A mother of two in Detroit who won $1 million in the state lottery last September may be the most hated woman on the Internet this morning. That's because despite her big win -- after taxes she took home about $500,000 -- until very recently, she's still been receiving $200 a month in food stamps to feed her and her children. The mom bought a new home and car with her winnings and says she's still "struggling," which is why she continued to receive state assistance:
"I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn't I thought maybe it was OK because I'm not working ... I feel that it's OK because I have no income, and I have bills to pay. I have two houses."
For the many, many people who also are struggling but haven't won the lottery, that's a really difficult statement to swallow. But this woman doesn't need our judgement and hate. What she really needs is: help.
It was dishonest (and likely illegal) for this woman to continue to receive benefits after her financial situation improved. But her story is much more layered than a simple question of right and wrong.
For people who are good at managing their money, it's easy to see what this woman should have done with her winnings: get off assistance, pay off any debts, get a job to pay her bills. But it isn't so obvious for people like this mom who don't have that skill. Unfortunately, this story highlights one of the sobering truths about many people on welfare: It's not that they don't have any money, it's that they don't know how to manage it.
There's another question that should be running through your mind right about now: How was the mom even allowed to do this in the first place? Well, the Department of Human Services relies on clients being forthcoming about their actual financial status. In this case, the woman was not forthcoming because she believed she was still "struggling" and wanted to make sure her kids had enough to eat. We can criticize her all we want for not making the "moral" choice, but there are a lot of people in the world who would take free money if it was offered to them. The state's system is to blame, too.
I think everyone would agree that this woman absolutely needs to pay the money back. But maybe our judgement could stop there. It's tempting to be angry that someone would be so frivolous and irresponsible; a more compassionate reaction is to be angry that so many people don't have the skills they need to be off assistance and successful.
What do you think should happen to this mom?