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'Please, Let Me Have That Problem,' Says 47 Percenter And Business Owner

Jeffrey Young   |   September 21, 2012    2:32 PM ET

Doug Walter seems like just the sort of self-starting, up-by-the-bootstraps small-business owner with whom politicians like to have their pictures taken. When Walter got laid off and couldn't find work for almost three years, he decided to take job-creating into his own hands and open a consignment shop in southeastern Pennsylvania.

But what distinguishes Walter, a 45-year-old husband and father of four, from the entrepreneurs routinely praised by officeholders and candidates is that he's one of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's 47-percenters. Walter didn't make enough last year to pay federal income taxes and doesn't expect he will this year, either. And during a rough past few years, Walter has taken advantage of assistance from government programs designed to give people a hand when they're down.

Romney caused a stir with comments he made during a fundraiser in May about low-income Americans. The comments came to light when secretly recorded video of the remarks found its way to The Huffington Post and Mother Jones last week.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney told donors at the private $10,000-a-head fundraiser.

"All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it," Romney said.

Walter sees a parallel between the damage these statements caused Romney and the continuing fallout from a comment President Barack Obama probably wishes he'd never hear again. "To my very conservative friends, I laughed and said, 'Well, this is Romney's 'You didn't build that','" said Walter, who lives in Ivyland and operates his store in nearby Warrington, about 30 miles north of Philadelphia.

And Romney's got a point -- sort of, said Walter. "He's right. Half of America doesn't pay taxes. But you know, there's a difference between making $23,000 and not paying taxes and making $223,000 and not paying taxes. There's a huge difference."

As Walter tries to build his business and hopes one day to be able to pay himself a salary, he's confounded by rich people who complain about paying taxes. "Oh, please, let me have that problem," he said.

The wealthy ought to appreciate where their tax dollars go, as Walter sees it. "Taxes are paid so that the community remains whole, OK? Simply put, rich people pay taxes so that their government and their local municipalities will keep them safe from the people who don't have money."

For Walter, his neighbors and others struggling since the Great Recession began in 2007, not paying taxes isn't a boon. "I don't think they want the government to pay their way, to give them food, clothing and shelter," he said. "They would rather do something for themselves."

"I see there's people who just want to wear their pajamas outside and collect that government check once a month and they're OK with that," Walter said. "But that standard of living is not what most people want."

For Walter, the assistance he's received has been a means to get back on his feet and a way to eventually not have to rely on help from the government. He was paid unemployment insurance for the full 99 weeks allowed and received food stamps for a while. He will get help paying his heating bills this winter, and qualified for needs-based grants that cover the costs of his youngest child attending Pennsylvania State University.

Signing up for unemployment felt "wrong" at first and Walter didn't fight when his food stamp benefits were taken away. "I had pants with no holes in them and so I kind of felt like maybe I didn't belong there. I can still afford $12 jeans at Walmart so maybe I don't need to be there," he said of the government office that handled his food assistance.

So does Walter feel like Romney was talking about him? "I mean, my daughter's going to school for no charge to me. I think that type of blanket statement like that would definitely apply to me," he said.

More On HuffPost:

Sabrina Siddiqui   |   September 21, 2012    1:10 PM ET

President Barack Obama is stepping up his attack on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's controversial 47 percent comments, taking his opponent to task over the issue in his first appearance on the stump since the video of Romney's remarks at a private fundraiser was uncovered earlier this week.

"I don't believe we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims, who think that they're not interested in taking responsibility for their own lives," Obama said at a campaign rally in Woodbridge, Va.

"I don't see a lot of victims in this crowd today. I see a lot of hard-working Virginians," he added to loud cheers.

Just a day before, Obama knocked Romney for his remarks at a forum with Spanish-language news network Univision and looped them into the narrative of the GOP nominee being out of touch with the American people.

“When you express the attitude that half the country considers themselves victims and wants to be dependent on government, my thinking is that you haven’t gotten around a lot," Obama said.

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, confirmed to reporters earlier this week that Romney's 47 percent comments would factor into their messaging moving forward.

Obama's speech on Friday made it clear that part of that messaging would include a more aggressive tone, suggesting to voters that Romney's comments are reflective of a larger perception that undermines the ability of half of the nation's constituents to work hard and succeed.

