Mercedes and Food Stamps

The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.

Horace Walpole

In the unintentionally hilarious humor category we have the article by Darlena Cunha, a former television producer, which appeared in the Washington Post about how irked she felt when she was judged by people as she drove up in her 2003 Mercedes to pick up her food stamps.

That’s the funny thing about being poor. Everyone has an opinion on it, and everyone feels entitled to share. That was especially true about my husband’s Mercedes. Over and over again, people asked why we kept that car, offering to sell it in their yards or on the Internet for us.

“You can’t be that bad off,” a distant relative said, after inviting himself over for lunch. “You still got that baby in all its glory.”

Sometimes, it was more direct. All from a place of love, of course. “Sell the Mercedes,” a friend said to me. “He doesn’t get to keep his toys now.”

But it wasn’t a toy — it was paid off. My husband bought that car in full long before we met. Were we supposed to trade it in for a crappier car we’d have to make payments on? Only to have that less reliable car break down on us?

Go here to read the rest.  Well yes, actually, you should have sold the Mercedes prior to sponging off the government.  That is what most people used to do back when most people had pride, realized that they had a duty to support themselves, and understood that any form of government support should be a last resort.  I frequently counsel people who are down on their luck financially as part of my bankruptcy practice and one of the first things I tell them is to sell off expensive cars and anything else that can bring in needed cash.

Reading Ms. Cunha’s article we find that her hubbie is a journalist and he was unemployed for years until a new journalism gig opened up.  Sorry, when a man has a family he has a duty to support that family and if that means taking a job outside of his field that is what you do.  Instead, he was content to have his family take welfare benefits rather than do that.

The primary reason this country is in the mess it is in is because we have forgotten some key truths about the human condition.  One of those truths was summed up nicely by President Calvin Coolidge.  That terse Yankee didn’t say much compared to most politicians, but when he did it was almost always something to heed:

“The people cannot look to legislation generally for success. Industry, thrift, character, are not conferred by act or resolve. Government cannot relieve from toil. It can provide no substitute for the rewards of service. It can, of course, care for the defective and recognize distinguished merit. The normal must care for themselves. Self-government means self-support.”

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19 Comments

  1. “You should have sold the Mercedes prior to sponging off the government”

    No, I absolutely don’t agree at all. If they were down on their luck enough to apply for WIC or food stamps, they probably didn’t have enough spare cash to buy a used car without borrowing money and the LAST thing they needed was to take on more debt. Perhaps they could have gotten by on one car (her Honda), but if he was out going to job interviews, trying to get freelance work, etc. and she was trying to take their babies to doctor appointments, shopping, etc. at the same time, that might have been a problem. Perhaps one of them could have used public transportation, but we don’t know what options were available to them, how much it cost or whether the routes and schedules took them where they needed to go. And expecting people whose income is low enough to qualify for food stamps to pay for taxi service — no way. Have you ever tried doing your grocery shopping on a city bus because you have no car and can’t afford to pay for a taxi? I have — for two whole months — and I really don’t want to do it again.

    “When a man has a family he has a duty to support that family, and if that means taking a job outside of his field, that is what you do.”

    Assuming that anyone was willing to hire him outside of his field. The article doesn’t say how many or what other type of jobs he applied for. Nowhere does it say that he was “content to have his family take welfare benefits” in the meantime.

    At least no one told her “you shouldn’t have had kids if you couldn’t afford them,” or if anyone did, she doesn’t mention it. Of course, when she concieved those children she and her fiance were still employed and they COULD afford them — something that the people who berate single mothers on food stamps, welfare, etc., don’t seem to take into account.

    All that said, I think people are misinterpreting the point of her article. I don’t think she’s trying say that being forced to drive a used Mercedes is the end of the world; she’s simply pointing out that it is possible for hard-working, respectable, well-educated, middle class people to find themselves in a situation where they need the very benefits they scorn others for taking.

  2. And no, I DON’T think this article is at all funny or “hilarious.” I suppose having lost a job in the journalism field myself and having to get by on half the income I had before for two years afterward, kind of takes the humor out of it.

