From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, this reader was “the product of the AFDC program”—the Aid to Families With Dependent Children. Here she describes the ups and downs of growing up on welfare:
I was the third of four daughters. My mother was a traditional homemaker when my parents divorced. I’m not sure about the dynamics of what occurred, but I know that money from my father was not received. He insists he tried paying, but my mother insisted he never provided it.
In any regard, back then there were no reliable daycares, just other women who would babysit. Additionally, my mom had some mental-health issues that made it very difficult for her to ever maintain full-time employment. But mostly, she was a housewife—that was her dream growing up as a young woman in the 1950s. The option for my mother was to go back to work and leave us kids alone (like some other single moms did) or go on welfare. She opted for the latter.
I will admit, I was embarrassed as a child, growing up in a middle-class neighborhood on welfare. We did not live well. There was no extra money for new clothes or for the latest gadget. Clothes were hand-me-downs from older sisters or friends.
I have a distinct recollection of going with my mother one of the times she had to “prove” that she was still worthy of assistance. It was a humiliating process. The welfare office was filled with people who were treated like herds of cattle. Every aspect of your finances was scrutinized. Sometimes they would send out a caseworker to do a “spot check” on the house. My mother hated it, and it always left her in a sour mood.
Being on AFDC also qualified us for free breakfast and lunches. I swear, I would’ve starved some days if we didn’t have that option. Many days there was only dry milk, bread, mayonnaise, and mustard in the refrigerator. More than once did my sisters and I eat mustard-and-mayonnaise sandwiches.
One winter, our hot-water tank broke and we didn’t have money to repair it. We live in Buffalo, New York—Buffalo with no hot water in January. Have you ever washed your hair in cold water? To bather we had to heat up pots of water on the stove to dump into the bathtub.
Repairs in the home had to wait and there was always something broken. Our car was always on the verge of breaking down. We did not have cable or Atari Pong (yes, it was way back then). We went way too long without doctor’s appointments and frequently went to clinics or emergency rooms because we owed the regular physician too much money. And not many doctors took Medicaid.
But despite all this, I have nothing but praise for AFDC. Why?