Ian Gray   |   September 21, 2012   12:43 PM ET

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Steve Israel said Friday he thinks the party can use GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's comment dismissing "47 percent" of Americans to fight Republicans lower on the ticket, comparing the opportunity to the boost Democrats got in August when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was named the GOP vice presidential candidate and Rep. Todd Akin made comments on "legitimate rape."

The New York congressman told reporters Friday Democrats will use Romney's "47 percent" statement as much as possible, including it in campaign ads in priority districts.

"It's not the statements that bother me," he said of Romney's claim that 47 percent of people are dependent on government and don't want to change. "It's what they believe."

The DCCC outraised its Republican counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, by more than $4.8 million in August, although the GOP group still has more cash on hand.

Israel said he is hopeful Democrats can take back the House, which they lost control of in 2010. The committee highlighted 12 candidates from districts picked to be a part of the DCCC's Red to Blue program, an effort to focus on Republican-held seats the campaign committee believes will be competitive for Democrats in the fall.

"Races that were on the bubble in the beginning of August are now in play," Israel said. "The wind is at our backs."

But Israel was less bullish than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was earlier this month when she predicted that Democrats have "a very excellent chance" at retaking the majority in November. When asked about reports predicting that Democrats will pick up less than the 25 seats necessary to reclaim the majority, Israel claimed he does not "get wrapped up in independent analyses."

He highlighted conservative leaning super PACs and state voter ID laws as obstacles for Democrats in November.

"If the Republicans are claiming that they're going to spend $80 to a $100 million against us. ... No surprise there," he said. "If they're truly going to spend $80 to $100 million against us, we're going to have to rely on allies to reduce that spending disparity."

Daniel Lippman   |   September 21, 2012   11:49 AM ET

A GOP Senate candidate in a solidly red state is distancing himself from Mitt Romney's controversial comments that "47 percent" of the American public is "dependent on government," joining several other Republicans in down-ballot races who are running away from their presidential nominee.

Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.) is running against former Democratic state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad in a race that continues to be close. When asked whether he agreed with Romney's characterization of nearly half the country, Berg said "absolutely not."

"The American way is you probably start at a zero tax rate and you work yourself up," he said, according to the Washington Post. "I mean, that’s where I come from. I just think it's unfortunate how that came out. I haven't talked to him personally about that. But from my perspective, we need to help people up. We need to lift them up, help them have the opportunity to succeed,” Berg said.

Berg joins a host of other GOP Senate candidates who have said they disagreed with Romney's "47 percent" remarks: Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), as well as George Allen in Virginia, Linda Lingle in Hawaii and Linda McMahon in Connecticut.

Some Republican House candidates running for reelection also have voiced concerns about the comments.

"I disagree with his comment," Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) said, according to the Washington Post. "My own view is that every American, whether they're taking more than they're giving, wants to be in the other position and will do everything to do that. And it should be our goal to do that. The only way we're going to do that is to get this economy turned around."

Mark Meadows, a GOP candidate running in North Carolina's 11th Congressional District, on Wednesday said during a television debate: "It might come as a surprise, but Mitt Romney didn't call me before he made those comments and ask for my advice."

"I'm concerned about all 750,000 people" in 11th District, he added. "I am here to represent the people of this district."

47 Percenter: 'I'm Not Sure I Want Him As My President'

Saki Knafo   |   September 20, 2012    7:14 PM ET

Cayt Lawley is a 22-year-old Walmart worker from Arkansas who says that the secretly videotaped statements made by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney about the 47 percent may have cost him her vote. "Everybody in my family's been Republican," she said. "It goes back in my family. I really supported his conservative values, and he seems laid back. And he seemed like he was going to fight for America to get back to America. Now with him calling us lazy, saying we want a handout, I'm not sure I want him as my president."

As a cashier at Walmart, Lawley earns $7.95 an hour -- not enough to cover the costs of food and rent, or health insurance. "I would love to be one of the people who didn't have to have a handout," she said.

Lawley recently joined an organization that is trying to unionize Walmart workers. She was reluctant at first, but after she received a disciplinary notice for missing a day of work, she concluded that it was worth the risk of getting into further trouble with management. "I was very scared," she said. "But when I really realized what they were fighting for, I knew it was a fight that was worth it."

"While some people, Mitt Romney for example, might think it's our fault, that we're lazy and we just want a handout, if the Waltons would give out a little of what they have, we wouldn't have this problem."

