Tim Sutton



—Alamance County, NC, politician—

My wife and I had two boys and she had a daughter, my step-daughter.  My wife did not work ever until I lost a job, the job at the bank.  I wanted her home with the kids and we sacrificed a lot of our material gains, but as a family, we were a better family unit.  My mother never worked.  I never knew my mother to have a job. And years ago, the wives and the mothers were home.  Every mother in my neighborhood when I was a kid in Virginia and Alabama was home.  Nobody worked.

My wife and I, we qualified for reduced lunches at our kids’ schools, and I was shocked that I did.  That was my first exposure that the limits are not as they should be.  I had an apartment.  I had a new car sitting outside.  We had nice clothes.  I bought records every time I wanted a record.  That’s back before CDs.  I had my share of…I mean, I could always buy a beer if I wanted to drink beer, if I wanted to have a steak if we went out to eat. But we didn’t take vacations to Florida, you know? Our family was so tight that even my own janitor in the office that I worked in rode by one time and said, “Don’t you ever go anywhere?” because he always saw my car there. But we were happy.  We were home.  We were a family.  We didn’t need to go anywhere. But we did go places, but we didn’t travel much until the boys got big enough to where I wanted to have them.  They were babies, and we didn’t want to go to the beaches with them being babies. But when they finally got old enough, we did travel.

My father used to tell me “Tim, you need to budget.  You need to budget.  You need to budget.”  “I’m budgeting,” I said. “When your own janitor comes by and says, ‘Don’t you ever go anywhere?’ the janitor! I feel like I’m doing pretty well.” But we qualified for reduced lunches, but I resented it.  I knew that fiscally it was excess, the program was excess and people should need it more in my opinion.  Wouldn’t it be a sin—because I had no other income—wouldn’t it be a sin for me to have reduced lunches at my kids’ school and a new Thunderbird sitting in the driveway? Because that’s what it was.  So yes, there was something wrong.  That was in 1980 roughly, thirty-two years ago.

But you know what I did?  I called.  I was a citizen.  I wasn’t even an elected official.  I called my Congressman and I said, “I should not qualify for reduced lunches.  There’s something wrong here.”  That’s how conservative I am.  I live by principle there. And he said, “Well, Tim, that’s the way it is.”

No, my family directly has never received public assistance, you know, my wife and me with the kids at home.  Now since the kids have gone out, they’ve had problems with jobs, and they’ve had personal problems, and they’ve had domestic issues and I think there’s been issues of public assistance. Medicaid possibly.  I’m not going to lie to you. And possibly food stamps.  I’ve never seen it. But never directly with my family, I mean, my wife.  I have to be honest about the Medicaid.  I don’t criticize. I’ve talked to my kids about this over the years.  I mean this stretches over twenty years obviously, but I’ve talked to them about the reduced lunches.  I resent them using reduced lunches, and I say, “Look, if I’ve got to pay it, I’ll pay it.  You don’t need to be having my grandson going through the line with reduced lunches,” because I do think kids get ostracized.

When I was in high school in South Carolina, you paid your lunch and you got a certain color meal ticket.  The people on reduced lunches had the purple ticket, and when you saw them turn in that purple ticket, the kid that didn’t have to have the purple ticket looked down upon them. So I didn’t like that either.  I saw that a lot.  Medicaid is a different issue because people do not have insurance.  That’s another study you ought to look at.

Fraud in the Old Days

Well, we know the old myth that they come in with food stamps and go out and get in a big SUV or Cadillac.  I can tell you from being the primary shopper in my family what I’ve seen.  I’ve seen a lot of abuse.  Back when they had the actual stamp before they went to the card, I saw people, kids even, come in and they would buy Kool-Aid knowing that that was the cheapest thing you could buy with food stamps and then get the change back.  I saw it dozens of times.

Tim Sutton is a County Commissioner for Alamance County. He is Caucasian, in his sixties, and was interviewed by Elon Student Greg Honan on October 10, 2012.

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