Food stamps

I don’t have a thing to talk about today. No news items of note. No pictures to share. This will probably be a pretty short one, even by my standards.

• So something that happened at work today got me a bit steamed. It was just something that a woman said in passing, as she was buying her groceries with food stamps. What she said was that she only got 99 dollars a month in food stamps, and “how am I supposed to live on that?” The thing is that she said it while I was being forced to remove some chips, ice cream and soda from her order so that she would have enough to cover the total, which I will get back to in a minute. What I found really strange about it was that she said this in front of about six people (all the rest of whom paid with actual cash, btw) as if she honestly believed that everyone gets food stamps(at least that was how it came across to me).

I am pretty liberal on most issues, and I think that providing food for people who can’t afford it is a necessary thing. Growing up, after my parents divorced, my mother was forced to go onto that type of government assistance. Imagine being the single mother of three, making 3.35 an hour, trying to provide a house and utilities. Her paycheck was never enough to cover the rent and all of the utilites, so she was forced to juggle; let one bill go unpaid one month, then a different one the next month. That was before the thought of what we were going to eat for dinner ever came into play. Without government assistance, we would truly have never had anything to eat.

My mother was very smart with her food stamp purchases though. We did get things such as chips and sweet cereal, but only when they were bought in bulk at a warehouse store. The rest of the purchases were almost exclusively of inexpensive items that could make several meals. Potatoes, for instance, get 10 pounds for a dollar, add a 1 dollar can of corned beef and you have just made dinner for four for about 1.33, since it only took about a third of the potatoes. The next day might have been chili, a couple pounds of beans for 50 cents, a bit of whatever kind of beef was on sale and some seasoning. Maybe two dollars spent there for a meal for four. Next day, maybe use another third of the potatoes and mash them, make some gravy (the little packs were like four for a buck at the time) for say 50 cents, meal for four for 88 cents. There was always bread, of course, but I am not going to count the cost of that, since we always bought it at a bakery outlet that sold outdated bread at 5 loaves for a dollar. There was also dairy stuff (milk and cheese and the such) but we honestly got a lot of that through a government food box program, which is much the same as the WIC program is today. I think you see my point. She could easily feed the four of us three meals a day, for a week, and probably get it done for about 20 or 25 dollars.

This was in the eighties, of course, so the prices on everything have gone up. However, the prices for things like dry beans and potatoes have remained pretty low compared to the prices of other things. Frozen meals leap into my mind as something that has gone up in price by several hundred percent since that time, unfortunately that is the type of thing that most of the people on food stamps seem to buy. I could understand that if it was because they were working full time, or even part time on multiple jobs, but in reality it seems that most of the people (at least in my experience) are on food stamps because they are just plain lazy. No job at all, not even looking for work, claiming that they can’t work because they have children. Thing about that excuse is that you have to enroll them in school eventually, it is the law, not to mention the best and cheapest day care service available.

In the defense of people like my mother, as I am sure there still are people in the position she was in back then, I know that not everyone that is on government assistance is like that. In fact, I remember seeing a story on the Discovery Channel some time back where a woman that had been on Welfare for several years had worked her way up to a decent job, then actually made voluntary donations to the Welfare program to cover the amount of money that they had issued her. Of course I can’t find a link to the story anywhere on the site, and google didn’t help either, but I saw the show and was truly shocked that someone could be that proud. Kind of the polar opposite of the type of people that I see around here.

A few paragraphs back, I was talking about the WIC program (the link goes to the Arizona Wic website, as the federal site ‘cannot be found’ when I click on it). To put the WIC program into a nutshell, they give families with low incomes necessary food items. Specifically, things like milk, cereal (nothing sugared, there are strict guidelines), cheese, fruit juice (actual juice, not fruit punch), eggs, baby formula for newborns, peanut butter, dry beans and etc. This program is so much better than the food stamp program though, since they can only buy exactly what each check they have says. So instead of buying soda, they have to buy fruit juice. Instead of buying Apple Jacks, they have to buy approved cereals like cheerios, chex, corn flakes and etc. (interesting side note, apple jacks was the sixth sweetened cereal that I typed into my address bar, and the first one that actually took me to a cereal website. Trix, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, Cocoa Pebbles and Sugar Smacks (( all without spaces, and all just all lead to sites, but none of them are about cereal. In fact one of them leads to a page that has casino games and adult links. How fucked up is that?) This forces them to buy nutritious foods and dairy products, and makes it impossible for them to buy junk food.

