The Welfare Myth Part 2: Stretching the TANF Dollars

By Shannon Buck ~  © September 2007

As I mentioned in The Welfare Myth Part 1, it is a myth that welfare recipients have a lot of money to live off. Most welfare recipients really have little money for day to day expenses, once they have paid the bills. That is, if they can pay all of their bills at all.

Part 2 of this 4 part series is going to deal with ways in which low-income families can get the most for their TANF buck. This intent is two-fold:

1. To allow non-welfare recipients a view into the life of a low-income family.
2. To, hopefully, help low-income families.


First, let me say that I know this life. I have been there completely, and I am still working to get off the foodstamps and MaineCare even though I know longer receive TANF. I am getting there. I have had many experiences, and even now have little money for bills and such.  So, here is my best effort to help people understand our lives, and to help low-income families to live.

I also want to say that I am not encouraging women to get pregnant and live off the state. That is not my goal. My goal is to help people get off the state, even though this is a difficult task for anyone. School and work are important.  However, sometimes we need a little help along the way. That is perfectly understandable. Especially for those who do not get child support. Get what you need, and leave the rest for someone who needs it more.


The rent. Rent can be very expensive. If you do not have section 8, it may benefit you to look into it.I lived in low-income housing for may years. I can tell you that it is not necessarily the cheapest way to live. So, I encourage you to look at all of the options.

I also want to mention that low-income apartment complexes are not what they used to be here in my area of Maine. When I first moved into one of the places, it was a nice, quiet place to raise children. Over the years, things go messed up.

Check out a place well before moving in. You may find that you would not like to raise your child there.

The utilities can also be expensive. The only things that are necessary are heat, electricity, possibly gas, water, sewer and a phone. Here in Maine, we can sign up for HEAP (heating assistance). This does not pay for heat for the entire season. It may pay for as little as a month or less. When we sign up for this, we also get a small discount for the phone – not long distance charges.

I recommend that everyone gets on a payment plan for everything that they can: Electricity, oil, gas, etc. This does not give you a discount. It allows you to pay the same amount each month per bill. So, instead of those crazy $200.00+  bills during the winter months, you may pay $80.00 every month of the year. You will likely have to be with a company for a year in order to do this.

If you homeschool your children as I do, you may also consider cable/satellite or something like that a necessity as well. It does come in handy. If you cannot swing this, maybe a family member will allow the use of their television. You may also consider online access a necessity, as I do. We use it for school, plus I use it for work and helping others.

Now, about the phone bill. I have taken everything accept the diagnostic plan off my phone. I have also gotten rid of my long distance provider. I pay 10 cents a minute in state with my phone company, and I do not call long distance often. I also purchase phone cards when they are on sale if I no that I will have to be making numerous phone calls. I do have call forwarding because I work online. My phone bill is only about $8.00 a month.

It is necessary to find ways to save on utilities. For instance, think about ways that you can save money on electricity, water and heat. Here are some steps that my family and I will be taking this winter:

* Keep the thermostat at 68* during the day, 64* or below at night.
* Keep blankets in the livingroom for when we are chilly. Also keep a throw blanket on each     bed.
* Wear sweaters or hoodies when inside. Keep them where we can access them easily.
* Wear two pairs of socks or warm slippers.
* I am learning to work on my writing with no background noise from the television. This will     save quite a bit.
* Use the laptop more often than the desktop for work and volunteer projects. The desktop will     be reserved for homeschooling.
* Limit the amount of time each person can spend in the shower.
* We already replaced necessary lights with the longer lasting florescent lights.
* Plug the heat tape in under the trailer, then bank the trailer.
* Put plastic in windows.

Your town/city hall may be of some help in emergencies. I have used mine once for rent, and twice for food. You will have to keep all of your receipts for this to work in your favor. I am not sure what else they help with, but it may be worth checking out when you have a true need.

The Department of Health and Human Services is a possibility as well. It will likely be called something else in your area. Contrary to popular belief, if a person can physically work, she/he will get sanctioned if you do not have a job or go to school in a reasonable amount of time. I only suggest there services if it is absolutely necessary, because it is not a fair or easy system to work with. There may be better choices. Please check out all of your options before doing this.

