Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Food Stamp Challenge

Every so often someone will issue a challenge to politicians to try to live on Food Stamps (It's called SNAP now and distributed via an EBT card) for one month. To their credit, several of them have taken that challenge and, for varying lengths of time, have spent on food the cash equivalent of a SNAP grant for the size of their family. Usually for a very limited amount of time, a week or so generally.

For reference, the average per-person SNAP food allowance in the US is $133.00 per month. But SNAP is handled by the states, and the state benefits range from a paltry $115 in New Hampshire to a "lavish" $217 in Hawaii (where BTW everything is more expensive).
The people who talk about the "Food Stamp Challenge" are of two stripes: One (the well-meaning Democrat) says that it's difficult to live on the food allowance of a typical welfare recipient but it can be done, and the other (the cynical Republican) says that all the welfare abusers buy is chips and soda and ice cream, so they get fat, and it's not our fault that fat people are "hungry" or malnourished because it's their fault they are not getting the right amount/kind of food.

I think that the Food Stamp Challenge a good idea, but it needs to be taken to a "real world" level. For example: Try it for a longer period of time -- at least a month -- and don't cheat by supplementing it with the supplies of food you already had before the challenge started.

People in the inner cities don't have cars, or don't have reliable cars, or don't have cars that are totally street-legal (chancing an expensive ticket for a broken brake light for example), so you can't just cruise it on out to the suburban WalMart and trot out that "magic card" to buy your food.

You can, however, if you have the inclination, take public transportation to get to one of those suburban supermarkets to get the best deals in food, but you will likely have to make at least one, and likely several, transfers. But then you have to struggle back home on those same buses carrying some large bags of groceries. In the real world, your food choices are limited to what's on the shelves of your local 7-11, your Kwik-E-Mart, your bodega, your "little store".

Now let's take a look at what you can reasonably buy with that SNAP windfall.

You can't buy a lot of frozen food, since you likely live in a scroungy slumlord apartment with a refrigerator that is ridiculously small, barely functional, certainly not capable of keeping those frozen chicken breasts from thawing out. You likely will have to take a walk of several blocks while carrying your groceries, so you can't take advantage of buying in scale to get lower prices. You likely won't buy much fresh produce since the delivery of it mostly doesn't make it as far as your inner-city mom-and-pop. And organics? Forget about it. Even if they come from a small farm just outside of town, even they don't deliver inside a certain urban line, either.

Instead you'll find yourself picking up a lot of empty starches, pre-packaged lunch meats, balloon bread made from bleached and "enriched" flour, and that nasty plasticky "American Cheese Product", since that's all that your local market carries. Oh, but you will be able to load up on chips and sodas and ice cream, since your EBT card will buy a lot of that. It's easy to make a filling if not nutritious meal out of a bag of chips and a liter of soda. Then watch your waistline expand and your health decline. You will gain weight without really intending to, and then you will earn the scornful wrath of Republicans who deny that we have a problem feeding our people since so many of the poor ones are fat -- "living high off the hog" on our tax money.

No, I don't think that welfare recipients and other users of SNAP are living high off the hog on their meager allowance of Food Stamps. But they make easy targets for the abusers of the poor in the Right Wing. They are a ready-made demographic that "proves" that we are being too generous in our assistance to "lazy" people who "ought to be working". At jobs that no longer exist, but never mind that...

Sure, there are some cases of people abusing the system. This a natural part of any system where something people want and need is given away for free. But the way to fight it is not on the backs of the honest people who need it and are getting it. The best way to deal with it is to educate the people who are receiving SNAP on the most efficient ways to buy and prepare the foods that are available to them.

I couldn't give a shit if people using SNAP's EBT cards are buying steak and lobster. At least they are eating real food that is nutritiously good for them.


Unknown said...

In Texas, people can get as little as $16 a month for food stamps.


Oh, and if you get busted with drugs, it's a lifetime ban on food stamps.

Because taking away someone's food is a surefire way to keep them off of drugs.

Farnsworth68 said...

Sounds legit... Except for that whole "munchies" thing. I guess the logical next step is robbery and prostitution.
What a world.