The first time I used food stamps, I cried. It was a predawn Saturday morning and I had purposely gone to the grocery store early to avoid pulling out the EBT card in the sight lines of people I worried would judge me. I felt like an imposter among self-paying customers.
Tension and discouragement hang dense in the air as soon as you walk into the human resources office. You’re at the mercy of a system powered by a comedy of inefficiencies. Lines form early. Waits are long. Paperwork disappears. Your life is ultimately laid bare in document form, fanned out in front of the person whose job it is to decide whether you’re optimally managing the finances of your household and whether you and your people deserve help from the government. It’s a reductive and demeaning process. The negative energy there makes even tiny babies cry.
…Poverty is crazy-making. It changes you, snatches your good common sense, and consumes your thoughts. You wake up thinking about being poor, spend your days plotting how not to be poor, and go to bed worrying about the consequences of being poor. You’re high-strung, easily provoked, always looking for answers. You snap on your children. You snap on your boos and baes. You snap on God. There are moments — long, inward-facing moments — when no scripture, no motivational meme, no inspirational quote can quell the urgency of not having enough.