Charity Vogel of the Buffalo News wrote this excellent piece about the choices and sacrifices people living in poverty need to make.
Rose Cannon goes to the supermarket on her $14. But she doesn’t get far.
“I get a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread and some eggs,” she said. “That’s it. Nothing. You get nothing for $14.”
If you’ve looked at a grocery shelf lately, you know that’s true. Prices seem to increase weekly, even on basics like bread and milk. The cart full of stuff that used to cost $100 now costs – well, maybe it’s better not to dwell on that.
That’s the impact you’re feeling.
Now imagine for a minute what it’s like to deal with those prices when you’re poor.
Cannon knows all too well. She’s 54, hampered by poor health, and past her working days due to a stroke she suffered in 1991 and a back injury that led to painful arthritis.
Now, Cannon finds herself dwelling in a strange country called poverty.
In Buffalo, that makes her one of multitudes. Nearly one in three adults in the city is poor; almost 43 percent of children live in poor homes. It’s one of our most debilitating problems, and the most intractable.
Cannon knows all that, but it doesn’t make her daily life any easier.
Take her food stamps: $14 worth.
That’s her monthly allotment from the county. The reason she gets so little is because she owns a few things the government deems not mandatory for someone in her situation. Like a dog and cat, cable TV and the older Chevy Impala she drives.
Cannon, a longtime community volunteer who ran for Common Council in 1999, receives $660 a month in disability income. That, combined with the money her learning-disabled daughter, Rose, gets, goes to cover the mortgage on their Lovejoy home, utilities, debt payments, gas, the car and insurance, food and incidentals.
But Cannon pays a price for her choices.
When she petitioned for more food assistance, a state hearing determined that the amount she gets is fair. Her choices on voluntary spending, the state ruled, shouldn’t factor in.
So it came down to this: The cat or the frozen chicken dinners. The TV or the yogurt. The car or the coffee.
These are the kinds of tough choices people living in poverty in our city grapple with every day. It’s not something that would enter the minds of most of us who aren’t poor – that by holding onto your car keys, you can’t eat roast beef this month.
The poor of our city are real people. They’re not symbols, and they’re not statistics. They live and breathe and manage their own checkbooks and schedules. They lead complicated lives, just like the rest of us; and they have both fine points and flaws.
Like it or not, they are individuals, making individual decisions.
Cannon’s made hers. As she enters the later phase of a life pocked by hardship, she doesn’t want to lose the few remaining things that make it livable. The pets she dotes on. The car she sees as a necessity, since she can’t walk far or fast.
“You have to survive,” said Cannon, her green eyes softening, “no matter what.”
I don’t know whether Cannon should get more than $14 in food stamps, although it seems a pitifully small sum.
But I do know that if we want to understand – and maybe solve – the problem of poverty in our city, we need to see clearly how the system works for those who live in it.
And so: Which would you choose? The cable or the cottage cheese?
Poverty strips a lot away from those who endure it. It’s hard to blame someone who wants to hang onto the final few shreds of what makes her a little bit like the rest of us, still.