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Ask Dave

The Role of Government Assistance

Rebecca is backed into a corner in life and nervously calls Dave needing help.

QUESTION: Rebecca in Florida is a single mother with three special-needs children. She quit her job in 2008 to stay home with her youngest son, and one year later her husband divorced her. The state is not keeping him accountable for child support. She qualifies for food stamps and asks Dave if he thinks there is anything morally wrong with being on government assistance.

Dave's ANSWER: I don't think there's anything morally wrong with receiving food stamps. I do think from a standpoint of you making a decision for your life and the lives of these boys, you start making some moves to where that is not a permanent situation. Not because of the morality of food stamps, but because that's not a good place to live.

Twenty years from today, I don't want to have the same discussion with you about you surviving on Social Security income and food stamps, because that means you're stuck. That means we haven't done anything to move the needle for you to get you and this family into a better place. So in the short term, if that's what it takes for you and your family to eat, I don't have any issue with that at all.

But I want you to start thinking from a long-term perspective, what it's going to take and what kind of career situation you could do to really get into some substantial income compared to where you are now. What kind of a career you could do that worked with, and around, and through them and also allowed you some emotional break because you are going 24/7 with three high-need children.

That's emotionally draining. You need to refill your tank periodically to continue to be good for them. If you get worn down to nothing, you're going to struggle. You've got a lot on your plate, so go get some food stamps.

More than anything, what I hear in your story is you've got to come up with something that helps you begin to move through this and somehow create an income that's a lot more fun than surviving on food stamps.

You say you've got to get a six-month update on your nursing certification, but if you got that done, you could go work in the ER, which has weird hours but great money. While the boys are sleeping, you could ask someone to stay at the house while you work some night shifts. You could really get your income rolling again.

I think that’s your plan for the next five years. If your two-week plan involves food stamps, then do that. That's what they are for. I don't think that's bad. But I want you to get to the other side of this so that you and the boys don't continually end up being a victim of this situation. Instead, you get above it and get in attack mode on the overall thing. You've been fighting this thing by yourself and it just drains you down.

Certainly, go get yourself some food stamps. I don't have any issue with that at all as long as you're not lying about some form of income in order to get them. Obviously, I wouldn't do that. The thing I don't want government assistance and Social Security income to do is to trap you into a cycle of substandard living.

Instead, take your nursing degree and your intelligence and create some ways to live a quality life. That's what happens so often with these things is that the person becomes a victim of the very thing that was set out to help them. I don't want that for you, so let's have a long-term game plan.