First Person: My Personal Food Stamp Journey

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First Person: My Personal Food Stamp Journey

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Condiments like cheese, mayonnaise and ketch - and bean noodles to make spring rolls

Editor's note: A little more than 47 million Americans rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially known as food stamps, to help feed themselves or families every day. After the U.S. House voted in mid September to cut SNAP by $40 billion over a decade, Yahoo News asked those who receive SNAP benefits to share their experience: what they buy, why they need assistance and what they think of the long-running food-assistance program in general. Here's one perspective.

FIRST PERSON | Just after last year's elections, one of my aunts posted on Facebook a disparaging remark about Americans who receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program:

"Unfortunately, people will continue to vote Democrat, as long as they get their food stamps for free."

It was rather hurtful.

I have been on food stamps off and on over the course of my life. My parents received them when my dad lost his job. In 1992, when I was pregnant with my daughter, my dad informed me I better get on the program because he wasn't going to help me out. I was 20 then, and because no one was about to hire a pregnant woman headed for maternity leave so soon after being hired, I felt I had no other choice.

I live in Hawthorne, Calif., with my now-retired mom and my two children, Jo, 21, and Quentin, 17. I receive $367.40 a month for two, but I have to feed four. Mom and Quentin do not qualify because they receive disability and retirement benefits.

I will turn 42 in November. This is not the way I envisioned my life. There is a popular misconception that only the lazy who don't want to work turn to food stamps. I have been unemployed since 2004, when my employer in the medical field discovered it was less expensive to pay one person to do two jobs - hers and mine.

But I have worked. Sometimes two jobs at once. Or I went to school while I was working. And, on top of that, I have raised an autistic son. I was off SNAP between February 2001 and November 2004 because I was making about $2,400 a month. And I would rather go back to that time, though working is not necessarily a cure for assistance. I know a young woman who works two jobs right now -- and she's still on food stamps. There are a lot of us like that. We're not "lazy."

I buy what anyone else would buy: milk, bread, eggs, cereal and other basic staples. I buy the frozen chicken in the bags in bulk. I also buy the cereal, rice and potatoes in bulk. If I want something like teriyaki chicken, I buy the ingredients and make if myself. It's cheaper to make things fresh than buy it frozen, and you can use the ingredients over and over again.

Still, it's not easy trying to make $367.40 in food stamps last a month. We run out of things like butter, bread and milk so quickly and, sometimes, I don't have any more benefits that month to buy more. I have managed for the most part to make the cereal, eggs and meats for the entire month, but everything else goes really quickly. I worry occasionally that I'm not meeting the nutritional requirements my family needs. But I worry most about their going hungry. There have been times I have given one of the kids the rest of my dinner or will just have a bowl of cereal for dinner so they can have whatever is left that I haven't eaten.

The system isn't perfect. Because believe me, people want to work. When I lost my job in 2004, I tried like hell to find another job in the medical billing field. Sometimes I'd run across the "we only want someone bilingual" attitude. Or employers wanted someone more experience than I had, or someone who'd only work an inflexible schedule.

I applied to Blockbuster, McDonald's, Kmart, Target and similar outfits, only to be told I was "too educated." Or someone had to be home when Quentin was dropped off from school -- and that someone had to be me.

I do want to work, and I know I'm not the only one.

That's something I wish my aunt and others like her would understand.

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