Grateful for assistance, but worried about the future

February 28, 2017
Photo courtesy of Dawn Pierce

By Jennifer Gonzalez

Dawn Pierce, a vocal advocate against hunger and poverty, spends her workdays as a licensed practical nurse taking care of senior citizens at several small assisted living facilities in Boise, Idaho.

She cares for roughly 70 residents across seven homes, providing wound care, creating care plans, documenting charts, drawing blood, and giving injections. She takes great pride in her job.

Pierce is the mother of three adult children and has recently remarried. She is also a newly elected member of the board of directors of Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute.

Life is good now, but that wasn’t always the case.

In 2010, Pierce lost her job as a paralegal. She began to collect unem-ployment benefits as she searched for a job. However, the checks were not enough to support her family, and her job search was yielding nothing.

So she made the choice to apply for SNAP benefits, known more commonly as food stamps. The decision was difficult for Pierce.

“I sat in the car for an hour before going in [to the assistance office],” says Pierce. “This wasn’t me. I was supposed to be better than this. Hunger was never part of my thinking. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.”

But it did happen and our nation’s food assistance program helped Pierce, who was a single mother raising a teenage son at the time. The SNAP benefits allowed her to buy groceries and feed herself and her son while she continued to look for permanent work. 

The federal budget funds numerous anti-poverty programs such as SNAP. Other vital programs include the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and child nutrition programs.

These programs are a lifeline to millions of Americans every year. Without them, more families would find themselves living in poverty. How the federal government decides to spend taxpayer money has real-life consequences.

SNAP reached 45 million low-income Americans and moved an estimated 4.6 million adults and 2.1 million children out of poverty in 2014. About two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, elderly, or disabled.

In Idaho, 1 in 7 households struggles to put food on the table, and of those 46.3 percent have at least one wage earner but still need SNAP assistance to live.

A year after Pierce lost her job, she finally found another one — as a paralegal in the office of the attorney general in Idaho. She no longer needed to receive food stamps. Unfortunately, two years later she was laid off again, due to state budget cuts.

Rather than continue to look for work as a paralegal, she decided to go back to her first love—nursing. She had been a nurse before becoming a paralegal, but had stopped because of a knee injury. By now, her knee was better, so Pierce decided to seek full-time work as a nurse. Eventually, she was hired to treat individuals in assisted living homes.

Pierce’s experience as a recipient of SNAP benefits has propelled her in becoming a forceful advocate against hunger and poverty. She’s participated in an anti-hunger march, spoken at a food bank fundraiser, and even appeared in a documentary about poverty. 

At first, Pierce was reluctant to talk about her experience being on food stamps. However, over time, she says that she has grown more accustomed to speaking out about the benefits of safety-net programs, such as SNAP. 

“It’s not about me anymore, it’s about helping someone else,” she says. 

Jennifer Gonzalez is the managing editor at Bread for the World.

How the federal government decides to spend taxpayer money has real-life consequences.

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