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And then the woman let out a cry. I cannot describe it.
May 9, 2014 12:39 PM   Subscribe

At the Market, Very Late Last night in a supermarket about 3 AM, I saw a woman have a serious breakdown. [...] "I thought I had more money left," she muttered before bursting into tears. They were not tears of embarrassment. They were tears of desperation and panic and "I don't know what to do anymore."

News From ME blogger Mark Evanier encounters a woman whose only safety net is him and the other people in line behind her.
posted by Flexagon (160 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is exactly how it is supposed to work, according to the American right wing. She got her food paid for, no government needed. Problem solved. She just had to abase herself in front of half a dozen strangers.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:47 PM on May 9 [121 favorites]


My heart goes out to this woman and the thousands of others like her. I have often thought how blessed I am that I never even look at the total on the register. I just swipe my card with the knowledge that I am so very fortunate to have more than I need.

I suppose I should take it to the next level, beyond beyond caring to actually doing something to help.
posted by Uncle Grumpy at 12:48 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


My heart goes out to this woman and the thousands of others like her.
Millions.
posted by fullerine at 12:50 PM on May 9 [113 favorites]


i've been in both positions - rather, i've been a child standing next to my mother in that position and then when we were a bit better off, i saw my parents pay it forward many times. now as a grownup, whenever i'm able and in this situation, i pay it forward. i can't even describe all the mixed emotions running through my head right now as tears splash down on my cheeks. thanks for sharing this.
posted by nadawi at 12:52 PM on May 9 [25 favorites]


You're not grumpy enough, Uncle. The fact that you can afford to eat, in the largest and most prosperous economy in the world, shouldn't be cause for pious gratitude over how blessed you are.
posted by Segundus at 12:53 PM on May 9 [10 favorites]


This is the thing that punches me deeper in my gut than anyone else. Nobody should be hungry. Nobody should ever feel shame or despair over not being able to afford food. Food should always be affordable. I wish I could do more and make it so that no one ever has to feel the way this woman did, anywhere, ever.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:59 PM on May 9 [45 favorites]


[Couple comments removed, please let's not just go off on the crappiest derail possible right out the gate.]
posted by cortex at 1:02 PM on May 9 [7 favorites]


I guess it's time to stop shuffling this donation request from the local food bank around on my desk and write a check.
posted by tingting at 1:04 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


This is exactly how it is supposed to work, according to the American right wing. She got her food paid for, no government needed. Problem solved. She just had to abase herself in front of half a dozen strangers.

In other words: mutual aid among the working class, drawing on its wage fund, and when this fails, charity administered by the owning classes in accordance with strict criteria to distinguish the deserving from undeserving poor.
posted by wobdev at 1:06 PM on May 9 [77 favorites]


This reaffirms my belief that most people are basically good, when presented with the right opportunity.
posted by desjardins at 1:07 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


My heart goes out to this woman and the thousands of others like her.

Millions.


Billions.
posted by aught at 1:07 PM on May 9 [34 favorites]


.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:07 PM on May 9


Somebody please send this to Paul Ryan.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:09 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I just finished packing up a bag this morning for the US Postal Service food drive--put a bag of food on your porch/by your mailbox and tomorrow morning your letter carrier will pick it up for delivery to a local food bank. Pretty easy way to help out. But in terms of making sure this kind of thing becomes a faint memory, I am just at a loss...
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:11 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


I have a shop in a fairly well off area, but a scant few times people have brought their bread and what have you up to the register and had their card declined and not have a back up, just actually not been able to pay. I always just say "don't worry about it". I put a receipt in the register that says IOU and leave it there for however long.
I have one outstanding IOU and no one has ever taken advantage of my generosity a second time.

Also, this is just a terrible fucking thread.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 1:13 PM on May 9 [29 favorites]


[Christ on a bike, folks, preview before responding to something that's already deleted.]
posted by cortex at 1:15 PM on May 9 [19 favorites]


I live in the US. I was born and lived in many countries in Europe.

