The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Even Working People Need Government Assistance

Seven years ago, my parents and I immigrated to America. My grandmother, who lived here, was sick, and my mom wanted to be closer to her. In China, my mother had worked as an accountant, and my father was a chemist for a perfume company. But here, my parents couldn’t find jobs; unemployment was at its highest in many years due to the recession. They relied on their savings from China for a few weeks. Then, my aunt took them to apply for food stamps.

Food stamps, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a form of assistance to help people with limited income buy food. The government gives them a monthly amount depending on their income. My family gets $200 per month. As of May 2016, there are 43.5 million Americans who use this program.

Even after my parents found jobs, we continued to rely on food stamps. My mother worked part-time in a Chinese restaurant as a cashier and my father worked on a production line in a factory. Both were paid the minimum wage, which was $7.25 per hour at the time. Rent and utility bills amounted to 75% of my parents’ combined income.

Hardworking but in Poverty

Like many families who rely on government help, I don’t think mine fits the stereotype. Many think those who receive assistance live in shelters, or on the street. Others believe these people are lazy and don’t want to work.

But in fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research institute, more than 50% of the families who receive food stamps have jobs.

I go to Stuyvesant High School, one of the most competitive schools in the city. Because my family receives government assistance, my parents were able to save some money over the years to send me to prep courses for the entrance test, and to buy me clothing and other necessities for school.

My parents say my college degree represents the fastest way out of poverty. Social services like food stamps are helping me get there.

Where Both Parties Stand

Even though I’m too young to vote, I researched both the Republican and Democratic platforms to see where they stand on federal welfare programs. I learned that Republicans mostly want to reduce them and Democrats want to expand them.

Even though Republicans agree to keep some programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, House Speaker Paul Ryan is recommending a $23 billion cut from the SNAP budget. To me, it makes more sense to cut spending in other areas, like defense.

I’ve read that the Republican Party wants to make these cuts because they fear some people will grow dependent on that money and be less inclined to find jobs.

No doubt there are some people like that, but I think they’re the minority. As statistics show, millions of us are working hard to improve our lives, and we would rather be independent of the government. In fact, the reason I’m writing this story anonymously is because my parents don’t want anyone to know we’re on food stamps. I am proud of them and don’t think they have anything to be ashamed of, but I understand how they feel.

Raise the Minimum Wage

One way to get people like my parents off government assistance is to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. My mother now works as a part-time home care aide, and my father is still doing factory work; they both earn $10 per hour. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour is in the Democratic platform. I’m not sure if that wage is high enough to get them off food stamps, but it is a step in the right direction.

The Democrats also propose limiting future budget cuts from the SNAP program. And they want to expand Social Security by imposing a higher tax rate on people with an income higher than $250,000.

Social Security is a program that collects taxes from people who currently work and distributes that money as a monthly income to people who no longer work, such as the elderly and the disabled. Social Security is especially beneficial for people like my parents because they don’t have a lot of savings. Social Security can help them lead comfortable lives when they are too old to work.

Free Lunch at Stuyvesant

Because Stuyvesant is an elite high school, I know people hold the misconception that students who go there are either upper or middle class, and come from highly educated families. But in fact, 47% of the 3,293 students who attend Stuyvesant are categorized as economically disadvantaged according to U.S. News & World Report. Those students qualify for free or reduced lunch, which is also a government program. (I get free lunch.)

If I could vote in this election, I would pull the lever for Clinton because the Democrats have a sound plan to combat poverty. Clinton’s plan to expand public assistance and increase the minimum wage will help those in need through difficult times, so they’ll eventually be independent.

Thanks in part to government assistance, my parents were able to provide a stable life for me that’s setting me up for success. I’m going to college next year and I plan to major in economics. After I graduate, I will likely make a higher salary than my parents and I won’t need to rely on government help. What’s more, I’ll be paying more taxes, giving back to the same system that helped lift my parents out of poverty.

How to Apply for SNAP

image by YC-Art Dept

SNAP provides money for food to over 1.8 million low-income New Yorkers. Applying is easy; there are various ways your parents or guardians can do it. Go to for options. The info line is: 718-557-1399. You can apply online, have an application mailed to you, or pick one up at the centers listed. You can also print it and drop it off at one of the centers.

Get Public Benefits All in One Place

By YCteen staff

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that the writer’s parents are on and the School Meals program that provides her with free lunch are just two of many public benefits for low-income families in New York City. The city has made it easy to learn about and apply for these programs and other services: Adults can visit Single Stop Centers to meet with a support specialist who will evaluate their needs and let them know what they’re eligible for. You can get further information at (212) 480-2870 or at

SNAP – Benefits to purchase food.
School Meals – Free or reduced-priced breakfast and lunch.
Home Energy Assistance – Money to help cover heating costs.
WIC – Food, nutrition education, and breastfeeding support for women and children who need supplemental nutrition.

Health insurance payment support
Tax preparation
On-site lawyers
Social workers
Job opportunities

(Find more at From the drop-down menu on the left, select “Community Based Organizations and click “search” on the right-hand side of the page).

Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
1368 Fulton St.
Brooklyn, NY 11216

Center for Family Life
443 39th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11232

Good Shepherd Services
595 Sutter Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11207
718-346-2200 x100

Bronx Defenders
360 East 161st St.
Bronx, NY 10451

BronxWorks - Townsend Office
1477 Townsend Ave.
Bronx, NY 10452

Institute for Family Health (IFH) - Mt. Hope Family Practice
130 West Tremont Ave.
Bronx, NY 10453

Grand Street Settlement
80 Pitt St.
New York, NY 10002

Mid-Manhattan Library
455 5th Ave.
New York, NY 10016

Northern Manhattan Improvement Corp.
45 Wadsworth Ave.
New York, NY 10033

West Side Campaign Against Hunger
263 West 86th St.
New York, NY 10024
(212) 362-3662

MinKwon Center for Community Action
139-19 41st Ave.
Queens, NY 11355

Make the Road NY
92-10 Roosevelt Ave.
Queens, NY 11372

Public Health Solutions - Jamaica WIC Center
90-40 160th St.
Queens, NY 11432

Make the Road NY
161 Port Richmond Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10302
(718) 727-1222

Project Hospitality
1546 Castleton Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10304

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