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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

Paying the price for getting ahead

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How would you feel if someone gave you $100, but it ended up costing you more than $4,000? Between what she thought was a decent salary—$32,000 a year—and government benefits, Kelly, a single working mom, was just about able to make ends meet.

But when she got a raise that increased her yearly earnings by a total of only $100, she lost hundreds of dollars monthly in SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits, as well as subsidized medical assistance for her young son.Things soon started to fall apart for Kelly. “I kept thinking, is this going to be the month I don’t figure it out? The month we don’t have anywhere to go?” And then what she dreaded happened.

After struggling for months with bills and expenses, Kelly was about to be evicted and her car was going to be repossessed. “I thought we were going to lose everything,” she said. “But a friend told me about a program that could help.” Kelly’s friend was in a United Way program that helps families get back on their feet. It provides emergency assistance to keep them in their homes, help with meals and budgeting, and assigns someone to help with financial goal setting and coordinating other services a family might need.

Four months after starting the program, Kelly got caught up on her bills, got on a strict budget, and got her head above water. “I had to take a second job nights and weekends, which is really hard, because I miss out on a lot with my son. But part of changing your behavior is recognizing your own BS, too,” said Kelly, who has since learned to be more disciplined in figuring out how to make her paychecks stretch.

“I’ve had to sacrifice a lot to get where we needed to be. At the end of the day, I’ll do anything for my son. I don’t want him to grow up and go through the same struggles as me. When we look back on all this, I can say, ‘I got us here.’”

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