Last year, I collected food $148 in food stamps each month. It’s the worst “free money” I’ve ever earned, and I’m happy to say that I’m no longer able to get these benefits.
I’ve read a lot of posts about government assistance lately, and it’s always a hot-button topic (and especially in election years). It’s likely that many of these people writing about programs like welfare, food stamps (now called SNAP), and others have never enrolled or received benefits, and I do have to take their opinions with that in mind.
Why We Need Food Stamps
I’m not going to speak to all government programs, but I do think that it’s important to have some level of the food stamp program. While many of the people receiving them probably aren’t in a life-or-death situation when it comes to getting this assistance, it’s probably not too far off, either. According to FeedingAmerica.org, “In 2010, 48.8 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children.” It’s scary to consider that almost 1 in 6 Americans fall into this category.
Hunger clearly continues to be a problem here, and presumably food stamps help alleviate this problem to some degree.
The Program Isn’t Perfect
One issue I have with SNAP/food stamps is that eligibility is based most on income and not on wealth and assets. I’m not sure if this is true in all states, but in Connecticut if you make under a certain amount per month (somewhere around $1,300), you’re not required to disclose any of your assets. What you own isn’t count against the assistance you receive.
This essentially means that millionaires can collect food stamps as long as their present income is below a certain limit. Myself and others collecting foodstamps were really bothered by this fact, and it really didn’t make sense as to why this loophole was allowed to stay open.
Another thing I have mixed feelings on is that in Connecticut you can buy virtually any food you want with food stamps. While I think everyone should have access to healthy foods rather than processed junk, I’m not sure that someone should be allowed to purchase organic or luxury foods with food stamps. I’ve seen people doing this a few times at my local Co-Op, and it just makes me wonder if they really need the food stamps since there’s no way that they’re going to be able to afford enough food with their food stamp assistance at the prices they’re paying.
Getting Off Food Stamps
One of the major criticisms that I hear about these government programs is that people may just stay on them forever instead of trying to increase their income or do something else to get their presently bad situation. That’s a valid question, but it’s one that I have a hard time understanding myself.
To me, simply earning more was enough of an incentive to get off foods stamps. Sure, I had plenty of food to eat, but I had barely enough money for anything else as it was since I was earning so little money. I couldn’t save any money for the future, I couldn’t afford to go on trips with my income, and I really couldn’t buy anything extra (which prompted me to have a “No Spend” month last February).
I imagine my ability and decision to get out of this lifestyle was a lot easier than it was for others. I had a clear path to a better-paying job. Everyone around me was earning more than me. But I’m doubtful it’s that easy for others, and that’s evidenced in unemployment stats based on education.
No One Can Truly Live on Food Stamps
Unlike other government programs, it’s impossible to live on food stamps alone. You aren’t actually given money, which makes it difficult to cheat the system and buy anything other than food. Plus, it’s only enough to barely buy enough groceries. In that sense I feel like it’s hard to say that people really are abusing the program and that it’s not serving its purpose.
I hope I never have to go back to living on food stamps. To me, getting government assistance like this means that I’m in a pretty bad place financially, and I’d never choose that over working hard and earning enough money to pay for my own food.
What are your feelings on food stamps?
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photo by: eschipul