Everybody Needs A Little Help: Celebs Who Were On Public Assistance

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Not every celebrity was born with a silver spoon. In fact, many of them came from humble beginnings — very humble. Before they made it big, these stars had to rely on government assistance to make ends meet.

Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson is sitting on top of the world now as one of the main characters on the hit show Empire. But there was a time early on in her career when Henson struggled to feed her son. After the sudden and tragic death of her son’s father, Henson moved to Hollywood with a dream and just $900 in the bank, relying on welfare for support. Henson’s career took off after starring in Hustle & Flow alongside Terrence Howard, her Empire co-star. Now she has plenty ocash in her account.

Viola Davis

Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis has been vocal about her struggles growing up. As one of six siblings, food was scarce, especially in the weeks after their monthly welfare check arrived. “It was like, If you don’t eat it now, it’ll be gone, and you’re going to be hungry for the next — Lord, who knows how long?” the How To Get Away With Murder star said. “I was always so hungry and ashamed, I couldn’t tap into my potential.”

Scarlett Johansson

Often a celebrity will work with a charity or organization because of a personal connection. Scarlett Johansson starred in Feeding America’s latest PSA campaign because she knew what it was like to grow up hungry. “My family grew up relying on public assistance to help provide meals for our family,” the Avengers star said. “Child hunger in America is a real and often overlooked problem, but one that together, we can fix.”

Barack Obama

As the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama is one of the most influential men in the world. During his historic run for the highest office in the land, the former senator shared the story of his humble beginnings frequently on the campaign trail. His parents split up when he was very young and his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who was on public assistance, struggled to take care of her family. Obama credits his mother’s resilience and determination for inspiring him to dream big and believe in himself.

Oprah Winfrey

Few people have had a “rags to riches” story quite like Oprah Winfrey. The talk show maven was born in Mississippi but moved to Milwaukee with her mother who had relocated to find work. Although she found a job as a maid, Winfrey’s mother had to rely on welfare to feed her family. These days Winfrey, who’s one of the richest Black women in the world, works tirelessly to help improve the lives of those less fortunate all over the globe.

Kelly Clarkson

Winning American Idol was a life-changing moment for Kelly Clarkson. The Texas native grew up poor living on food stamps in a roach-invested house. Clarkson moved to L.A. in hopes of launching a music career but after the apartment she was sharing with her sister caught on fire, she ended up living out of her car and in a homeless shelter. Things turned around for the “Since U Been Gone” singer after winning the singing competition show and the rest is history.

Iyanla Vanzant

Iyanla Vanzant has made quite a living helping others fix their lives, but growing up the future spiritual teacher, best-selling author, and life coach’s future didn’t always look so bright. Vanzant was raised in a home that was filled with poverty and sexual abuse. Her family used welfare to get by, and Vanzant relied on her inner strength to overcome the obstacles of her childhood. In 2000, she was named one of the 100 most influential Black Americans by Ebony magazine.

Tami Roman

Most people recognize Tami Roman as one of the Basketball Wives but she first stepped into the world of reality television nearly 20 years before that with MTV’s Real World. She met NBA player Kenny Anderson soon after starring on the groundbreaking show, and the couple married and had two children together. Following their divorce, Roman had no choice but to go on public assistance after Anderson stopped paying the court-ordered $8,500 a month in child support. Roman sued him and nearly nine years later, she was awarded a judgment of $800,000.

Sandra Lee

Most chefs display a love for cooking early on but for celebrity chef Sandra Lee, she entered the kitchen more as a necessity than a choice. As the oldest of five, the Food Network star took on the role of the mother and became responsible for grocery shopping, cooking and handling the family’s finances. “Today I have cooking shows, but when I was a kid, my brothers and sisters and I needed food stamps to survive.” Lee said this in a PSA aimed at convincing Congress to not cut government assistance programs.

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg became a mother at the age of 17. It was hard to juggle the responsibilities of motherhood while trying to make it big in Hollywood. For a time, the future Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winner had to accept government assistance to make ends meet. But unlike others, Goldberg wasn’t ashamed to accept help. “I don’t feel bad about being a welfare mother because I contribute as an American,” she said while discussing the issue on The View.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling is the perfect example of a person never giving up. Several years after graduating from college, the British author deemed her life to be a failure. She was recently divorced and jobless with a child to care for. Rowling went on public assistance and fell into a deep depression. But she credits that very dark time in her life for freeing her up and allowing her to focus solely on writing. She wrote her first novel while receiving government aid. Five years later, Rowling became a best-selling author and a multimillionaire.


Famed EDM DJ Moby has been crowned the king of techno, but he hardly grew up like a royal. In fact, his childhood was one of struggle. “We were dirt-poor white trash in arguably the wealthiest white town in the country,” Moby said in an interview with the New York Times. “I was on food stamps until I was 18 and became an adult.”

Dr. Ben Carson

Now that the presidential election season is almost upon us, Dr. Ben Carson has thrown his hat into the ring. As a registered Republican, Carson is in favor of small government, but growing up, his family was on public assistance. “By the time I reached ninth grade, mother had made such strides that she received nothing but food stamps,” the neurosurgeon and political novice wrote in his book. “She couldn’t have provided for us and kept up the house without that subsidy.”

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