i got quite a laugh out of that bid by some local politicians to live on a welfare budget for a week. I hazard to say they missed the point. Living on welfare is not so much about counting out your pennies at the bulk food store, although I resort to that about once a month. It's more about changing your definition of currency -- and being willing to break some rules.
I got inspiration from another "single mom/artist on welfare" who actually made it look easy and fun to live that way.
She and I rented a half-million-dollar home on our welfare budget during my baby's first winter. The rent was $1,250 a month. We rented the third bedroom to a couple who ran a good-eats café in town (and brought leftovers home) who lived on a float house on their days off. This way, we were able to afford things like phone bills and vehicle insurance.
Our survival techniques included busking outside liquor stores, singing three-chord songs, and cleaning bed-and-breakfasts.
Sure, we had a few scams going on, but we didn't call them that. For us it was about getting the most out of what "they" would give us and using the money in the best possible way for our physical and emotional well-being.
Instead of buying the bed they thought we needed, easily found for free, furniture grants were spent on guitars and well-deserved vacations.
Hydro bills were never paid. A little-known loophole that forces welfare to pick up the tab once a cut-off notice is issued took care of that. We always spent several tense days wondering if we'd be without power. And then the phone calls from welfare: "Yes ma'am, I'll try to budget better next time. Thank you very much."
Since I've been on the payout list on and off since the birth of my child, I've experienced direct resentment from people who think I should be making my own money. "Get a job" is our cultural answer to better living.
Meanwhile, the same people are simultaneously in awe of my beautiful child (snapping photos for their portfolio) and, if they spend three or four hours alone with her, in awe of my ability to keep up with her. I've put many young women off childbearing.
Could it be that I'm actually already doing a job that's simply unpaid and unrecognized?
Marilyn Waring, author of If Women Counted, says that "if the boundaries of what is considered production were extended to include unpaid household work, all people engaged in those activities would be considered self-employed."
Welfare recipients are often depicted as criminals with no sense of social responsibility. But it's the system itself that criminalizes us. We cannot survive on the allowable allotment.
Right now in Ontario, we are only "allowed" to earn $250 a month in addition to our cheque (which isn't even enough to cover basics).
Working under the table is a victimless crime, I say.
Every extra cent I earn goes into our "retirement-from-welfare fund," a secret numbered account in the kid's name. Usually, though, the "extra" 50 bucks is more likely to pay the phone bill or buy that winter jacket from Value Village.
For the most part, welfare workers appear to be on our side. They give helpful suggestions off the record.
"If you're living in a shelter, you'll go to the top of the subsidized housing list," whisper the office walls. "Go to the doctor for a high-protein diet prescription," says another. "Just volunteer one hour a month -- it's worth an extra hundred," sing the sirens of the social safety net.
But it's never easy. My welfare cheque was cut by a third last month. I've racked my brain, but can't think of anything else but sending the kid out to work while I stay at home trying to build my multi-million-dollar enterprise.
She doesn't know it yet, but my four-year-old is the perfect poster girl for the anti-globalization movement -- small and beautiful.
I'm teaching her to debunk the myths of the capitalist economic world order. We sing the Canadian national anthem backwards. We practise hacking on the Revenue Canada site.
I asked her if she would mind working to support Mommy, and she said, "I'll do it just for you." I'm figuring the acting career I have planned for her will give her all the extra-curricular activities I wouldn't otherwise be able to afford. I'm hoping it'll include free lunches.
At this point I can see no other option. I can't leave her to go to work myself when the childcare costs are more than I could make. Her hands move quick, so I'm considering teaching her rug-making.
I had high hopes for her in the beginning, of sending her to a good school, feeding her well, but that just hasn't worked out.At least I don't live in the U.S., where some people want to take all "illegitimate" kids from their young mothers.
I cycle or walk everywhere -- TTC is too expensive. I enjoy fasting. I don't envy all the working-rich drones drinking their frothy $5-a-day habits. I pity them. My colon will last longer.Maggie Jones is a pseudonym.