Muslim On The 47 Percent: Islam Says Governments Have "Responsibility To Provide" For The People

Jaweed Kaleem   |   September 20, 2012    4:29 PM ET

For 14 years, Umar Hakim has devoted his life to working with people who depend on food stamps, public housing, homeless shelters, Medicaid and Social Security to survive.

As the associate director of ILM, a nonprofit grassroots organization founded by Muslims in Los Angeles, Hakim said he focuses on "everything Mitt Romney is ignoring" as the controversy continues over comments the Republican presidential candidate made in a leaked video about Americans who benefit from entitlement programs.

In the video, which was released this week but recorded at a May event in Florida, Romney tells donors that he cannot appeal to 47 percent of voters because they are "dependent on government" and "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing." He added that he could "never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Hakim, who grew up in Compton, a Southern California city with a troubled history of poverty and violence, said he is thankful he never had to depend on government assistance as a working adult. But as someone whose work exposes him to struggling populations, from the chronically homeless residents of Skid Row in the city's downtown to the newly unemployed, Hakim said he feels for Americans now being dubbed the "47 percent."

Hakim said his organization, whose name comes from the Arabic word for "knowledge," works with people of all faiths in providing education, job training and medical care to the needy, but he emphasized that the inspiration for his work comes from Islam.

"Allah tells us to provide for the people. The fourth pillar of Islam is charity -- we call it zakat. Islam is structured to have open charity for those who are in need. It's second nature to Muslims to care for mankind by providing social services," said Hakim, 42.

"If you study the history of Islam and dig into the life of the Prophet Muhammed, you will see examples of how Islam grew from a small band of people into a government and how they provided for the people through zakat," he said. "It's almost like a system of welfare. In Islam, if you are a ruler of an Islamic community, you have responsibility to provide for your community."

Each year during Ramadan, Hakim and ILM volunteers organize Humanitarian Day, a service event where they go to impoverished communities to hand out food, offer medical screenings for problems like diabetes and hypertension, and teach self-care skills to struggling Americans. This year, the group held the event in eight California cities.

"The people we work with are everyday people having a hard time navigating through jobless America," said Hakim. "Mitt's comments are a direct result of him not being connected to the people and ignoring the climate of this country."

Disabled Veteran 47 Percenter: 'I Guess I'm One Of The Leeches On The System'

John Rudolf   |   September 20, 2012    3:00 PM ET

CAMDEN, N.J. -- John Hoskins is not proud of his dependence on government. He scrapes by on a $900 monthly check from the Veterans Administration and $16 in food stamps. Sometimes he struggles just to pay his utilities and keep food in the fridge.

Hoskins, 67, enlisted in the Army's elite 101st Airborne division in 1963 and saw two harrowing years of combat in Vietnam, where his reconnaissance unit was repeatedly air-dropped into the jungle behind enemy lines. Today he is disabled, suffering from diabetes and confined to a wheelchair. A month ago, his left foot was amputated due to a blood infection.

He readily admits that he is among the 47 percent of Americans that pay no federal income taxes and rely on government assistance -- a group derided as freeloaders by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in comments secretly recorded at a high-priced fundraiser in May.

"I guess I'm one of the leeches on the system," he said. "But look at me. What can I do?"

But Hoskins rejects Romney's contention that he will vote for President Barack Obama "no matter what" to keep his benefits flowing. He is sour on politicians of both parties.

"I'm not in the bag for anyone," he said. "I'm not voting for either of those guys."

Hoskins thinks Obama talks a good game, but that he failed to deliver on his campaign promises. Romney, meanwhile, simply does not seem to grasp the profound difficulties many Americans face, he said.

"He is not in touch with the cold, hard reality of life," he said.

Hoskins has not always been disdainful of politicians. He greatly admired John F. Kennedy, who visited his Army base three times in the months before he was felled by an assassin's bullet in Dallas. During one visit, Hoskins shook Kennedy's hand.

"He was a hell of a man," Hoskins said. "If he didn't die, the country would be in a lot better shape."

Formerly Homeless 47-Percenter: 'We Had Tons Of Personal Responsibility'

Catherine Pearson   |   September 20, 2012   11:36 AM ET

Heather Kristin no longer depends on the government to help her with food and housing, but she did as a child.

