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The Pride Of Self Sufficiency Meets The Reality Of Empty Cupboards

Amanda Peacher

This week we’re talking to Oregonians across the state who struggle with hunger. Yesterday we checked in with Tyra Lynn. We interviewed her more than a decade ago about her experience with food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Today, we spend time with Lynn and her sister Constance Lee, who has a different take on accepting SNAP.

Tyra Lynn is rolling pie dough in her sister’s home in Mountain Home, Idaho.

Lynn: We’re going to need more flour. I’ve got barely enough flour and I’ve only made one pie crust.

She’s visiting from Portland for Thanksgiving, and she’s taking charge of her sister’s kitchen.
Lee: It’s very typical of Tyra. She gets in the groove of things and doesn’t let anyone help.

That’s Constance Lee, Lynn’s younger sister. The two are a decade apart in age, but very close.

Lynn: We talk almost everyday on the phone. Most of what we talk about is how we talk about is how we had to do this or that to get what we needed. Just the extremes that you have to go to.

Both sisters are working, but low-income, but they support each other however they can. At sixteen, Constance Lee lived in Portland with her sister. This year, when Lynn’s twelve-year-old son Marley struggled with school, Lee moved him to Idaho to live with her.
And over the years Tyra Lynn has been a role model and teacher to her younger sister.  
But there’s one thing Constance Lee didn’t pick up from her sister. Tyra Lynn gets SNAP benefits, but Lee, doesn’t, even though she’d probably qualify on her income.   

Lee: I have a weird emotional conflict with  state assistance.

Growing up, their family relied on disability and food stamps.  Their mom had an eye disease that caused gradual blindness.

Lee: I remember the actual paper food stamps. I remember being so embarrassed to use it. I never wanted to be seen with the food stamp card.

The oldest of five kids, Tyra Lynn grew up watching her mom scrimp for their family.

Lynn has no qualms about using SNAP now. Her income has almost always been below the poverty line. She recently told her 19-year-old son, River that he should apply for benefits. He assumed he wouldn’t qualify because he was working part-time. She told him:  

Lynn: Go apply. The worse thing they could say is no. It could be just  $50 in food stamps, you can’t just let that go by.

Lynn has told her sister the same thing. But Constance Lee resists the idea.
As a young adult, when Lee started earning enough to be self-sufficient, it was a big triumph.

Lee: I didn’t have food stamps!! You know incredible that was? I didn’t need it, I wasn’t going to get it.  And it was great.

But circumstances are different now. She works nights and her husbands works days, so they don’t have to pay for child care. They’re both full-time. But it’s hard to meet expenses for their five-person household on about $2500 a month.
Lee: I just did bills yesterday. I got paid yesterday. After bills are paid I have $162 dollars for the next ten days.

With a family to feed, her resistance to being on SNAP is softening. She’s aware of what it could mean for her kids.   
Lee: If that means not having to limit--They’re three boys for crying out loud--not having to limit what they can have for after school snacks. It’s worth, it you know. I’m not too proud --Hunger will take your pride away real quick.

Lee: I think I just wanted so bad to not need it. I remember how good it felt to not need it. I just wanted so bad to not need it, you know.

By the end of that day, Constance Lee had changed her mind. She says she’ll follow her sister’s lead and apply for SNAP this month.

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