  3. Now, after watching the After Hours clip I am way more ticked off by THEIR smugness and judgmental attitude than I am by Cunha’s! They do make some valid points — for example, why is she thanking Obama, rather than her family, friends and neighbors, for the help she received? — but them accusing her of being judgmental is, in my opinion, a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

  4. How did he afford a Benz on a journalist’s salary? That’s a vehicle for real-estate developers and senior corporate executives who’ve got a megawad of spare cash sloshing around. And what’s the point of owning one? A car needs to be reliable enough in your climate to get you from point A to point B. If you want something handsome to own, go to a convention, buy a 1931 Packard, and teach yourself to repair it.

  5. Keep the Mercedes–it probably runs well, and go get a job at Wal-Mart. I know a professional to lost his job, who (although he didn’t have a Mercedes) went to work at Wal-Mart. Alternatively, keep the Mercedes and move to North Dakota and work in the oil fields.

  6. “they probably didn’t have enough spare cash to buy a used car without borrowing money”

    I represent the major dealership in my town. They routinely will swap used low end cars for high end used cars with a cash payment to the seller in addition to the low end car. The low end cars have a one year warranty. This isn’t rocket science and I am constantly surprised in my practice that more people can’t think up fairly simple stratagems like this on their own to get cash and cut expenses.

  7. “Assuming that anyone was willing to hire him outside of his field.”

    Unless he is a drunk or a druggie, I could have found him a job in 60 days. He would not have liked the job I would have found for him no doubt, but he would have been employed and been able to use his own funds to support his family rather than relying on the largesse of Uncle Sucker.

  8. “Elaine Krewer on Saturday, July 12, A.D. 2014 at 10:12am (Edit) And no, I DON’T think this article is at all funny or “hilarious.””

    Tastes will vary Elaine. I think it takes a heart of stone not to laugh at this over educated twit with a sense of entitlement a mile high. My Dad didn’t finish high school and my mom had a high school degree, and both of them would have preferred to eat ground glass than rely upon government assistance. No doubt Ms. Cunha and her spouse would have looked down their noses at the blue collar jobs held by my parents, so infinitely more respectable to be the recipients of handouts.

  9. They should have been able to find some sort of work without resorting to welfare.
    One was a TV producer and the other was a journalist. They should have been able to find something, be it a manager at Dunkin Donuts or work the floor at Home Depot or some similar work. Were they willing to move?

    This couple sounds like they were lifelong East Coast residents who think the world ends on the other side of I-95 and they weren’t about to sully themselves by moving west.

  10. I lost a fairly well paying job in the journalism field in 2004. At the time my husband was the stay at home parent homeschooling our daughter, but he found a part time job immediately, and we hastily enrolled our daughter in public school, while I looked for other employment. Out of the same old-fashioned sense of shame that your parents’ generation, and mine, had — “we’d rather starve than take a government handout” — I jumped on the first job that was offered to me, despite the fact that it paid only half of what I was earning before, and paid LESS than what I was getting in unemployment compensation.

    In retrospect, I believe that might have been a mistake, since hastily taking on that job and its attendant expenses (e.g. a long commute) left us even worse off financially (even though we sold our home and moved to a new city) and caused us to incur debt that took years to pay off. If I had it to do over again I would have held out longer and kept looking for something better, instead of letting my pride get in the way too quickly. I should add that I never applied for food stamps or TANF even though we probably could have qualified for them — again, because I didn’t feel we really needed them and didn’t want to live off the government dole more than we already were.

    Yes, I understand that we do not want to encourage people to spend their whole lives on the government dole, but is one really morally obligated to give up or refuse benefits for which one has LEGALLY qualified (whether or not the benefit programs in question are too generous or unsustainable is an issue that government officials and voters have to determine) in order to take any job at all, even if it leaves your family in a bigger financial hole than before?

    Also, selling off certain assets like a reliable car in order to exhaust the proceeds before resorting to government assistance can be counterproductive. For example, what if you need the car to get to work or to job interviews? Is giving it up in favor of a “beater” that breaks down constantly and leaves you stranded with no way to fix it (Ms. Cunha drove her husband’s Mercedes to the WIC office ONLY because her Honda would not start that day) really going to help you get off the dole quicker?

