steering wheel

When you think of a mom who is on government assistance, a certain image usually comes to mind. It's true whether you are willing to admit it or not. So it's not a surprise that Darlena Cunha's recent confession has caused quite a stir. The mom of twins admits to being on food stamps and driving a Mercedes. The thought seems to incense people. In their minds, she can't possibly deserve the help. She must be cheating the system.

However, Cunha's story is becoming an all too familiar one these days. Once a part of the middle class, she and her husband hit some seriously hard times. She was a TV producer and her husband a copy editor for a newspaper, living in a lovely home. Though shortly after they made the purchase, the market crashed and their $240,000 piece of property was suddenly worth $150,000. That is certainly a tragic turn we have all heard of or personally experienced.

They were stunned but were still able to make their lofty mortgage payments until her husband lost his job two weeks before their twins were born. Now the family that once bought in $120,000 made just $25,000. Needless to say, they ran through their savings. With so many mouths to feed and medical needs of her six-week premature babies, she had no choice but to seek public assistance. And it was not an easy process by any means. They had to prove they were poor enough to warrant the help. They were.

Yes, they had a Mercedes. A 2003 Mercedes. And though they were criticized for keeping such a "fancy car" while using food stamps, Cunha makes an excellent argument for why they did. It had been paid off a decade ago -- so no car note. What are they to do -- sell it and then buy a less flashy car so that it looks better? To placate everyone around them? Let's get real here: a car that old isn't worth that much at this point anyway.

It wasn't as though they were living a lavish lifestyle, taking extravagant vacations, or buying expensive clothes all while getting free food. Their circumstance isn't easy. She describes the disdainful looks and comments she received after whipping out her food stamps at the grocery checkout. No one deserves that. Like many others, this college-educated woman never envisioned her life taking this turn. But it has.

And why shouldn't they keep one nice vestige of their former life? Who are we to judge? And that's the problem, isn't it? We are so quick to pass judgment when we don't fully understand the situation and that just isn't fair.

Do you think it's wrong for Cunha's family to keep the Mercedes?

 

Image © Arman Zhenikeyev/Corbis