Now her "blood is boiling" after watching Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney suggest that her family's past means they lacked a sense of personal responsibility.

"Without the government helping, I would not be who I am today," said the 38-year-old, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter. "I would not be a stable, loving mother of a two-and-a-half year old."

When she was 10, Kristin, her twin sister and their mom were evicted from their New York City apartment after their mother "fell on hard times." She had worked as a maid and a nurse, but "started to unravel" because of what Kristin believes was an undiagnosed mental health problem. For a year, they were homeless, bouncing from shelters, to strangers' apartments, to churches and then back to shelters again. It wasn't until they went on welfare, got food stamps and qualified for an apartment in Hell's Kitchen that things started to turn around.

"After a year of [being homeless] we were falling apart as a family," Kristin said. "Once we had a roof over our head, once we had this government-sponsored housing situation, I felt like we were a family again."

"We never felt entitled, like 'Oh yes, we deserve to be on welfare,' or 'They must pay for us,'" she continued. "The goal was always to better ourselves and to be incredibly grateful for the gifts we were given by strangers, and all of the other community resources, too."

Eventually, the family relocated to Ohio, where Kristin's mother worked scooping ice cream at an amusement park and Kristin worked as a waitress to earn money for college, which she supplemented with federal and private scholarships. She bounced around to a few schools and took her 20s off to pursue acting, but went back to college at 30. Today, she is a freelance writer (who has blogged for HuffPost) and does not rely on government assistance to support her family.

"Romney talked about how people should have personal responsibility. Well, we had tons of personal responsibility," Kristin said. "We knew that if we didn't strive and continue to read books and prepare for college, we would probably repeat our mother's mistakes. We did whatever it took to survive."

Before seeing the video, Kristin didn't have particularly strong feelings about Romney. Now she does.

"This was a huge turning point for me, where I was like, 'Forget it,'" Kristin said. "Because, you know, we were not victims. And if we had been given more resources, like, if my mother had more mental help ... we certainly would've done a lot better. But at least we had housing and food stamps."

47 Percenter To Romney: 'Sometimes People Are In A Situation Where They Need Help'

Lucas Kavner   |   September 20, 2012   10:54 AM ET

Outside the New York City Department of Social Services office in downtown Brooklyn this week, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's name didn't inspire debate, as much as indifference and occasional anger.

As hundreds of Brooklynites filed in and out of the center, mainly to schedule appointments and receive food stamps, they were in no mood to talk politics, or to declare support for Romney or President Barack Obama. They simply wanted to get in and out, so they could get back home to their families or their jobs.

Among more than 30 people who did speak with The Huffington Post on Wednesday and Thursday morning outside the Human Resources Administration offices, only two said they had even heard Romney's speech in a recently released video, in which he told donors at a private fundraiser that 47 percent of the country was "dependent on government" and relies on Obama's administration for handouts.

In fact, they didn't want to talk about Romney, period, as most seemed to have disregarded the candidate altogether.

"Didn't hear it, don't care," said one man in a wheelchair, who did not wish to be named.

"F*** that guy," said a young woman with an 8:30 a.m. appointment to receive food stamps. "That's all I have to say. F*** anyone who wants to help the rich and not help the poor."

"Not interested in that man," said a bearded, older man smoking a cigarette who also declined to be named. "Just not interested. I don't want to make a big deal about it, I'm just not interested," he repeated.

Mildred Peña, a mother of four in her 30s who had heard pieces of Romney's remarks, said there was "no reason" why anyone in her position would support someone like Romney.

"Forty-seven percent of Americans are lazy and dependent? How are you going to make a comment like that?" Peña said. "I'm no victim. Sometimes people are in a situation where they need help. Like look at me right now. I just got into a situation where I have to get food stamps, I just became unemployed. I'm not lazy, it's just hard to find a job out there. It's hard."

Peña said she now spends her days looking for a job that pays the same amount as her previous one at a telephone customer service company.

"I want a job," she stressed. "Of course I want a job."

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 34 percent of Americans with incomes under $24,000 -- many of whom might be served by similar programs as the ones offered at the NYC Department of Social Services -- say they support Romney, while 58 percent support Obama.

The next poll will likely reflect whether or not Romney's leaked comments have affected those voters, or whether the comments pushed voters further in Obama's favor.

