Written by Phaedra Ellis Lamkins, CEO of Green For All
Cross-posted on Huffington Post. Read original post here.
The first time I knew that being poor made me different than everyone else was when my mom sent me into the grocery store to get food with food stamps. We had just picked up our free cheese at the food bank. I was running into the store to get pickles for the cheese and pickle sandwiches that I took to school everyday. A woman behind me smirked and made a comment about food stamps being used for snacks. She had a cart full of groceries and she was judging our family based on the jar of pickles and food stamps. I did not understand what I had done wrong. I knew I was supposed to be ashamed and I was.
As I grew older I dreamed of finding my voice in that line. I dreamt of telling the woman that my mom had left a violent relationship - that she was going back to school, was working as a waitress and had only been on assistance for a short time. My mom became a public administrator who would pay back the assistance that she had received ten times over.
I worked my way through college as a checkout clerk at a discount grocery store. I watched the people who used food stamps. They were members of the military, working men and women, seniors and families with children. They were working people trying to make it. No one I served ever pulled out food stamps with pride. There is a shame that those who have had to ask for help recognize in one another.
There should be no shame. Now, I feel pride that my family needed help because we are the American story. Our story is about struggle and perseverance. The people I admire fought to succeed and needed help along the way.
Yesterday's vote by the House of Representatives to pass the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 (H.R. 3102), which cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by nearly $40 billion, is an attack on the best of our values. More than an attack on our shared values, it is an attempt to publicly shame those among us who need help. The same people who voted to cut food stamps for families who must survive on an average of $115 per month voted to give the most profitable oil companies hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks.
We cannot allow our country to turn away from our neighbors when they need help. It is those neighbors who we will turn to when we need help.
The policy implications for cutting food stamps are so enormous that everyone should be engaged in the debating the details--including food-stamp recipients and other taxpayers, policy makers, faith leaders, civil and human rights advocates and others.
I know is how hard it is to ask for help. I know how bad it feels. And I know that most families--like mine--use that help to make it out of tough situations and go on to do great things for others.
On behalf of those of us who need the help that food stamps provide, I am calling out the best in our leaders and all people of conscience. We cannot be a country that shames our neighbors and closes our ears to their calls for help.