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Living on Public Assistance

"There are people on welfare who are really just trying to make it."
by Published on
photo by Sarah Lim

Rhonda Robinson gave birth to her daughter, Makayla, at 18. Now 24, Robinson will graduate from Texas State University in San Marcos with a dance degree and teaching certification in December. She has been enrolled in public assistance programs since before 5-year-old Makayla was born. Robinson’s relationship with Makayla’s father, her high school boyfriend, ended when Makayla was a baby. He fell behind with his child support payments, Robinson says, but now she is receiving $160 a month from him.

“I get $367 a month in food stamps [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], and it goes fast. There’s certain things that I’ll keep healthy, like if I’m getting her turkey I’ll get the good turkey lunch meat. Otherwise I’ll get whatever’s cheapest. Depending on how much you make every month, you may not get to stay on food stamps. So then the next month, if you don’t make a lot, you have to go reapply for everything.

“Medicaid is really easy to get if you’re pregnant, but six months after I had my daughter they took me off. Not a lot of people take Medicaid anymore—[Makayla’s] original doctor used to take Medicaid but stopped. So you have to go to these places where the quality is not the same as a regular dental office or doctor’s office. There’s been times when Makayla didn’t have Medicaid and I had to take her to the hospital.

“I had CCMS [Child Care Management Services] until September. They paid for day care, Extend-a-Care—the after-school program—and summer camp. One thing I like about CCMS is that you have to work or go to school. It makes sure you’re being productive, not just using their system.

“I’ve been on the waiting list for Section 8 [rental assistance] and the [Austin] Housing Authority for five years. I think I’m No. 1056. I may not even need it by the time they get to me.

“Until this semester, when I’d get my financial aid from Texas State, I’d make all my rent and car payments for the next few months. Last year I was tutoring, and teaching dance, and working for No Kidding, where we’d go to schools and talk about true facts of being a young parent. That’s how I’d pay for electricity and water.

“There are people on welfare who are really just trying to make it. If I need food stamps and that’s going to help me not have to get a nighttime job, I’d rather do that so I can focus on school and my child. I was at H-E-B and heard this guy talking about people using ‘my tax money,’ as I’m swiping my Lone Star Card. When I hear people say that it makes me laugh, because we all have to pay taxes.”

Freelance writer Robyn Ross lives in Austin.