In July of 2012, 1,837,299 million people received food stamps in the New York City area, 351,116 received cash assistance, and just over 3 million were enrolled in Medicaid, according to the New York City Department of Social Services.

47-Percenter: 'I Don't Want To Work To Just Cover My Child Care Costs.'

Saki Knafo   |   September 20, 2012    9:00 AM ET

A few years ago, Crystal Gavin, 29, graduated from a community college with a degree in early childhood education. But when the cost of taking care of her own kids began to exceed the wages she was earning as a preschool teacher, she left her job and took an even lower-paying position that allowed her to work from home.

Gavin has three children, ages three, five and six. Like many of the Americans who have worked in the child care field, she makes so little money that she ranks among the 47 percent of citizens who don't pay income taxes. But she insists that she isn't afraid of hard work, pointing to a Student of the Year award that she won during college. Although she now works just 17 hours a week for a faith-based support group for mothers of preschoolers, Gavin says she'd gladly take on more hours "as long as I make enough money to pay my child care costs and then some. I don't want to work to just cover my child care costs." As of now, she makes minimum wage. Her husband, who cuts steel at a factory, makes 17 dollars an hour.

Gavin lives in Washington, a state where polls have President Barack Obama leading Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by a comfortable margin, but she comes from a Republican family and didn't vote for Obama in the last election. Now, thanks in part to Romney's description of 47-percenters as self-appointed "victims," she's feeling less beholden to family tradition.

In a videotaped moment of candor that has gone viral in the last two days, Romney described the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes as people who believe they are "victims" and depend on the government for everything. Gavin's family does receive food stamps, but they're still so hard-pressed that they have to go to a food bank every two weeks. And the government food benefits "keep decreasing," she said. Recently, Gavin's husband was sent out of town by his job for a weekend. He earned overtime, which turned out to be a mixed blessing -- it knocked down the family's monthly food benefits from $326 to about a third of that amount.

Gavin's youngest son Zander has special needs, she said, and he doesn't get along well with other kids. In March, she tried to enroll him in Head Start, the federal program that provides low-income families with a wide array of child development services. But even while the family's income isn't high enough for Gavin to afford private child care, it wasn't low enough to secure Zander one of the limited Head Start slots. Zander is now on the waiting list, and Gavin hopes the program will accept him.

For younger children, the availability of Head Start slots may depend on the outcome of the election. Last spring, around the same time Gavin filled out Zander's application, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Romney's running mate, proposed slashing funding for Head Start.

Rabbi On The 47 Percent: Giving To People In Need Is a Jewish Obligation

Jaweed Kaleem   |   September 19, 2012    9:15 PM ET

Rabbi Matt Soffer wouldn't call himself a member of the "47 percent," but according to the description of the group offered by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a leaked video this week, Soffer probably qualifies.

An assistant rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston, Soffer said his Jewish faith teaches him that people are entitled to food and housing, and that he proudly believes "the notion that there is public assistance for those in need is unequivocal in Judaism."

Soffer spends much of his time on interfaith efforts related to the environment, poverty and housing issues in the Boston area. So he listened with interest when a controversial video of Romney surfaced in which the candidate said 47 percent of Americans will vote for President Barack Obama because they are "dependent on government" and "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing." In the same video, Romney added that he could never convince those voters that "they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives"

Soffer, 32, said in an interview that he would not explicitly support one candidate or the other because he works for a religious nonprofit that's not legally allowed to endorse candidates. And while he is not financially struggling or heavily dependent on government programs, he's just three years into his career as a rabbi and has a modest salary. Much of his earnings go toward paying off hefty student loans he amassed while attending New York City's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

His costly academic and spiritual journey toward becoming a rabbi is just one reason he has come to view Jewish teachings on poverty and government assistance as largely clear.

"Giving to people who are in need in Hebrew is called Tzedakah. It's an obligation and everyone has to do it, even those who have very little. Even those getting Tzedakah have to give Tzedakah," he said. "Judaism does hold an internal debate about how there are some ways to provide assistance that are better than others. Teaching someone a craft and enabling them to sustain themselves is the highest form of giving, but it is still an obligation to give food to anyone who is hungry and give shelter to anyone without a home.

