Principle of Least Effort

If you read about me you know that I have used food stamps. 

I was working in a factory and decided to attend college.  I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.  I just didn’t want to work in a factory for the rest of my life.

I applied for a Pell Grant and enrolled in a local community college.  Without the Pell Grant and my mother helping with my children, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college.  I began attending classes in the spring of 2001.

It didn’t take long to realize that working full-time and attending college part-time meant that it was going to take a while to get my degree.

Without giving too many details (I don’t think you need a lesson in the birds and the bees), it was during this time that I discovered that I was pregnant with my third child.  When I went on maternity leave, an employment opportunity at a daycare presented itself.  I accepted the job and that part-time job allowed me to attend college full-time.  I took my Income Tax Return and paid off my car.  (Everything I paid in was given back to me, and then some because of the Earned Income Credit.) I was approved for food stamps.  My kids were approved for Tenncare.  I did not qualify for daycare assistence because I made too much money, and I didn’t qualify for Tenncare at the time because my medical bills were not high enough.  I also didn’t qualify for any monetary assistance (AKA welfare).  I did manage to get Tenncare after my medical bills accumulated over time.

Let me be real.

My income while I was going through college and working part-time averaged about $6000 a year.  I received child support that added up to about another $6000 a year.  I received food stamps.  My tuition and books were paid for by the Pell Grant.  My kids qualified for free lunches at school.

Yes.  I lived off of $12,000 a year plus food stamps.  Divide $12,000 by 52 weeks and it averages about $230 a week.

I paid my rent, utility, cable, phone, cell phone, car insurance, and bought everything my kids needed with $12,000 a year.  There were times when I would cut off my cable because I couldn’t afford it.  I eventually cut off my house phone because I couldn’t afford it.  I kept my cell phone since my oldest child is Type 1 Diabetic, and I needed to be able to be reached at any time.  There were times when my cable and phone bills were a month behind because I could only pay one a month, and I knew that the other would not get cut off unless it was 2 months behind.  I didn’t buy my children’s school pictures or annuals.  I didn’t take them to the movies.  We didn’t go out to eat..  We lived in a two bedroom apartment.  All three of my children shared a room and didn’t complain.  I bought our clothes on sale, at the Goodwill, or at Wal-Mart.  Christmas and birthday’s were hard because I never had the money to buy what my children wanted, but they were always happy with what they received.  Then as hard as Christmas was, January was even harder because I had to play catch up and sometimes I just had to wait for my annual Income Tax Refund to catch up on bills.  I qualified for a $300 limit credit card that I would use each year to buy school clothes for my kids and then I would pay it off when I received my Income Tax Refund each year.  I would also use the refund to pay off any medical bills that had occurred over the year. 

I struggled and sacrificed in order to better myself and my family.  It took 7 years to get my degree because I had to go part-time at first, and I had to take a semester off when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and took her to every appointment and treatment.  During these 7 years, I didn’t have the the top of the line cell phone, internet, fake nails, pedicures, designer clothes, or a new car. (My car died right after my last class in 2008, but that is another story.)

Now here is the hard truth because I LIVED it.

As much as I sacrificed to make ends meet, I also had to manipulate the system-within the limits of the law.  I didn’t work over a certain amount of hours a week because it could cause me to lose my Tenncare, would lower my food stamps, and would raise my rent.  I deliberately kept my hours low in order to maximize my benefits without completely quitting work.  I didn’t worry about getting raises.  A raise just meant higher rent, possibly losing Tenncare, and possibly lower food stamp benefits. 

Without the benefits, I would not have been able to accomplish getting my degree; however, without having the motivation to get my degree and better my family, I could have, and probably would have, been sucked into the food stamp and welfare lifestyle.

I am not saying that everyone using food stamps, Medicaid, or any other type of government assistance (other than Social Security) is milking the system for all they can, but there are people living the food stamp and welfare lifestyle because they have no incentive or motivation to do otherwise.

Without motivation, some will be content to work just enough, if any at all, to keep their Medicaid active, their rent low, and their food stamps high. 

It is the Principle of Least Effort.

And I lived it.

Sonya

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