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    5 Times "Maid" Exposed The Harsh Realities Of Being Poor In America

    "I've heard from people who have never experienced anything close to poverty that they were anxious and even stressed out from the series. I think this is wonderful!"

    Note: This post contains mentions of domestic abuse.

    The Netflix series Maid follows the journey of young mother Alex after she leaves her abusive partner. Alex gets a job cleaning houses and signs up for various public assistance programs to provide for her and her little daughter, Maddy.

    Alex holds her daughter Maddy in the Netflix series "Maid"
    Ricardo Hubbs / NETFLIX / Via Netflix

    Based on the memoir by Stephanie Land, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, the series shows the harsh reality of navigating the complex world of public assistance and how devastating poverty in the US can be.   

    Land told BuzzFeed her experience on public assistance would have been far worse if she wasn’t white, especially in the conservative town she lived in. “People spoke to me (and around me) in the most racist ways, assuming that I wasn't on food stamps,” said Land. 

    Still, Land — like Alex — found that government programs provided just enough to survive while keeping you in poverty. Any slight increase in income disqualifies you from aid, making the jump from public assistance a precarious one. 

    Here are five scenes from Maid that showed what living on public assistance in America is like:

    Spoilers ahead.

    1. Alex’s EBT card doesn’t cover all the groceries she needs to buy.

    Alex cleans a house in the Netflix series "Maid"
    Ricardo Hubbs / NETFLIX / Via Netflix

    Alex uses SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to purchase groceries in Episode 4. SNAP is a program that provides benefits for purchasing food at certain stores. Funds are put onto an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which works like a debit card.

    Maid author Land said that she found SNAP easy to use, but said it’s hardly enough to buy what you need. “It also doesn't cover ‘ready to eat’ food (that is heated up, basically) or diapers, toiletries, and paper products,” she said.

    Yu-Ling Chang, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, told BuzzFeed that the restrictions on using SNAP for ready-to-eat items limits busy, working single mothers’ nutritious food options.

    Chang adds that SNAP benefits are standardized at the federal level. This can be a problem.

    “According to the self-sufficiency standard developed by the Center for Women’s Welfare, the average monthly food cost for a household with an adult and preschooler living in San Francisco in (California), for example, is $620,” said Chang. “If we compare this amount to the SNAP benefits ... The SNAP benefits are apparently insufficient for families, particularly those who are resident in an area with high-cost of living like the Bay Area.” 

    The max SNAP benefits for a two-person household is now $459, but this Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report estimates the average amount a two-person household would receive to be more like $334.

    We see a fictionalized version of SNAP’s limitations when Alex has to return a couple of items when her EBT card won’t cover everything she picked out.  

    2. Despite using grants, Alex still has trouble accessing the childcare that she needs so she can work.

    Alex holds Maddy while in the social security office in Netflix series "Maid"
    Ricardo Hubbs / NETFLIX / Via Netflix

    Alex struggles to afford and find childcare for Maddy. Maddy’s too young for school, and Alex can’t bring her to her work.

    Alex uses childcare grants to help pay for daycare, which only cover part of the costs. In turn, Alex is chided by daycare staff throughout the series for turning in late payments. 

    Maid author Land said getting childcare grants wasn’t easy, although it was the assistance she needed the most. The subsidies required lots of paperwork and specific documents.

    “I was yelled at once for a hand-written pay stub and started crying on the phone because the caseworker threatened to end my grant immediately,” said Land. “I was desperate for child care.”

    To make matters worse, Alex doesn’t have the most supportive family to help pick up the slack when daycare falls through. 

    In a 2006 interview, scholar Gwendolyn Mink remarked that labor market solutions (e.g., income supplements) are important but that social support for care is also necessary. 

    “A singular emphasis on labor market solutions to poverty obscures the economic inequalities that arise from the circumstances of caregiving,” she said.

    Alex can work and get some assistance for daycare, but she still runs into obstacles finding adequate care for her daughter because of her circumstances. 