"In Jewish terms, there are some things in society we want to have in place for the sake of our own civic and moral integrity. For example, health care, in Jewish terms, is a right, not a privilege," Soffer said. "One of the greatest Jewish thinkers, Moses Maimonides, wrote about things to set up when you create a new town, and the doctor was on the top of the list."

As a rabbi, Soffer encourages his congregation, which follows the Reform tradition and meets in a Boston neighborhood teeming with colleges and medical schools, to give to the needy and to expect nothing in return.

During Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that was celebrated earlier this week, Soffer and his fellow rabbis put a brown paper grocery bag by the seats of each family that came to services. "We said that when they come back, it should be full with nonperishables" to give to the Greater Boston Food Bank, he said.

Soffer said collecting food for the hungry was not only a practical matter to aid struggling Bostonians, but also a religious obligation.

"The Torah says everyone should leave a portion of his or her field [for others]. There's a law that says anything you drop while gleaning your field or anything you forget you cannot go back for. In essence, it's no longer yours. It belongs to the stranger, the widow," he said. "These laws are a kind of protest against the ubiquitous concept of 'mine.' Not everything in one's field is one's own. We are trying to urge people to see these things.

"I see myself as part of the 100 percent. I see the 53 percent as part of the 47 percent," he said. "My understanding of citizenship is that we are all in this together."

Lifelong Republican Turns On GOP After 47% Comment

Anna Almendrala   |   September 19, 2012    8:10 PM ET

Whittier, Calif., resident Jan Williams, 55, has been a registered Republican voter since she was 18 and always considered herself moderate. She voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 because Sarah Palin gave her pause about John McCain's candidacy.

But after hearing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney dismiss the votes of 47 percent of Americans who don't pay a federal income tax, Williams told The Huffington Post that her transformation into a Democrat is "complete."

During a private $50,000 per plate fundraising dinner in May, Romney said that 47 percent of Americans will "will vote for the president no matter what" because they "believe that they are victims" and "government has a responsibility to care for them." Someone secretly recorded the remarks and they became public this week.

"It was very, very hurtful and stupid thing to say," said Williams. "You're trying to become the president of everyone, not just your little set of cronies."

She said she also took issue with Romney's notion that people like her don't feel responsible for their own life. "I've always been a very responsible person," said Williams. "I could have tried to get welfare or food stamps when I was a single mom of two, but I didn't."

Williams said she's worked hard and paid taxes all her life, raising two children alone while putting herself through school and holding down a full-time job. But she admitted that she does feel like a victim, because she is a victim of violent crime.

In 2007, Williams' son and two grandchildren were murdered by her daughter-in-law (she wrote about the ordeal in a personal blog called Grief's Journey).

The killings were devastating for Williams, and despite her efforts to return to her job at the fundraising department of a university (three times over the course of six months), depression stifled her productivity.

"Is that not the kind of victim Governor Romney meant?" asked Williams rhetorically. "Does that make me pondscum?"

The university put her on unpaid leave without benefits in 2008 and invited her to apply for another job if one opened. She spent two years searching and gave up in 2010.

From 2008 until now, Williams has not paid federal income tax. Instead, she has been living on her savings and the life insurance she received from her son's death. The savings are already depleted and the insurance will soon run out. She doesn't qualify for Medicare for 10 years.

Williams applied to receive Social Security disability benefits because her depression and post-traumatic stress make her doubt she could hold down another job even if she were offered one. The benefits have been denied once, and she's scheduled to appear at an appeal hearing.

"I guess that could mean I'm hoping to gain some kind of entitlement benefit, but I did pay into the programs most of my life," wrote Williams in an email. "Is it wrong to expect help when it's my turn to need it?"

Williams is also excited for Obamacare. She spends an average of $2,000 a month on care for diabetes, high blood pressure, gout, and depression. Sometimes she has to choose between paying for medication or paying the mortgage.

"One of the things that bothers me most about this whole thing is that I've been a Republican my entire life," wrote Williams. "Sorry Dad. I know you're probably turning in your grave, but Romney and Ryan have completed my transformation into a Democrat."

47 Percenter On Food Stamps: 'Only So Much You Can Do To Ensure Your Survival'

Jaweed Kaleem   |   September 19, 2012    7:11 PM ET

At 28 years old, Skyler Robinson lives with his grandparents and struggles to make ends meet between a part-time cashier job at Target that pays $400 a month and his $100-a-month food stamp allotment.

