I Was On Food Stamps and I Have an iPhone

Someday, I hope to able to afford a new iPhone, like the girl in front of me with the food stamps

My cousin Mike posted this to his Facebook timeline. At the time, our family was part of the CalFresh program, which is still called “Food Stamps” even though there are no stamps involved. I also have an iPhone, although it is not a “new” iPhone, but an iPhone 3GS, purchased in 2010. At the time that Mike posted this, the “new” iPhone was almost one year old.

There are so many reasons why a person may use Food Stamps, yet have a nice phone.

  • When I was in NH, I had a friend who worked at one of those cell phone kiosks in the mall. She worked on commission, so she was sometimes late on rent, but she always had the latest, greatest phone. She got it for free. I’m sure there are several people who have jobs that give them nice phones, but not enough pay to actually live on.
  • A phone can be a gift, as Max’s new phone was from his parents this Christmas. His 2010 Blackberry no longer had a functioning keyboard.
  • A phone can cost 1 penny if you sign up for a new service contract. Over the summer, Max’s contract lapsed and AT&T offered the iPhone 4S for 1 penny. We tried to add him on to my contract because it would have been cheaper, but AT&T Wireless sucks and we couldn’t.
  • Battered womens’ shelters and homeless shelters often give out phones. I don’t doubt that some companies donate like-new or refurbished phones for the tax write-off.
  • Most logically, when the person bought the phone, they didn’t know they’d be reliant on Food Stamps a short time later.

And let’s keep in mind, getting out of a cell phone contract is an expensive proposition in itself. More people are relying on cell phones than landlines now. We cancelled ours and saved $40+ per month. When cell phone service costs about the same as a landline, you go with the cell, obviously.

While we’re talking about people on Food Stamps having nice things, I have seen complaints of the “welfare moms” who have kids wearing $100 shoes. How do you know those shoes cost $100? They could be factory seconds. They could be a gift from Uncle Steve who comes into town once a year and showers the children with lavish presents. The kid could have saved his newspaper route money and bought the shoes himself.

If you looked closely at Cassie’s clothes this summer, you would have seen a lot of Gymboree and Children’s Place. All hand-me-downs. We’ve been incredibly fortunate thus far and have had several people give us their old children’s clothes. I refuse to dress my children in raggy clothes to fit someone’s stereotype.

Recently, some foster parents, who are encouraged to apply for and use WIC for their foster kids, were talking about how checkout clerks treated them when they used their WIC. I was very fortunate that I never received any comments at all about using EBT, even when I bought my Halloween candy with it. Yes, you read that right – I bought Halloween candy with my EBT. Every month, we had about $50 left over. One month, I used the extra to stock up on baby food, then snacks for Jackson’s lunches, then pasta, and in October, I decided I’d use some of it for Halloween candy. When I stocked up on baby food, I had to go to Whole Foods, because they have cases of Earth’s Best. When I ran my card through, it wasn’t accepted. Lather, rinse, repeat. Finally, the cashier realized, “You’re using EBT!”. She apologized, pressed the right button, and I got the food. No snobbery.

Our county (maybe the state, I don’t know) calculates Food Stamps quarterly. Thus, we were eligible through the end of October, even though Max had an income by then. This was very helpful, as we were able to do things like get my brakes fixed when my master brake cylinder “disintegrated.” We knew we had food covered, so we could pay for other necessary items, like the garbage bill and PG&E. However, we somehow received benefits for November. I knew that wasn’t right, so I never used them. And it’s a good thing too – because we got a letter from the county in December telling us we owed them the amount of November’s benefits. Even though the county admitted they were at fault – I got our paperwork in on time, but the worker didn’t process it on time – we had to pay for their mistake. Fortunately, I hadn’t used the money, so I told them they could just take the money off the card, which was an option on the payment form. In January, I got another letter stating that we owed them money. I wrote to them, because you can’t get a person on the Food Stamps line since they merged with the Medi-Cal line, and told them TAKE THE MONEY OFF THE CARD. I actually got a phone call from the county, from a lovely woman who said “I just set the option that your worker didn’t. You’re all set. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”

Food Stamps were awesome. Because of Food Stamps, we could pay our other bills*. It really is that simple. I’m not exactly proud of being in the situation where I had to use them, but Max and I paid our taxes for seven years as a part of California’s highest income tax bracket.** We paid into the system, and the system helped us when we were unable to pay. It was, in its own way, comforting.