The level of misery that US imposes on its poor, and the sheer number of them outstrips anything I've ever seen in "rich" countries (Japan, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, Norway,...)

There is another way. It works. It's not socialism. It's not a 'welfare state'. It's just giving enough leeway to your government to create public goods. Healthcare. Transportation. Minimum wages.

We should all be saying this to everyone, every day.
posted by Riton at 1:17 PM on May 9 [120 favorites]


The part that really breaks my heart is that woman probably has $5000 in credit card debt. Not just broke, but in debt. And quite possibly not even understanding how interest works, how deep in the hole that debt has put her. Maybe her husband can get a payday loan to help pay off enough on the card she can buy groceries next week. Or if they're really lucky they can just get a title loan on the car.
posted by Nelson at 1:19 PM on May 9 [13 favorites]


I remember my mom using a clicker to keep track of how much our groceries cost as we shopped. But because tax was applied to some things and not others, she'd arrange the groceries on the belt with a gap in a certain point and and ask for a subtotal when we got to the gap. Sometimes she had to forfeit the stuff behind the gap. Sometimes after the full total, she'd have to ask them to take a few items off.

I've had credit cards declined before and had to walk away from an entire grocery order.

It's an awful, awful feeling to have to watch it as a kid, and experience it as an adult.
posted by kimberussell at 1:21 PM on May 9 [36 favorites]


I've mentioned this before but my church has a food shelf and honestly, most people have no idea - no idea - how bad it's getting out there. The statistics do not express this reality. A couple Sundays ago I was cleaning up in the church kitchen and the phone rang and I had this call, again: someone asking if we had a food shelf - yes. What are the hours? Give them the hours, and there is the pause, and then the question: so... you aren't open today? The voice of someone holding it together, pretending that moment doesn't feel like life or death, that they aren't calling because they don't know how else to get food (statistically quite likely for the children they are raising alone). But you can hear the hopelessness, the desperation, underneath that veneer. So I try to marshall my thoughts to give some advice about triaging the shitty options they have available at that point but they have already hung up.
posted by nanojath at 1:21 PM on May 9 [48 favorites]


In fairness to the USA, I have seen very similar things happen in Canada and I have paid for another person's groceries. Maybe it doesn't happen as often elsewhere, but it's not like the USA has a lock on first world poverty.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:21 PM on May 9 [7 favorites]


The part that really breaks my heart is that woman probably has $5000 in credit card debt. Not just broke, but in debt. And quite possibly not even understanding how interest works, how deep in the hole that debt has put her.

If she's too broke to do anything about it, what difference does it make to note that she might not understand?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:23 PM on May 9 [13 favorites]


There was a short story I read in an anthology once, about a woman who was grocery shopping with her child; but there was this weird air of surreality and menace to it, where the woman knew she didn't have much money and knew that if she didn't have enough to pay for her groceries she'd be hauled off and punished in some vague way. The story kept referring to how the food was being displayed too, as if it was on pedestals under spotlights or was in specially-designed artisanal packaging or the like.

It was well written, but it took me a while to realize that that weird level of menace was probably how people like the woman in this piece probably feel about grocery shopping all the time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:24 PM on May 9 [17 favorites]


Here's a fairly recent comparative report on child poverty rates around the world. There are plenty of countries doing worse than the US, but given the US's overall wealth its relatively high rates of child poverty should be considered a source of national shame. Of course, so long as the Republicans control any branch of the government there is precisely zero hope of meaningful federal action on the issue.
posted by yoink at 1:26 PM on May 9 [14 favorites]


Somehow the stats were deleted. Food stamps and other programs in 2001, 18 million persons. 1n 2012, 48 million persons. More than one in seven Americans receives SNAP – U.S. Census Bureau and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) show that SNAP benefits, if counted in income, would have lifted 3.9 million Americans—1.7 million of then children–above the poverty line in 2011. Average food stamp recipient in Maine receives $235.00/month in SNAP benefits alone. In all including rent, heat, phone, food, healthcare, school lunches, annual subsidies are equivalent to earning a $56,000.00 annual salary.
posted by Gungho at 1:29 PM on May 9


I was this woman last night. I brought about $5 of groceries to the cash register at my local grocery and realized I didn't have any money. My credit cards are maxed out and I'm in massive debt. I have nothing left in the bank. I thought I had a $10 left in my wallet, but I was mistaken. I had to tell the woman at the register that I had no money and that all of the items I'd selected should be put back on the shelf.

