat his mother that way. He agreed to stop charging the $5 penalty. She was a proud woman, and would never have been able to have that conversation. I'm a proud woman also, and I couldn't see not having that conversation. This was a welfare mother, still taking care of her children. She had a lot of dignity.

I'd like to dispel another oft told lie about welfare mothers (queens). They drive really nice cars. Not so much. The guy in the office next to mine and I used to take smoke breaks right by the parking lot. I can't tell you how many times we saw cars needing to be jump started. Or taped up windows. Or sun-damaged paint jobs. Many had no cars, and depended on others to get them to their appointments. One client had a brand new car. It made her ineligible for any benefits. Her parents had bought it for her when she got divorced so she and her son would have safe transportation. I don't know why she didn't ask them for money to eat, but she was starving. Whatever money she had for food she used to feed her son. She told me that she was living on rice. Just rice. The only help I could offer was to tell her about the school lunch program. That way her son would at least get a healthy(?) breakfast and lunch. When she left, I cried. She had a lot of dignity.

I can tell you lots of stories about welfare mothers. I can tell you about having $8 to last for two weeks. I can tell about maintaining dignity in the midst of despair.

But what I really want to tell you is that Mitt Romney can't be president of my country. He knows nothing about the people of my country. He knows nothing about the economics of my country. He has no heart. He has no soul. And we need to stop laughing at him, and work our asses off to make sure that President Obama remains our president. Although few vote (I know, I tried to register them), those welfare mothers will appreciate our efforts.

Originally posted to HappyinNM on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 12:11 PM PDT.

Also republished by New Mexico Kossaks and Community Spotlight.

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