The WIC program takes it so seriously that they randomly audit register receipts to make sure that all items purchased meet the WIC guidelines. They inspect every WIC approved retailer at least once a year. They even send out WIC agents with checks to try to buy products that are not covered. If a retailer fails any inspection, receipt audit, or field test, they are put on warning for some amount of time. If, during that time, they fail again, they are removed from the WIC program. They are damn serious about it.

I would really like to see some similar model adapted by the food stamp program. Unfortunately, the implementation of anything like that would cost millions, and is pretty unlikely. There is a glimmer of hope though. Most (possibly all?) states now have electronic food stamps, you know, like a credit card. This makes it so that the customer can never get back any change on any transaction (which makes it impossible to buy a nickel gum, then use the 95 cents in change to buy a beer- that used to be a real problem-). Even though most all retailers have scanning systems that can keep track of what a consumer buys, the sheer number of products that come out every year would make it literally impossible to try to keep up a list of what could and could not be purchased with food stamps. No matter how much I wish it was possible, it is just never going to happen.

I suppose that, in some parallel universe, it would be possible to set up food stamp only stores. If the store only carried healthy, nutritious items, and if you could only use food stamps at that store, you would have to buy it. Nothing like that could ever happen in this universe. Every major market chain accepts food stamps, and every one of them would be pretty unhappy if they lost the revenue of the non-paying customer. I really would like to just get a glimpse of that alternate universe though, just to see how it worked out.

• Now, to prove that I am a hypocrite, I offer you a quick anecdote from my youth.

When my parents initially separated, my mother and the three of us moved into a tiny little shack. The little shack had (to the best of my memory) three rooms. One room was the living room, one was the kitchen and one was a bedroom, which had a small shower in the corner. The actual toilet was a tiny, wooden building about twenty feet out the back door (yes, an outhouse). I believe that we were living in this one rent free, as my mom was working for the farm that owned it. Let us just say that it was not the most wonderful home. But, Mom left with nothing. She left Dad every posession, except one car, in order to keep us kids. (in hindsight, I think that dad was really just trying to prove to mom that she would not be able to survive without him. I think that backfired, since that just made her want to prove him wrong.). The accomodations got better with each move, so there is no need to feel sorry for me, my brothers or my mom. I will say that you have to really, really, really take a dump before you go sit in an outhouse, in Oregon, in the winter though.

We were living in that little structure as our birthdays approached (my brothers’ being only two days apart, with mine a month after). As you would imagine, there was not a lot of money to be spent on presents. Of course a birthday with no presents would really suck, regardless of how poor you happen to be, so we did get presents. The first present was an itchy, smelly, green military blanket, which was as good as gold to us. The house was perpetually cold, I am not sure if it had any insulation at all, hell, I am not even sure if it had both interior and exterior walls, it could have all just been plywood. Anyway, this gift was given to us all at the same time, thankfully, even though it was a ‘birthday gift’ (here I might also note that they were donated from some church, so you see religion is not all bad).

The proof of my hypocrisy? The other gift that each of us got was ten dollars in food stamps. Ten dollars that we could spend on any kind of tooth rotting crap we chose. For the life of me I can’t remember exactly what I bought with mine. I will gurantee that there was at least one box of Star Crunch cookies, they were like heroin to me, at least until I was a teenager. That is why I am a hypocrite, I would never have gotten the gift of junk food if you couldn’t buy it with food stamps. Hmmm. Funny thought just occurred to me. I can remember what I got for my birthday in 1983, but I can’t remember what I got last year. I must really have liked those star crunch cookies.

• Damn it! I forgot to bitch about the initial point that I wanted to make. You see, if the woman from the first paragraph had exchanged all of the items she was buying for the generic equivalent items, she would have been able to buy all of the stuff. Not only that but she would have had money (food stamp balance) left over. Why is it that when it is not really your money you will buy the name brand, while if it is your money (at least in my case) you will buy the generic in almost every instance?

Leave a Reply