By the way, Baby Dust Diaries did a great post on “welfare” and she talks about her iPhone too.

_________________________________________________________

* Well, except for PG&E, which is insane for our house. But that’s another post.

** It’s not that Max and I made a crazy amount of money. Until this past election, California’s highest income tax bracket was woefully behind the times.

15 thoughts on “I Was On Food Stamps and I Have an iPhone

  1. I wish my parents would have taken advantage of food stamps. We were on WIC when we were born but that’s all the assistance my parents accepted. It was pride. It also meant that my parents were stretched and stressed. I recall nights my mom didn’t eat and I now understand why. Nothing wrong w a hand up.

    • I have a feeling my parents made just a bit too much to qualify when I was a kid.
      We pay taxes into the system, so the system should help us when we need it. That’s all.

  2. It’s so sad when people make assumptions about these sorts of things. I have a friend who was on food stamps for a while after her husband got laid off. She was so shocked at how people treated her (badly!). I once went shopping with her and people did give her looks!

    And yeah….California and the crazy taxes! Hate them! And our PG&E bill is also crazy!

    Thanks for writing this post!

    • Thanks to you too! PG&E was actually very nice to us, and directed us to some agencies that could help out. We were very fortunate that we didn’t experience a lot of hate.

    • Yes, I liked this post too. My mom always says don’t jump to conclusions. When my husband was unemployed, I got first-hand experience with “Oh you’re unemployed but you have two vehicles? Shouldn’t you sell one, etc.?” While there are certainly people who “milk the system”, I think they’re actually in the minority. I have more empathy now, for people who are in a tough spot but own nice things. I’m glad you wrote this. :)

      • Thanks for reading! Welfare abuse is actually quite low – somewhere less than 1 percent, I believe. If you read the Baby Dust Diaries post to which I linked at the end, she has a lot more information.

  3. Our local WIC office asked if we had any trouble cashing the checks (we don’t get EBT, the checks list specifically the items to be purchased). We normally don’t have trouble but this one grocery store always gave us grief. We reported them and there was a phone call made to the manager of the store. For the record, I don’t have an iPhone but I do own a designer purse. We’ve fostered 10 kids over the last 3 years but have never been able to take a child tax deduction since they never stayed longer than 3 months. WIC isn’t much but it does offset the mileage we don’t get reimbursed for by taking the kids all over everywhere 4x a week.

    • We didn’t apply for WIC as we probably wouldn’t have qualified for much, it doesn’t generally cover organic food, and our EBT was generous. I think if foster parents can use WIC, then they should. They should use whatever resources they can!

  4. WIC isn’t “welfare” in the sense that Ayn Rand-wannabe self-righteous types think–it’s an agricultural subsidy, administered through the Dept. of Agriculture, intended to promote and sustain sales fo grain and dairy products. It’s nice that it helps women and young children not only feed themselves, but have a diet with more wholesome components, but WIC is mostly to help farmers. Just saying.

    • I did not know that. I find that interesting, because until a few years ago, you weren’t able to get fresh fruits and vegetables using WIC in Missouri. Jackson’s birthmom lives there, and we had a conversation in which she was so happy to be cutting up a cantaloupe (I think), which she hadn’t had in years because WIC didn’t cover it.

  5. When I went bust I lived in a paid for lake house and drove a paid for Lincoln town car.
    With ruined credit I had no choice but to keep the car and would have been crazy not to live in the house. I can only imagine if I had been on food stamps and someone saw me loading groceries into the Lincoln. It took a year of selling everything except the house to live and a few close friends donating Christmas presents for the kids . Can you imagine bringing a gift of two weeks groceries to a lake house with a Lincoln in the drive way. None of them were ever judgmental and we did recover without having to sell the house.
    People should stop and think before judging others. Broke is broke and it can happen to anyone.

    • I completely agree with you! I was reading “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey, and he had a Jaguar when he went broke. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  6. Pingback: Poverty… the trap.. | philosophyfactory

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