Don’t say you weren’t warned. Political rant and some old-fashioned education incoming.
Hi! I’m your friendly neighborhood writer and my family is on food stamps. Call it by other names, EBT. SNAP. It is a government program to give food insecure folks the means to acquire food. The means are provided by the funds put on a debit card that is used only for food stuff. You can’t buy beer. You can’t buy cigarettes. You can’t buy toilet paper or medicine. In some places you can purchase seeds to plant a garden. There are very few exceptions to the food rule.
SNAP is a highly efficient program that does its job well. It is much more efficient than the physical paper stamps that were the original program. More efficient than its sister program WIC, Women Infants and Children. WIC is only for pregnant women, infants, breastfeeding women, and children up to age five. Unlike SNAP which uses a debit card you can swipe at the register just like you would a debit card from your bank. WIC is a voucher that much be picked up, usually ever three months. And you can only get what is specified on your voucher. This can lead to some annoyances at the check out line as you must run back to the dairy aisle to swap the cheese you thought was covered for the cheese that is covered. BTDT.
Not to diss on WIC. It is a useful program. But between the paper vouchers, the limited goods you can get, and having to plan an office visit every three months to pick up more vouchers, it is a pain in the ass to use. SNAP is much more convenient and easy to use. Plus, it is beneficial to the economy. How you may ask? Well let’s travel down that rabbit hole.
When the economy is in the dumps and jobs are few and far between SNAP will increase its spending. Cause, no job equals no money, no money equals no way to buy food. SNAP fixes that equation by giving those in poverty, either long or short term, a hand up so they don’t suffer needlessly. According to the USDA’s own figures for every $5 spent in SNAP dollars, it generates as much as $9 in economic activity. But how you ask.
The most obvious source is where the SNAP benefits are used. Grocery stores, some convenience stores, and there are some farmer’s markets that can take SNAP cards to pay for fresh produce. This benefits the user of the funds by giving them access to fresh food, it also benefits the farmer who has a purchaser for their produce. What happens when you put money in the hands of others? They can spend it. Stores need cashiers to run their registers. People to stock their shelves. If there was no demand, then there would be no need to schedule cashiers to work, and fewer people needed to keep the shelves stocked. Create demand, create jobs. And of course, the farmers can pay their bills with maybe even something left over at the end of the day. Trickle down is bullshit. Money trickles up, not down.
I won’t go into the issue of corporations using SNAP to subsidize their low wages which keeps their employees in poverty. That’s a rant for another day. I am here to explain the SNAP program to those who aren’t familiar with it. Still with me? Good.
With SNAP you sign up and if you are approved you must seek renewal of your benefits every 6 months in my state. And if your income changes over a certain amount you must report that change. You are limited in what resources you can have, how much money you can set aside to save, and other things to show you qualify for assistance due to low income. Many of the stereotypes you hear about people on SNAP driving fancy cars, wearing fancy clothes, having fancy phones, and so forth. That is all they are, stereotypes, and often harmful ones. The mythical welfare queen of the 80s does not exist. Reagan's story was a fabrication about one person who never was a representation of the whole of welfare users.
Who uses SNAP? Well, the poor obviously. Most people who receive SNAP benefits are children, the elderly, the disabled, and their caretakers. And yes, you can work and work hard while you still qualify for SNAP. What counts is your income. And if your income is low because your wages are low, you can qualify for SNAP. What about the able-bodied adults you say. Well what about them? Are you saying if someone lost a job they don’t deserve to eat? Or if they live somewhere with high unemployment which makes it even more difficult to find a job, they deserve to starve? If you think that then you have a problem with empathy and I think you might need therapy.
Keep in mind, just because you might have been able to do something. Or you had the resources and the ability to do something does not mean everyone else can do what you did to rise out of poverty. Someone might live in an area with high unemployment because that is where their family lives, and they can’t afford to live anywhere else. Or they don’t have a vehicle at all. Being poor often means either living without a car or having an unreliable one. And when you remember that mass transit is not a priority in many parts of the country, that only further hurts the already vulnerable.
You can be a smart, hard working person and still need SNAP to feed your family. Your intelligence and drive does not always mean your job pays what you deserve. Just look at adjunct professors at many colleges. There can be other factors as well. If you are the caretaker of small children or someone with a disability, or an elderly person, you might need a flexible schedule, so you can make doctor appointments for them. So, you can see to their needs, especially those who can’t be left alone to care for themselves. Which bring us back around to low wage jobs not paying enough for someone to cover all their expenses.
