Sunday, August 30, 2015

Real Money

(this is an excerpt form the book I'm writing, Living in a New America: The Reality of a Vanishing Middle Class)
When I was a young mother, shortly after being declared by the Social Security Administration as “totally disabled”, I was in my local grocery store with my book of food stamps and a pile of coupons.

The woman behind me in line was impatient... not because of the food stamps, because of the coupons.

“You’re paying with food stamps, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Then why are you using coupons? It’s not like you’re using money.”
Newsflash: Food stamps are money. They may not be spendable in all the places you’d spend other money, but food stamps, EBT, vouchers, gift cards... they’re all money.

Money is NOT valuable in itself. When you look at a dollar bill, you’re not looking at anything more than a piece of paper. It’s a promissory note from the government. It’s a note tradable for goods and services. So are food stamps. So are vouchers. So are gift cards. So are EBT benefits.

If I told you you could pay $2.99 for that bit of food, or you could use the coupon and get two for that price, you would get two. If you use food stamps or cash, it doesn’t make any difference. If you get 50% off, you either have more cash, more available credit, or more food stamps in your pocket after buying. Why would you NOT use coupons?

Yet most people simply don’t think of benefits as “money”.

If Sally gives Joe a $20 bill and sends him down to the grocery store with a shopping list, he’d be able to come back with the same food as if she sent him with $20 of food stamps.

If Sally gives Joe a $20 bill and says, “OK, go get the food, but first, I’m going to offer you a trade: You give me that $20 and I’ll give you a crisp new $10 bill!”

Joe would have to be stupid to take that deal. But thousands of people do just that: Sell food stamps for 50 cents on the dollar. Never mind that it’s illegal, it’s just stupid, because now Joe has $10 less in his pocket to feed the family with. Food isn’t something you can do without.

Now there are some reasons... some good reasons... why people sell food stamps. You can’t buy medicine with food stamps. You can’t buy toilet paper with food stamps. You can’t buy feminine hygiene products with food stamps.

And there are some less than good reasons: you can’t buy liquor with food stamps. And yes, people do, sadly choose their addictions over feeding their families, which is why food stamps are limited to food, and why it’s illegal to sell or buy food stamps.

But this myth that food stamps aren’t money is financially dangerous. They aren’t “not money”, and they’re not “free money”. They are the same as any other money you would use for food.

It’s not just food stamps. It’s WIC, it’s TANF, its vouchers and gift cards from charities. If you want to live well, you can’t think of them as “free money” and “disposable income”. View them as income, the same as you would a paycheck.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Video du Jour: How to Age Gracefully

Disney Dog

Graphics featuring these three dogs appear on Facebook regularly.  Usually they're just humorous.  Today they have a great deal of meaning. 
A lot of people think of their dogs as an accessory, and while I absolutely disagree with that, I have to admit, I had in my mind the perfect dog(s).  If I had a large breed, she'd be white with large black spots, maybe 4 or 5, and one black ear.  She'd be a mutt, with shortish hair and a pointed nose and ears. I'd name her Dori.   If I had a midsize dog, it'd be some sort of doodle.  Cropped short, perfect coat for my allergies, and a solid color, perhaps the color of gingersnaps. I had a plethora of names picked out.   If I had a small dog (in other words, if I didn't win the lottery and have a house with a yard) I'd get either a miniature schnauzer (who I'd name Scout) or some sort of mini-poodle mix, which I also had a number of names for.  I MIGHT get a terrier mix... (which I'd also name Scout or Sir Dydimus if it were a male)

So there it is, just like women who have checklists for men, I had a checklist for my dog.   Now the entire list went like this:
1- short or clipped hypoallergetic coat
2- calm
3- perfectly house trained.

and because I lived in an apartment, under 20 lbs.

I did get a dog under 20 lbs.

This is not the dog I planned on.

This is the dog I've fallen in love with.

She's a little larger now (not much) with one ear that droos and the other that stands straight up.  I've clipped her a little for the summer, and trimmed  up the long hair that flopped over her eyes like some sort of emo kid.  But she's still a scrappy, three legged mutt with rusty rough fur, more like
Tramp than Lady.

And as much as I love her, so does everyone else in my apartment complex.

Cinnamon... her original name was Ingrid, I called her Cinnamon at the shelter when I was playing with her, it was totally spontaneous, and I have no idea where the name came from except that perhaps in the sunlight her rusty grey-brown coat looks like it was sprinkled with cinnamon... made herself at home pretty quickly here.   She quickly gained the reputation of being the friendliest dog on the property.  She seemed to instinctively know who wanted to play and who wanted to just sit quietly and pet her, and she approached everyone on their level.  She was the same way with the dogs:  Playing and wrestling with some, and lying down next to and being careful not to intimidate the small ones.

Neighbors with new dogs brought them to Cinnamon to be socialized.  Often, Cinnamon was a new dog's friend.  People I never knew knew me:  Cinnamon's mom.  Not Kate, just Cinnamon's mom. They stopped to talk about how amazing it was that she got around so well on three legs, how happy she always is, how sweet.  Some of the neighbors have said they've thought about getting shelter dogs after meeting Cinnamon. One of the neighbors has.

My neighbor down the hall has miniture schnauzers.  Neither of them is named "Scout".  But Frodo, the younger one, is Cinnamon's best friend.  They romp and play like puppies, and when ever we go out of a walk, Cinnamon stops and pauses to look at the door to the building where Frodo and his owner come out of for their walks.

At home, Cinnamon is a pleasure.  She loves to play fetch with me, and always returns the toy after it's thrown.  She also plays by herself, which is great for me when I've got a lot to do.  The only one who isn't completely happy with Cinnamon is the cat.  Sophie is a great deal more reserved than Cinnamon, and doesn't particularly like being cornered, held down and licked.

Cinnamon thinks every living creature is put on the earth to be her friend and play with her.  The other evening, it was a grasshopper.  When I tried to bring her away from it, she snatched it up in her mouth. I was scared she'd eaten it (not because I was worried for her, but because I was worried for the grasshopper) and tried to get it from her before she killed it, but she wouldn't open her mouth, and she didn't kill it.  She walked a little distance from me and gently put the grasshopper on the ground, unharmed.

Of course, the same persistence in wanting to play with every living creature isn't helpful when that creature is one of our many local skunks, but so far I've been able to prevent an actual encounter, no matter how insistent she's been about meeting the "stripped kitty" on our evening walk.

Cinnamon is my reason for getting out of bed (like it or not) on some Lupus mornings.  She gives me reason to NOT stay in my studio for 12 hours straight.  and I think I'm at my most peaceful just gazing into her big brown eyes.

So yes, I could have held out for a "pretty dog".  But then I would have missed out on the perfect dog for me.