July 9 2014
It’s tough when the Honda won’t start and you have drive to the WIC (Women Infants and Children program) office to pick up food coupons in your husband’s Mercedes.
In “This Is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps,” Darlena Cunha, a former TV producer going through hard times, recounts the stares she received:
No one spoke to me, but they did stare. Mouths agape, the poverty-stricken mothers struggling with infant car seats, paperwork and their toddlers never took their eyes off me, the tall blond girl, walking with purpose on heels from her Mercedes to their grungy den (itals mine).
Well, yep, that’s what it is like to drive a Mercedes to the WIC office.
Actually, Darlene and her husband, who had paid in full for the Mercedes before the couple met, seem to have made an economically wise decision not to have unloaded this pricey asset. They might have had to sell it for less than it was worth and then they would certainly have to invest in yet another car.
But--face it, Darlena--a Mercedes at the WIC office is going to be a standout. Jes is. It would be worse if nobody noticed: that would mean that these programs, which should be only for the poor and emergencies, have been extended waaay too far into the middle class.
Since I have never walked in Ms. Cunha’s shoes—or ridden in her Mercedes—I am not going to hazard a guess as to whether she could have avoided food stamps. Her story does sound dire: Cunha had been a producer for “Good Morning San Diego” and was working as a producer for a Boston evening news show. Her boyfriend was a copy editor for the Hartford Courant.
Cunha found out she was pregnant in 2008 and soon learned that twins were on the way. The boyfriend proposed, and they bought a house together.
Shortly thereafter, disasters began to fall thick and fast upon the couple. Her husband- to- be lost his job two weeks before the twins were born. Meanwhile, value of the house was cut in half by the effects of the market crash. The babies were born six weeks prematurely and had to be fed through a tube. The anxious parents hovered at the hospital. Eventually the babies became able to drink a milk formula that costs $15 a can.
The couple had gone from making a combined income of $120,000 a year to $25,000, with their savings depleted. Cunha signed up for Medicaid, food stamps, and the WIC program. This looks like an unavoidable path, especially given the twins’ precarious health.
But Cunha remains aggreived by WIC's signing up process:
It’s not easy. To qualify, you must be pregnant or up to six months postpartum. I had to fill out at least six forms and furnish my Social Security card, birth certificate and marriage license. I sat through exams, meetings and screenings. They had a lot of questions about the house: Wasn’t it an asset? Hadn’t we just bought it? They questioned every last cent we’d ever made. Did we have stock options or pensions? Did we have savings? I had to send them my three most recent check stubs to prove I was making as little as I said I was.
On top of this, I had to get my vitals checked and blood work taken to determine whether I was at risk of improper nourishment without the program. It’s very bourgeois. Not. But I did it.
It can be humbling to go through the processes associated with receiving government assistance. But does Cunha think that the government should dish out WIC coupons and food stamps on the honor system? Cunha also recounts the time a woman in the grocery check-out line chastised her for buying root beer with her WIC coupons. “Surely, you don’t need those,” the woman said. “WIC pays for juice for you people.”
Nobody likes to be called “you people,” and the woman behaved unconscionably. Still, I think that Cunha fails to take into consideration that many people are beginning to resent the high taxes we pay for entitlement programs. I hope I never hurt the feelings of a WIC recipient but the rude woman in the grocery was possibly giving vent to a feeling that many of us share silently. We worry that too many people are receiving money from the taxpayer.
Cunha’s article is really special pleading for such entitlement programs and as such the article employs one of the pro-entitlement chestnuts:
Even then, I couldn’t quite believe it. This wasn’t supposed to happen to people like me.
If people like Cunha are going to face unemployment, well, we gotta expand these programs pronto! She gives a shout out to President Obama:
President Obama’s programs — from the extended unemployment benefits to the tax-free allowance for short-selling a home we couldn’t afford — allowed us to crawl our way out of the hole.
President Obama’s programs have made it more difficult for many people to crawl out of the hole because the only way to crawl out is to get a job. We’re celebrating a 6.1 unemployment rate right now. That is how bad things are for other couples in Cunha’s former predicament.
I’m glad Cunha has gotten it together and that she and her husband and the children are on the road to a brighter future. She concludes:
But what I learned there will never leave me. We didn’t deserve to be poor, any more than we deserved to be rich. Poverty is a circumstance, not a value judgment. I still have to remind myself sometimes that I was my harshest critic.
That the judgment of the disadvantaged comes not just from conservative politicians and Internet trolls. It came from me, even as I was living it.
It is good that Cunha realizes that nobody deserves to be rich. Some people don't realize that. But why stick on a nasty and gratuitous crack about conservative politicians and internet trolls, as if they are somehow in the same category? (They might be in Ms. Cunha's mind.)
Still, it looks like things worked out well for Cunha. Of that I am glad. And I bet the other WIC mothers are just as glad as I am. Nobody likes to be highhatted by a snotty fellow benefits recipient walking with purpose on heels from her Mercedes to their grungy den. I bet they liked Cunha about as much as Cunha liked the root beer woman.