Several years ago, during a harsh Detroit winter, I swallowed my pride and applied for food stamps. I wasn’t sure I’d qualify, but I knew three things. I had little money in the bank, little chance of quickly earning more and I needed to eat. So I tried my luck with the government.
I received $16 a month in benefits. By my cynical calculation, the eight hours I had spent applying would pay for itself, at minimum wage, after four months. I was grateful for the help. Usually, my $4 a week bought bacon, which could stretch several batches of beans.
Being broke wasn’t new to me. Food stamps, officially known as SNAP, were. My family had battled medical debt and unemployment when I was a kid, and I started working at 14. When I got a partial college scholarship and left my rural Michigan hometown, I made tuition and rent by juggling up to five jobs at once. I prided myself on never asking for help.
At age 34, though, I faced the awkward, privileged dilemma of a working-class journalist: I’d accepted a book contract to write about poverty, but it turned out to be too small to cover my health insurance and rent. I saw two options. Get a job, return my advance and abandon two years’ worth of work — or somehow continue working on my book without an income.
So food stamps it was.
Doubt you’d get welfare in the UK if you had a book advance in the bank, would you?