More people swallowing their pride, turning to stamps to put food on the table

November 02, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene

David Taylor and his family ate well, had a nice house and a bit of money to spare until last March when the 38-year-old plumber hurt his back lugging a cast iron tub down a flight of stairs -- then, suddenly, the Taylors were a paycheck away from poverty.

Mr. Taylor and his family hoped he would be out of work for only a few days.

But his back worsened and the days became weeks, the weeks turned into months and his weekly $296 worker's compensation check wouldn't stretch to cover bills for a family of five and groceries, too.

Two months behind on the rent for their modest Edmondson Heights home, with their electricity turned off and their cupboards nearly bare, the Taylors swallowed their pride and applied for food stamps.

In doing so, they joined an increasing number of individuals forced out of work or into low-paying jobs who turn to government stamps to put food on the table. Nearly one in 10 Americans receives food stamps, more than ever before.

Some health officials call them the "new poor."

In Maryland, the number of people seeking food stamps to supplement their incomes increased by nearly 25 percent last year, almost twice the number of people who are seeking full welfare benefits, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Officials say the number of new food stamp recipients throughout the nation continues to increase steadily, despite the government's claims that the recession is ending.

Mick Allman, assistant director for the state's food stamp program, said part of the reason for the increase lies in the state's aggressive "one-stop shop" program in which people who apply for one form of assistance usually are screened for other programs.

They are most often eligible for food stamps.

He said state regulations have also broadened to make immigrants eligible for food stamps. However, he said, "there's no doubt that the obvious reason for the increase is the softening of the economy. It's definitely getting worse," he said.

William M. Weatherford lost his job as a cook -- his most recent employment in a decade of unsteady work -- while he was jailed for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Behind on his bills and hard-pressed to find a new job, particularly when prospective employers learned he is a recovering alcoholic, Mr. Weatherford turned to food stamps.

"Every place I've called they've said they weren't hiring," said Mr. Weatherford who lives with his fiancee in the 6300 block of Frederick Road. "Things are bad. . . . It's all I can do just to keep faith and hope."

Sandy Gregory, 22, returned to Baltimore from Ohio last spring with his pregnant wife and young daughter in hopes of finding a job.

But the young couple fell on hard times and spent more than three months in a homeless shelter in Westminster before they were able to get food stamps and a government subsidized apartment.

"If it were not for the food stamps, I would be underwater," said Mr. Gregory, who works part time at a minimum-wage landscaping job and moonlights as a cook at a fast-food restaurant.

"I've got mouths to feed. I've got myself to feed. If not for the public assistance, I wouldn't be able to [feed my family]."

But the assistance has come at a price. Mr. Gregory admits his pride has suffered. He recalled overhearing a man say all some people have to do is claim that they don't have any money and a job and they can get on public assistance.

"Suddenly, I realized, I was the guy he was talking about."

Mr. Taylor also has mixed feelings about receiving stamps.

"It comes down to do I deserve them?" he said. "You go for assistance and they say you've got a [worker's compensation] check coming in and they say there are people on the street who don't even have that."

"Well that's what I'm trying not to become," he said. "It seems like the whole system is set up so that you've got to be thrown out on the street before a lot of people will help you.

"I think if you can do something to help yourself before that happens, then you're a whole lot better off."

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