    3. Alex's friend Danielle leaves the domestic violence shelter to return to her abusive partner.

    Danielle is shown in this still from the Netflix series "Maid"
    Ricardo Hubbs / NETFLIX / Via Netflix

    Alex is stunned when she learns that Danielle, another mother she befriended at a domestic violence shelter, has gone back to her abusive partner. This situation is true to life.

    “On average it does take a survivor seven times … to leave their abusive partner for good,” said Christina So, communications director for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, in an interview with BuzzFeed. “Leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for a survivor of domestic violence. Numerous obstacles can stop a survivor from leaving.”

    (Note: The Hotline partnered with "Maid" post-production to make sure the content was survivor-centered and provided resources to viewers. Those are located here.)

    Anti-domestic violence advocate Sarah M. Buel wrote “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.” Some of the reasons she listed are:

    • Love: Many abusers are initially charming, making it hard for victims to change their feelings when problems arise.

    • Financial despair: The victim believes they can’t support themselves or their family without the abuser’s assistance.

    • Fear of losing child custody: The abuser has threatened to obtain custody of children if the victim leaves.   

    4. Alex has trouble finding an apartment even with rental assistance.

    Alex carries cleaning equipment to her car in the Netflix series "Maid"
    Ricardo Hubbs / NETFLIX / Via Netflix

    Alex and Maddy are able to find transitional housing after living in the domestic violence shelter. 

    However, their apartment’s walls are filled with black mold that starts to make Maddy sick. Alex is forced to find a new place.

    As Alex seeks out a new apartment, we’re witness to a montage of landlords slamming the door in her face when she brings up TBRA — tenant-based rental assistance.  

    Trina R. Shanks, a professor and director at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work, told BuzzFeed that there are positives to rental assistance programs like Section 8. For example, guaranteed direct payment from the government for almost all of the monthly rent amount.

    However, there are major restraints on such programs — market rates might be too high to accommodate low-wage residents, and to apply in the first place, tenants must be very low income.

    “There are also strict inspections with quality standards that must be met prior to the renter moving in and then on an ongoing basis (typically annually),” said Shanks. “Then the landlord must quickly repair anything that is not up to code. In some circumstances, residents can go directly to the housing authority with a complaint about the property or landlord and get payments withheld.” 

    5. Like Danielle, Alex also has trouble leaving her abusive partner.

    Sean is shown in this still from Netflix series "Maid"
    Ricardo Hubbs / NETFLIX / Via Netflix

    Alex finds herself returning to her abuser, Sean. Several factors keep her trapped with him: She’s homeless and lost her job and her car. (Two other common reasons why people stay with their abusers which Buel includes her piece are homelessness and lack of transportation.)

    Alex becomes dependent on Sean as he has income and housing.

    Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of domestic violence,” said So of National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Financial or economic abuse occurs when an abusive partner extends their power and control into your financial situation.”

    Some people in Alex’s position may not even escape with government aid. The major public assistance program TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, fails domestic violence victims, according to a joint report by the Women’s Legal Defense Fund and National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. 

    “Although TANF works well for some victims in some locations, access barriers are far too common and benefits far too low, and in many cases these inadequacies mean some victims will not be safe,” the report reads. 

    Poverty and domestic violence are intersecting issues — many women receiving public assistance have reported being abused.

    Land herself considered re-applying for TANF after leaving her abuser but walked out of the office after this incident:

    “When you sign up for TANF, you have to give them your child support,” said Land. “If you're not receiving child support, you have to go out and try to get it. This usually means going to court. The woman next to me in line had also just left someone violent and burst into tears at the thought of contacting him for child support.”  

    Luckily for Alex, she’s able to escape her circumstances and attend college with Maddy in tow.

    In real life, Land moved to Missoula, Montana, graduated from college, and has made a career out of her passion for writing.

    If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship abuse in any form, help is available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides free, confidential support 24/7/365. Text START to 88788, call 1-800-799-SAFE(7233), or chat online at

    How do you relate to the situations shown in Maid? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

    And for more stories about life and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.