I was on food stamps once, and it wasn’t a fuckin’ luxury.
I’m writing this for the Clam as an anonymous contributor (adding all the swears I possibly can), because of the social stigma that comes with being on food stamps. It should not be there, but it is. Here’s the thing: the recession hit and shit happened. I lost my job, we had young kids, I decided to go back to school after I could find nothing at all in my field for a ridiculous length of time, and we ended up on food stamps for a time. It took awhile to get back on our feet, but now we’re off – kind of like most people. After all, the average family is on food stamps for 8-10 months. A lot of people had it way worse than we did.
This week, a Missouri lawmaker proposed a bill that would limit the kind of food that could be purchased under the SNAP program. Not content with the reasonable federal food stamp guidelines like “no alcohol, hot prepared food, or cigarettes”, they set out to make their own.
What do they want to cut? Lobster and steak, naturally. Because you know, people below the poverty line are so clearly going hog-wild and blowing taxpayer money on lobsters and filets. In addition, chips cookies and soda would be on the banned list. Potato chips.
This kind of thinking irritates me beyond belief. Policing what the poor eat is meant to do absolutely nothing more than shame them. It sends the message that they are too stupid to make their own choices for the sin of not having money. Some of the same people who crow on about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, and limiting the scope of our government have no problem, apparently, telling other people what to do.
Here’s some truth about food stamps from someone who was on them long enough to know.
The average benefit per family member meal is $1.45, although in MA it’s higher (we got closer to $1.60ish, but there have been cuts to the program since my income came back). That amount leaves little room for error, and most families have to make hard choices about what’s going to feed them or end up spending some of their own cash. I was lucky (loose quotes on that) that we still had one solid income and unemployment, so we could go over that amount and cover the difference with cash and not lose our house. For comparison, the average family’s grocery bill runs from $146-289 per week. At the low end, that’s $1.74 per meal. At the high end, $3.44. Food stamp recipients get a below-average benefit allotment every month.
So why, exactly, are we limiting them from buying steak or lobster? Where does the “steak” line get drawn? What if it’s heavily discounted because it goes bad tomorrow? Still not okay to buy? This seems especially stupid for anyone who lives in this area because let’s face it, Market Basket always has lobsters extremely cheap for a few weeks in the summer, and it can be cheaper or at least comparable to any other meat source. Either food stamp recipients are cutting that money from other parts of their food budget (for instance, cutting out cereal and replacing it with Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel), or at the end of the month they’re going to be spending their own cash anyway. And, more importantly, steak and lobster tastes great, it’s packed full of protein, and it’s a nice treat for people who don’t really have that much else going for them. More than 30% of food stamp recipients are employed, by the way, and that number is rising – with many more on Social Security. If there is no child or elderly person in the household, adults with no income are limited to 3 months of benefits.
And that, really, is the sad part about it. The lawmakers in Missouri want to remove one of the little joys in life – a really good, tasty meal that can make or break your entire week – from poor people. People who lost their jobs. Single moms. Retirees. The kind of folks who need a small thing now and again to grind through an exhausting existence. And soda? Let me explain something to you: you go to school full time, while your spouse works, and you have two small kids without a goddamn caffeine boost in the afternoon and then come back and we’ll talk. Yeah, I bought soda. I didn’t drive into a bridge abutment out of sheer delusional exhaustion on the way home from night class. And yeah, I bought steak once in awhile. Because steak is fucking awesome and this is America and I ate a lot of Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel in my off-time.
I dare anyone supporting this kind of asshole legislation go to their nearest Walmart or McDonalds and tell the worker behind the counter that they don’t deserve to eat steak and lobster ever, not even for their anniversary, not for their birthday, because they don’t work hard enough and don’t deserve it.
Yeah, that’s what I thought.