It started out like any other day.  I got up and began my morning routine.  Washed my face, brushed my teeth, made myself  some toast, and then I sat down at my computer.  My ritual is to check email first, then Facebook.  Mostly spam in email, nothing new there, but then I got on Facebook and started reading posts from friends.   It was a few days after the election, political opinions were everywhere, seemingly coming out of the walls.  Since I am acutely aware that my political opinions differ greatly from those of some of my friends, most of the time I have a “live and let live” attitude.

However, this one particular post on this one particular day rubbed me just rubbed me the wrong way.  A friend that I graduated high school with put it on her wall.  I am paraphrasing.  “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but give him a welfare check, food stamps, a six pack of beer and government housing and he will vote Democrat for the rest of his life.”

To be clear, I am a Democrat, and I know that she is not.  Why was I offended?  Because I receive food stamps, my medical expenses are covered by Medicare and Medicaid, and in the past, I have lived in government funded housing.  I have some medical issues that make it difficult for me to work on a full-time basis.  Does that mean I am lazy?  Hardly.  But that is what many people assume.  Do I wish my situation was different?  Hell yes!  I would give anything to be able to work full time and completely support myself.  It is not in the cards.  So I do the next best thing.  I use my voice and fight for programs that are beneficial to people with disabilities with everything that I’ve got.

In years past, I have strongly advocated for programs covered by Medicaid to allow people who need caregivers to be able to work without losing their attendant care coverage. I sat on a statewide committee that designed a program making it possible for people with disabilities who require caregivers to work and pay a premium toward the cost of their care.  As part of that committee, I gave testimony at the Capitol to senators, representatives, and the governor.  The program finally passed and currently I have a part time job.

There is a sense of accomplishment that accompanies contributing.  Most people who are on welfare don’t want to be, and my objection comes from the people who make general assumptions without knowing individual circumstances.

To be fair, most of the feedback that I got from this issue was something like “Well, it is okay for you to receive these benefits because we know your limitations and know that you don’t take advantage.”  The only reason people know that about me is because they know me personally, and hopefully, they know that my integrity would prevent me from receiving benefits that I shouldn’t get.  But that doesn’t mean the people that they don’t know who are receiving benefits are taking advantage of the system.  It means they may have circumstances that others are are unaware of.  Diabetes, lupus and heart problems, for example, all can be very hard on a body.  And judging others without all the facts just isn’t fair to anyone.

It makes me mad when people say things like “They could work if they really tried”, and “If you want to find  your food stamp card, look under your work boots”.   How do you know if anyone can work?  And jokes like that are really not funny.

When I was a little girl and people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I did not look up at them with big brown eyes and say “I want to live on government benefits for the rest of my life”.  The situation I am in is not one that I aspired to. I am simply utilizing a program that was set up with people like me in mind.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am very glad that these government programs exist that support me.  And I know without a doubt that I literally could not survive without them.  They are, however, not without their frustrations.  Since they are low-income programs, they don’t let people get ahead.  When I started my part-time job, a number of food stamps that I receive went down proportionately with the increase in my income, so financially I am in pretty much the same place that I started.  Also, because I have to now pay a premium for social services out of my pocket to be on the program that allows me to work, I am losing money by working at this point.  But I don’t work these days for financial gain.  Working is important to me for many other reasons.

When I told my friend from high school that I found her post offensive, she claimed free speech.  When I suggested that we all try to be kind to each other, and be slow to judge others when we don’t know their situation, she “unfriended” me.  I believe in free speech too, which is why I responded to her post in the first place.  I just don’t believe in putting people in categories before I know all the facts.

I lost a “friend” in the process of letting her know what I think.  But I am okay with that.  Everything in me had to let her know where I stand.

I guess sometimes, free speech comes at a price.