    The same applies to people who insist that food stamp recipients should not have internet access or cellphones — OK, I agree they don’t need the latest version of every smartphone, but there are quite a few jobs for which one can ONLY apply online and which expect you to be reachable at all times. I just don’t see the wisdom or virtue in selling off a FULLY PAID FOR asset that could legitimately be used in a job search or to perform the duties of a job that could be offered. Even if Ms. Cunha and her husband were a bit too picky about maintaining the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed, and even if her embarrassment at driving to the welfare office in a Mercedes was appropriate, I still think there was nothing wrong with letting them keep it.

  11. Penquins Fan,
    Many poor work and are still living in shelters. I saw one lady on tv who had three children, three bottom rung jobs, and she and the children lived in a shelter. Often they are in cities wherein low cost housing is taken quickly by their poor competitors and that leaves shelters or rents designed for the middle class jobs.
    Here is a lady working two jobs and still in a shelter which is a form of welfare:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/nyregion/in-new-york-having-a-job-or-2-doesnt-mean-having-a-home.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

  12. “Yes, I understand that we do not want to encourage people to spend their whole lives on the government dole, but is one really morally obligated to give up or refuse benefits for which one has LEGALLY qualified (whether or not the benefit programs in question are too generous or unsustainable is an issue that government officials and voters have to determine) in order to take any job at all, even if it leaves your family in a bigger financial hole than before?”

    For many reasons I think any type of honest work Elaine is better than relying on government assistance, not least of which is the impact it has on a person’s self respect. If it has zero impact on a person’s self respect than the self respect has already vanished. This of course does not apply to people who through no fault of their own are unable to work, or are in a catastrophic situation, like a child having liver cancer, where some form of government help cannot be avoided. However, these type of situations are the exception and not the rule for the vast majority of people currently taking the myriad of government benefits available today for simply existing.

  13. Another detail that seems to have been overlooked is that Ms. Cunha did NOT sign up for “food stamps” or SNAP; she enrolled in WIC, a different program that is open only to pregnant, postpartum and nursing mothers and to children under age 5 who must prove, among other things, that they would be in danger of being malnourished without it:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WIC

  14. True Elaine, although I think it is a distinction without a difference. Of course I assume that she is the one who chose to entitle her post:

    “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps”,

    so I assume she must not think there is much, if any, difference either.

  15. Also — and I promise to shut up after this — if you look at pictures of a 2003 Mercedes Kompressor online, it looks like a run of the mill mid-size sedan that would not be out of place in any middle-class suburban garage. Not flashy or ostentatious.

  16. The problem isn’t the Benz. It’s that unlimited government (interfering in markets causing misallocations of economic resources; crony-corporate welfare; excess regulations; high taxes) has destroyed millions of middle class families.

  17. Bill,

    I know that there are working poor – poor people who take any job they can get and still don’t have enough. My paternal grandparents found themselves in such situations, although they never had to live in shelters. One of the gentlemen who took care of my dad when he was in a respiratory rehabilitative clinic was just such a man. He was a wonderful person, drove a 30 year old car and came to my dad’s funeral.

    My point is that a journalist and a TV producer could have found other work. I stand by that.

  18. Elaine-
    that you missed some considerations when you chose an offer to take doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea to find work ASAP, it means you need to pay attention to those considerations. Part of why I’m a house-wife is that it would make no economic sense to do otherwise.
    .
    This woman is whining about people asking why she’s driving a car with a high value and taking other people’s money, when a quick check of KBB contrasting the expensive car (I don’t care what it looks like, I’m looking at the trade-in value) is half again as much as a similar Kia.
    Dang straight people feel “entitled to share” when they are funding your life style.

  19. I should note, I told KBB to check the trade-in value for the most basic Mercedes, and the sale value of the Kia; had it do a “standard equip” for both and copied the automatically guessed mileage to the Kia.

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