What Being On Government Assistance Is REALLY Like

Flickr image: NCReedplayer

by Emily Renee Lingenfelser 

Let’s talk about welfare for a second. I really wanted to keep my mouth shut on the subject after the election was over, but I cannot simply sit here reading ignorant comments anymore. For example, on CNN’s Facebook page, they asked “What did you learn on election night?” The following are real-life answers from American citizens:

“That it will pay to quit your job and get welfair.” (Yes, they spelled “welfare” wrong.)

“The good news is your Welfare check will arrive on time…”

“We learned that people vote out of selfishness, not love of country. The entitlement society is here to stay. Why work for what you want when you can vote for a living?”

“Beware of ignorant people in large groups. Especially those that want gov’t handouts…”

Are you serious, America? Are we seriously still on the topic of welfare, a program that the majority of people have absolutely no clue about how it works. I am quite curious where people came up with this idea that people on welfare are living the high life while abusing the system. It’s like Americans legitimately think that a woman sits in her brand new townhouse, eating steak and shrimp every night, doing crystal meth, and never working a day in her life on their hard earned taxes.

Before we discuss the “welfare” that people are typically making this generalization about (TANF), I feel it is important to mention that over 90% of Entitlement Benefits go to the elderly, disabled, or working households. That means, most of the money goes to people who are working or who are actually unable to work.

The programs that people tend to have the biggest problems with are Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF – cash assistance), food stamps, child care assistance, etc. These are used to help families with children in their time of need. Or as most people see it, allow uneducated mothers to pop out 10 kids and get rich from government assistance.

I have been on welfare. I have gotten cash assistance, food stamps, child care assistance, energy assistance. As a teenage mother with basically zero support from my child’s father, I have had to use welfare as I make my way through college. Without this assistance, I would not have been able to continue my education past high school. There is just no way. But I never looked at this assistance as a “handout”….I saw it as an investment. My country was investing in my future, and I knew that one day it would be my turn to invest in others.

My experience with the welfare system is vast. I have gotten various benefits and services in three different states (KS, MO, TX) at different times. Anybody who sits there and thinks getting benefits is easy should call your local Department of Children and Family (DCF) and get an actual person to answer the phone. Ever. These programs are completely underfunded and understaffed. It took over 90 days for my childcare assistance to be approved and my phone calls never got returned. The process is frustrating, stressful, time consuming. It would never be described as “easy”.

 Read the rest of Emily’s post over at Your Mom Goes To College. 


  1. I understand your frustration. As a single mother with no support from the father, I currently have child care assistance and health care assistance. However, I understand America’s frustration as well. These “welfare benefits” have risen by over 50%. I personally know people who abuse these benefits. I have a grandmother on disability who is perfectly capable of working, who is well under the retirement age, but chooses to collect instead. My opinions don’t go out to the hard working people who do their very best and still need a had, they go to the people like my grandmother and neighbors who abuse the system. We will always have the abusers, we (I) need to let it go and move on.

  2. Great post Emily. I used WIC while I was in college and pregnant with Ada and it was miserable. Treated like I was an ignorant fool (I was literally months away from graduating with my BSN!) just for trying to save a few bucks on cereal. Ridiculous.

  3. THANK YOU! I, too, have been on assistance at one point, and no, it was not easy, nor was I mooching off of the government. It was a temporary solution to a temporary problem. I was in school with very little money and hardly living the “high life.” It kills me how people demonize the poor and paint these pictures of folks having a grad ol’ time with their welfare checks. Who in their right mind WANTS to be on welfare, anyway? What kind of sense does that make? This was a great post!

  4. I have been on assistance, too. It’s nice to hear people speaking out about this.

    When on assistance, I didn’t tell anyone because I was embarrassed. People would assume I was lazy and didn’t want to work, and even the social workers I had treated me horribly. One of them in particular, was always giving me a hard time – demanding bank statements every month, putting my checks on hold so my rent was always late, and even swore at me on the phone and called me a liar.

    I would never ever want to be on welfare. Unfortunately it is extremely difficult to find good paying work without an education. The only good thing about being on assistance is that I was able to finish high school, and can now go on to post-secondary.