He finds himself so consumed with looking for full-time work that he has no time to enroll in classes to finish his associate's degree. He doesn't have enough money for school anyway -- loans wouldn't cover the entire cost -- and he finds himself unqualified for many jobs because he doesn't have a degree.

So when Robinson saw the video released this week of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying that 47 percent of the country depends on government handouts, Robinson said he was aghast. Romney also said in the video that most people who will vote for President Barack Obama are "dependent on government" and "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."

"Yeah, you work hard and get a payoff, but there's only so much you can do to ensure your survival," Robinson said. "I think he is ignoring the fact that you can't prepare for every circumstance in life, especially in a recession that affects everyone. When you're saying half of America is a lot beyond repair, what does that mean for a potential president?"

As somebody who grew up attending a nondenominational Protestant church every Sunday and today considers himself an unaffliated "theist," Robinson said he is baffled by politicians who publicly profess their faith do not seem to "abide by the general rule of religious teaching about people helping each other."

"It's really odd thing that most people who identify as Republican also identify as religious people, but they are often opposed to things like government assistance or anything that would be set out to help others," said Robinson, who does not earn enough to pay income tax, but does pay payroll taxes. (In Romney's leaked speech, he hinted at a popular but overly simplified talking point that 47 percent of Americans do not pay taxes.)

Robinson, who lives in Walnut, in Southern California, has been going between part-time work, unemployment and attending school for a decade. He has three certificates in business management and international business, and his goal is to eventually own his own publishing company. But right now, after the 40-minute daily commute to and from work that sometimes requires him to take up to four buses, and the 16-to-20 hours behind the register each week, his time is committed to sending resumes to potential employers. He's looking for anything, but has an eye toward being an assistant or secretary in an office.

He wants most to get back on his feet and survive on his own. If he had a chance to speak with Romney, Robinson -- who said he is voting for Obama -- knows what he would say.

"It comes from a place of somebody who has never been in a situation of desperation, someone who has never faced homelessness or poverty," Robinson said. "It lacks experience or critical thinking that people who are on government assistance have the assumption that they like being on it and what to be on it for the rest of their lives, rather than looking at it as people who want to improve their lives."

Seminarian: Christianity Teaches That 'People Are Entitled To Food'

Jaweed Kaleem   |   September 19, 2012    7:00 PM ET

As a seminarian at the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Brandon Lazarus wants to make tending to the poor and homeless his life's work. He decided to live in an intentional Christian community -- a collective-like home where bills, food and faith are shared -- in a poor area of the city in order to learn about poverty and how to address it.

While he knows he can always depend on his middle-class family in Columbia, S.C., Lazarus has been living on a meager income of scholarships and stipends during his three years of graduate studies. Last year, his tax return tallied his adjusted gross income at $3,000. He paid no federal income taxes.

Watching the fallout over the controversial video released this week showing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying he cannot appeal to 47 percent of voters because they "dependent on government" and "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing," Lazarus said he was inflamed.

Lazarus said Romney's comment that he could "never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives" was what upset him the most.

"I think it's easy to say that for someone who, if they were ever in need, could reach out to family or friends," said Lazarus, 24, referring to Romney's wealthy family.

As a member of the Epworth project, a group of six Christian collectives in the Dallas area, Lazarus spends his time outside of classes ministering to the residents of East Dallas, one of the poorest areas in the city.

"We invite the community into our home to eat and pray because we want to be close not just our own friends in the house but also our neighbors. Once you get to know someone more intimately, you get to think of them as a brother or sister and their needs become your needs," Lazarus said.

Most of his work is with the homeless in the area, who he said are often on government support and don't have friends or family who can help them.

"To say that people are entitled to food, I would agree. My Christian beliefs tell me that we should care for those who are hungry, without shelter, those who are in prison," he said. "But I don't think that's a uniquely Christian view to have. I think every religion and people without religion have ideas about what it means to care for individuals."

That said, Lazarus doesn't think Romney is entirely wrong about people feeling entitled.

"I do run into people who say, 'Yeah, I want government housing or assistance,' but I don't think that's the majority. The majority come to me and say, 'I have made a bad decision in my past and I have had bad relationships and I want to fix that,'" Lazarus said. "In our society, in order to have a house, you need a job; and in order to have a job, you need a house. So they are stuck."

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