If it weren't such a sad and trite tale, I'd be amused at the level of near hysteria leveled at SNAP recipients.
That's the food stamp program for those of you who don't know.
"OH MY GOD, THESE PEOPLE WILL BUY STEAK, SEAFOOD AND JUNK FOOD ON THE AMERICAN TAXPAYER'S DIME! WE MUST GUARD AGAINST THESE TAKERS!"
Don't get me wrong, it makes for great headlines and it stirs folks up, but along with drug testing welfare recipients (I'm looking at you Indiana) restricting what one can or cannot buy with a SNAP EBT card provides little benefit to the governmental entities that would enforce such rules.
Yet this foolishness persists. Like someone on food stamps, SNAP or whatever you want to call it, needs to go through the additional scrutiny of their food choices when it's already difficult to figure out how you are going to feed yourself in the first place.
Trust me on this one, I'm living the dream of being on SNAP right now. And this isn't the first time I've posted about it either.
This isn't a secret to those who know me.
So as an actual living, breathing person who is on food assistance, I'm going to let you on the realities of being in the program.
1. You usually don't have enough of a benefit to purchase pricey items such as really good seafood and steaks. Yes you can buy them but proportionally they eat up such as huge chunk of what you have to spend for the month. Every once in a while you might be able to catch an amazing sale but you better have a working freezer to store what you bought or that good deal will go to waste.
Note: Some folks (and when I say some I mean many) actually don't have a freezer or in some cases a refrigerator in their homes or apartments.
2. I personally live 10 blocks north of a Jewel and 10 blocks south of a Treasure Island so I believe that means I qualify as living in a food desert. Grocery shopping is a chore. A tedious, exhausting chore. Only made better by the occasional rides I receive from friends. I can tell you with near certainty that there are very few stores (And when I say few, I mean none) where I can walk and get steak and seafood.
3. I find it interesting that yet again, certain lawmakers of a certain party are seemingly obsessed with protecting the fiscal interests of the American taxpayer from the people who are seemingly the easiest to attack. Poor people don't have high priced lobbyists. Yet I suspect the industry that will make an effort to stall or kill such legislation will come from the grocery store lobby.
Yep, I predict the grocery stores will be the ones leading the fight to do away with further restrictions on food choices by SNAP shoppers.
Why? It's simply bad for business. And make no mistake, it is all about business.
Many people don't know that Trader Joes, Costco, Sam's Club and Whole Foods take food stamps. The recession of 2008 was a game changer for a great many businesses and the grocery store industry was one of them.
I suspect that high end retailers needed to start embracing the fact that they were missing out of a huge portion of the market by not taking SNAP. I also suspect that a great many of their long time customers had to go on some form of assistance in order to feed themselves or their families.
Why isn't Whole Foods being raked over the coals for *accepting* food stamps? Why is their good business decision now being portrayed as an expensive and irresponsible choice when it's placed in the hands of the poor?
Which brings me to point #4---Most folks who aren't in the SNAP program wouldn't know what the card looked like if one fell out on the street in front of them. I guess that's kind of the point, right? To lessen the stigma of whipping out a book of food stamps for all to see as you purchase your groceries.
I can't speak to how other states run their programs but I can tell you that in Illinois I didn't quality for SNAP until my unemployment ran out.
Let that sink in.
I was told I made too much money *ON UNEMPLOYMENT.*
If you're under the misguided perception that you just walk into some government office and they give you money for food, you are sorely mistaken. I would have to have a burning red hot hatred for you to put you through what I had to go through.
It's challenging enough to wrap your head around the process of receiving help as well as making some sort of peace with your new economic status. Now you can't enjoy the occasional steak or seafood item if you budget for it?
Yet my situation has become even more convoluted as I now have a 3 month temp job.
According to the rules, I must report any change in income to the program which I'm planning to do this week. I'm assuming my assistance will be suspended because of income requirements.
But here's where it gets tricky---this is the reality of so many of your fellow Americans that doesn't fit into a neat sound bite.
There is no guarantee of future employment. If I'm not successful in securing another temp or full time job, I'm not sure if I'll be able to get back on the program. This stint will end and without another job, I'm right back to square one.
And when I say square one, I mean no source of income worrying about how I'm going to keep the utilities on AND buy laundry soap.
Of course you're saying "Why don't you save the money that you're making?"
The answer is simple: I can't. My debt and existing financial obligations won't allow me to. For example, this go round on the employment merry go round is concentrated on paying off my property taxes. The last time I worked, I paid off a chunk of my back condo assessments. Saving is next to impossible when you're playing catch up.
This is my life. Not a sound bite.
I did nothing wrong. I got laid off and like many other of my fellow Americans. The economic recovery that you've heard so much about has yet to impact me.
This comment from a Business Insider article on Gwyneth Paltrow's SNAP food challenge sums everything up nicely:"
"There is much more to being poor than having to live on a strict budget. There is an avalanche of stress that surrounds poverty so survival consumes every living thought. This stress leads to all kinds of health problems. All of these issues make you an unhealthy, miserable person, which in turn makes it even more difficult to find a decent job. In order to truly understand what it's like to live on food stamps and to be poor. You actually need to be poor. You can't take a food stamp challenge from your mansion. It's just not the same. There's a whole world of hurt that goes along with the food stamps."
That's why I feel the need to dispel the misinformation that you good people are led to believe is the actual truth.
This isn't politics. This isn't a weekly challenge. This is the real deal folks.
And it isn't fun.
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