I went a big-name Ivy. I have a Master's degree. I've had good jobs. But I've been out of work for months now and haven't received any responses to my resumes. I get heartbreakingly close to jobs and am told "we decided to go in a different direction" at least twice a month. I did everything right--straight As, overtime hours--but still wound up in this place where I am dirt-poor, deeply in debt, and praying that my meager unemployment or temping checks cover the rent if I don't eat lunch or breakfast for several days in a row. I don't see this changing since I'm not in my twenties anymore, and no one wants to hire someone "older." If I have children, which I always thought I wanted until now, they'll be caught in this cycle of poverty I unwittingly started by losing a job at a critical point while being unable to find another.

I am not the face that anyone expects when they mention those boogeymen of conservatives' and Republicans' nightmares: grifters, welfare queens, the deservingly needy. But that sort of language makes me so ashamed to be where I am, makes me feel that I must deserve what I'm going through, and if someone had offered to pay for my groceries, I would've refused the offer and cried somewhere out of sight, convinced that the person who had earned that money had done so because they were deserving, hardworking, smarter, and that I hadn't done anything to earn their kindness.

The story is sad, but I am so glad that this woman was smart and strong enough to accept the money. It's so much harder than you'd ever think.

It was well written, but it took me a while to realize that that weird level of menace was probably how people like the woman in this piece probably feel about grocery shopping all the time.


Yep.
posted by pineappleheart at 1:30 PM on May 9 [249 favorites]


We're not really a first world country. We have pockets of first world, but we have made a policy decision to consign large portions of the country (parts of the inner city, outer ring suburbs, rural South) to crushing poverty. Coincidentally, that's where most of the violent crime happens. Surprise. And to keep it away from all the nice first world people, we have a militarized police force and the world's highest incarceration rate. Monstrous and evil is what this is, since it absolutely positively does not have to be that way.
posted by wuwei at 1:31 PM on May 9 [74 favorites]


We're not really a first world country.

Or, the true distinctions between first- and third-world countries isn't what most people think. (Military power and the self-image of the bourgeois class, rather than overall standard of living.)
posted by aught at 1:33 PM on May 9 [15 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos - if you remember any details to track it down with, i'd love to read that story.
posted by nadawi at 1:37 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


Somehow the stats were deleted. Food stamps and other programs in 2001, 18 million persons. 1n 2012, 48 million persons. More than one in seven Americans receives SNAP – U.S. Census Bureau and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) show that SNAP benefits, if counted in income, would have lifted 3.9 million Americans—1.7 million of then children–above the poverty line in 2011. Average food stamp recipient in Maine receives $235.00/month in SNAP benefits alone. In all including rent, heat, phone, food, healthcare, school lunches, annual subsidies are equivalent to earning a $56,000.00 annual salary.

Just a quick note: the working poor who remain under the poverty line, and those poor without jobs, and disabeled people who cannot work, do not receive $56,000 worth of aid in a year in America. Even in Maine.
posted by jsturgill at 1:46 PM on May 9 [65 favorites]


I am pleasantly astonished that everyone in that line was willing to help that lady, without hesitation. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Who were the people in line at three in the morning? From the way it was described, ordinary ones: people with jobs, with bills to pay, loved ones to take care of, lives full of worries. They could all relate to this lady's distress, and so they helped out.

But, what about the not-so-ordinary? I tried picturing what would happen if, by some very strange twist of fate, this poor woman had been in a line with, oh hell, I don't know, people higher up the food chain-- upper-management corporate types, financiers from Wall Street, or maybe someone from Congress. I'm sorry, this is a failure of imagination on my part, but I just couldn't see any people like that helping out the way the ones who were in line actually did. It's not that they're mean-spirited, not all of them, but I doubt any of them could truly have a grasp of, or empathize with, her situation. That's what I think, anyway.