Medical insurance is the one thing that I do suggest that you get for your state welfare department. It is too expensive not to do this. Even if you do not qualify, your children will. This is the best thing that you can do for them until you can get other insurance. If your ex has insurance, make sure the children are on it.

If you know in advance that you will be losing insurance, get all of your medical, eye and dental appointments in before they will expire. I would also like to note here that, if you do not have insurance for prescriptions, you may be able to get free or reduced cost prescriptions from the companies that make the medications. Check with your doctor and pharmacist.

Here are some of the services the  Department of human services offers in this area:


ASPIRE is a service through the Department of Human Services that encompasses a lot of areas. These are for people who are looking for work, working or going to school, from what I understand. Here are the programs that I am aware of:

A one time payment per year for car repairs.
Help getting a vehicle – you pay for it, but there may be cheaper interest or something.
Your children can get free lunch/milk at school.
Help with childcare for work and school.
Help with textbooks for college.

I am sure that there are more.

The churches in your area may also be able to help you. You do not have to be a member of the church, at least not here. Two of the programs that one of the churches in our area offers are:

thrift shop

I have only gotten the food once. A friend new that I had no food in the house at one point when Skye was a baby, so he called his mother, who called the church. He brought me over there and helped me bring the food home. I was so grateful to him, his mother, and the church. I was also a little surprised, because I was not a member of the church.

I am still not a member of the church, but I do go to their thriftshop at least 4 times a year with my children. I have purchased clothes in all baby and children’s sizes, as well as for myself. They also have books, toys, puzzles and household items. I am fond of going there and spending $2.00 a bag on clothing.

At one point, someone signed my daughters up to receive free winter boots through the town. We did not take them, due to the fact that they already had ones that fit them. I decided that those boots should go to someone else.

We bring our old winter coats to Hannaford. They are collected there for people in need. This means that there is a place nearby that gives them to the needy. I think that this is a wonderful program. I believe that the program is called Coats for Kids.

The Salvation Army and the Angel Tree programs help to bring happiness to children on Christmas morning. If you are having a particularly lean year, you could contact these or other programs in your area for help. Some of the bigger stores in Bangor do these, as well as churches.

Online, Freecycle is an excellent place to acquire things like clothing and household needs. You will also have to have things to give. For instance, if your baby just grew out of her clothes, you can offer these up to give away. Do this with only the best clothes, not ones with stains and holes. After posting that, you can immediately make a wanted post. Something like: Wanted: Baby Girls Clothes Size 24 months in (your town).

This is a wonderful give and take system.

8. is also a place where you can sometimes find exceptional buys. A year ago I bid on numerous boxes of teenage girls clothing. We ended up with a couple of dozen each of socks, pants, tops, and brand new underclothes, as well as a couple of jackets. This was an entire new wardrobe for each of my two daughters, and what we could not use went to a friend of theirs, and from her to a neighbor who was sharing clothes with her mother.

When I did the math, I found that I had only paid about $1.00 per article of clothing.

Freebies. My best advice is to take everything that is offered to you. If you cannot use them, someone can. You could give them to the church thriftshop, put them in a yardsale, sell them on ebay, or even offer them as the give away items on Freecycle.

Yardsales, thrift shops and consignment shops are wonderful places to shop, as are flea markets, clearance aisles, and dollar stores. Just make sure that what you pick up is of good quality. A pan I purchased at a dollar store lasted only three washings. One spatula kept melting, but two more are the best ones I have ever had. Just pay attention, and know the prices in other stores.


Armed with the above information, you should be able to find even more programs in your own areas. Please look for these. Talk to everyone you know who may have helpful information. I know that it is hard to stretch your money, but there is some relief sometimes. Take what you can get, but help others as well. I sometimes put things out on my front lawn with a big free sign. I have had a lot of help in my life, so I want to give back by helping others. I encourage this.

Shannon Buck is a single mom living in a small town in Maine. Check out her other free resources for low-income families at

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