One of the other good things about SNAP is that it takes into consideration your bills. What are you living expenses? How much is your rent? How much are your utilities? If you have a car do you have payments? Insurance? Medical expenses? All of this is taken into account to see how much you qualify for in benefits.
How do they find this out? Well if you get any money from the federal government, like say Social Security benefits, they know how much you get before you do. And there is also having to turn in pay stubs. If you have a checking account, statements from that. Medical expenses, better keep those receipts. A copy of your lease. Copies of your utility bills. If you share expenses, proof of that. There’s a lot of paperwork involved.
Speaking of paperwork. To receive SNAP benefits, you must prove your identity. They want copies of your state issued ID if you have one. Birth certificate for every member of the family. Social security cards for every member of the family. Marriage certificate if you’re married. You must be documented. Which means, drumroll please…
What other stereotypes should I bust open tonight? I’ve covered welfare queen. Able bodied adults. Immigrants. I’ve discussed how those receiving SNAP benefits often do work. I’ve discussed the economic impact of SNAP. Oh yes. Drug users.
Unlike what certain media outlets want you to believe, people on SNAP are no more likely to use drugs than those who don’t receive government benefits. Research has shown that those on SNAP use drugs at the same rate as the rest of society. Remember boys and girls, drugs cost money. And if you’re on SNAP it is because you lack money. Let’s drug test CEO’s who receive government contracts before we drug test the working Mom making minimum wage.
Oh, but they sell their benefits you say. Prove it. Fraud by users and vendors of SNAP benefits is .01 cents out of every dollar, and SNAP is a multi-billion-dollar program. Find another government run program with such results. You can’t. When someone says they know someone who sells their benefits I have one answer for them. REPORT IT! If you know someone is committing fraud, can prove it, and care that much about how federal money is spent. Report it. Do your civic duty and report the fraud. Otherwise you’re just spouting anti-poor propaganda.
“But but but! Steaks and lobsters!”
Are you kidding me? Have you priced steak and lobsters recently? Do you know how much people get in SNAP benefits? My family gets $357 a month. That’s it. My family of four gets what amounts to $2.98 per person, per day to use to feed ourselves. When that money is spent, it is gone. No more money until the next month. If I buy meat at all it is cheap ground beef, frozen chicken, and whatever is on sale. Exceptions made at Thanksgiving and Christmas when I find the cheapest turkey breast and ham I can find. There are usually good sales. If there is a steak in my cart, it is because it is my husband’s or son’s birthday. Or it was in the ‘nearly expired so here’s meat cheap’ section of the meat department.
“Oh, but junk food! Soda!”
Why are you paying so much attention to what is in my cart or how I am paying for my purchases? That $357 has to stretch. That means lots of generic brands. I watch sales. I use coupons. I am not the only person on SNAP who does this. If I get some soda, so? Are you saying your kids can have a coke but mine can’t? We don’t go out to eat. We don’t go to the movies. I can’t remember our last vacation. We stay home. If I want a Mtn Dew to wake myself up in the morning instead of coffee, that is what I will have to wake me up. When they are gone it is back to Kool-Aid and sweet tea until the next month. I’ve gotten more junk food from food banks than I’ve purchased with my SNAP card.
Oh yeah. We don’t have a car. That means if I’m lucky I get two trips to the grocery store a month. I can occasionally get a ride to a convenience store for milk, but I hate doing that as it is .75 more expensive there per gallon. Yes, I pay that much attention to prices of milk. So, two trips per month. That means I pack as much into my cart as I can get as it has to last about two weeks if not longer. You think I buy like that every week? If I could get to the store once a week, my cart would be a lot less crowded. But because without a car of my own I can’t guarantee when I’ll be able to get back to the store, I buy as much as I can afford. My anxiety demands it.
I doubt I am the only other SNAP user who must shop like this. If you don’t know when you are going to be able to make it to the store again, are you buying enough to last a couple of days? Or do you buy enough to feed your family for a couple of weeks? Use your brains people!
I’ve told you what SNAP is and isn’t. If you didn’t already, you now have a base understanding of the program. Please see part two of my post for a continuation of this discussion.