by Randi Schmidt
Director of Economic Empowerment Policy, YWCA USA
Last week, I wrote about my mom, who has lung cancer and is also legally disabled. My mom has a rare disease that spread from her kidneys to her colon to her brain to her heart. She’s sick — really sick, but she is an energizer bunny trooper: she takes a licking and keeps on ticking. I am so very grateful to have her for a mom and I appreciate, too, all the kind words and well wishes people have sent to me.
Because my mom is disabled, she can’t legally work. She gets government assistance: disability, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – what most people call Food Stamps), Medicaid and Medicare. I think she hates getting government assistance because my mom is a very proud woman. Sometimes I pray to win the lottery so I could pay all her monthly bills.
I know many people get upset because they have to pay taxes. I, for one, sure don’t mind it because I see every day what it means for people like my mom: Food Stamps enable her to eat and her Medicare/Medicaid get her the healthcare she needs. If my tax money goes to help people like my mom who are disabled, then I feel blessed to be able to contribute taxes so these programs can exist.
That is one of the reasons why I love the YWCA and have been here for nine years. The YWCA is not just a women’s organization or a place to take classes; it is a social service organization. In cities nationwide, YWCAs provide information, resources and programs to women and families in need services like domestic violence counseling, housing, and childcare. They also help spread the word on the availability of government programs like Food Stamps, Medicare and Medicaid. Providing information is especially important today, given the high unemployment rate in our nation, high rate of under-employment and the slow job recovery. Many struggling women and families don’t know what help is available to them; YWCAs provide a safe place to get help and information.
The YWCA serves all types of women and families, including the elderly, the disabled and working women. These are the same people who get the most benefit out of programs like Food Stamps. Contrary to what some people believe, the majority of households who get entitlement benefits including Medicare, Medicaid and Food Stamps are households who are elderly, disabled or working. Nearly 75 percent of the people who receive Food Stamps are in families with children; more than one-quarter are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. The number of people on Food Stamps has increased since the recession a few years ago. Not because all of a sudden people are scamming the system, but because that is what the program is intended to do: help people during economic downturns. Specifically, when the economy tanks, Food Stamps kick in to help people from going hungry. This also helps put money into local communities because people use them to purchase food being sold by businesses. Then when the economy gets better, the number of people on Food Stamps tends to decline.
To me, it is not surprising that the number of people receiving Food Stamps has increased as the economy plunged into recession and many continue to struggle with high unemployment. It should not be a surprise that the YWCA would help people learn about and apply for Food Stamps. In fact, I am glad that the YWCA is an organization that recognizes many people are really struggling right now and they need help from programs such as Food Stamps.
I am proud that an organization I work for and love – an organization that feeds the hungry, helps to house the homeless, comforts victims of violence – also helps people to learn about various government programs and apply for them. I would be ashamed if we did not.
To learn more about the Food Stamp program visit: http://www.cbpp.org/files/policybasics-foodstamps.pdf