Then again, you never see people of that social strata in an ordinary grocery store at all, ever, much less at three in the morning, so my thought experiment must be invalid from the start.
posted by KHAAAN! at 1:46 PM on May 9 [13 favorites]


Average food stamp recipient in Maine receives $235.00/month in SNAP benefits alone.

Wait wait wait wait wait. You said that like it's a huge amount. You seriously consider this a huge amount? Because if you found out that unemployment in Australia was US$950 a month (plus rent assistance plus we already have socialized healthcare) I think you'd shit a brick.
posted by Talez at 1:48 PM on May 9 [92 favorites]


upper-management corporate types, financiers from Wall Street, or maybe someone from Congress

Yeah, those people have their shopping done for them, so they don't have to get dangerously close to any dirty poor people. You know, the untouchable caste.
posted by jbickers at 1:50 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Average food stamp recipient in Maine receives $235.00/month in SNAP benefits alone.

How many people is that supposed to feed?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:50 PM on May 9 [30 favorites]


I've been that clerk. He makes so little that there's no way he can afford to pay for another. I used to have to visit friends for dinner in week two of my check because I couldn't afford groceries on what I made working in a grocery store.

I've also seen some pretty stupid things in line behind poor people. I once saw a man paying for a $15 already prepared 7 layer salad. It wouldn't let him pay with his welfare card. Same thing when it came to the tray of fudge and the fruit tray. I was thinking, You buy the individual ingredients for those things and you can have fudge and salad and fruit trays for a month! Then I felt like an asshole, since in my mind everyone deserves an occasional treat. This guilt was assuaged when the man says, "If you override the register and ring them up as grocery the card will go through. That's what the guy last time did." I still wouldn't have wanted to trade lives with him.

Once I was in a place in my life where I pretty much had no one else in it. I was alone and lonely and I was in line behind a woman in a similar situation as the one in the linked story. I thought, "I could buy your groceries weekly if you'd keep me in meals." Seriously, there's no good way to say something like that. I'm not talking some weird mistress thing. I just wanted company, home cooked meals, and packed lunches. I would have traded money for that. I was working 60+ hours and had call to boot. All my meals were from a container or from a restaurant. This woman was obviously making her dollars stretch and was making the kind of food I really wanted.

I often think weird thoughts like that. My employer at the time would have paid medical for my non-existent family. I'd have loved to extend these to someone needy.

One day, while thinking one of these odd thoughts of, "If only there was a way I could help these people out," it downed on me that's what my taxes are supposed to be doing. When you're desperate you shouldn't have to depend on the people behind you in line. You shouldn't need to sink so far that someone could think, "Man, if she'd only cook for me I'd take care of her." And I shouldn't be thinking life is unfair because the guy next to me compensated more because he gets healthcare for his whole family while I only get it for myself.

Of all the shitty things my taxes do pay for food for the poor isn't one of the things I've ever given a shit about paying.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:56 PM on May 9 [103 favorites]


KHAAAN! - I think get the point you're making in terms of whether someone with economic privilege could/would identify with the experience enough to help. But I'm not sure how stereotypes about how wealthy people are assholes devoid of compassion for suffering are any more productive than stereotypes about how poor people are lazy.
posted by synapse at 2:01 PM on May 9 [20 favorites]


i live in a well-to-do oklahoma suburb stacked to the brim with churches. our police blotters are basically all "suspicious teen walking through our complex looking poor, dirty, or not white." and, weirdly, and against what i would have assumed about them from their demographics, our town's facebook page is filled with people doing random acts of kindness all over the place. sometimes the recipient writes it up, sometimes people who just see it. it's never as dire as the situation that's written about here - but still probably needed. the kindness of strangers can be seen in a lot of places if you start looking for it.

at the same time, my town seemingly absolutely sucks at tipping (something we do our best to counteract).
posted by nadawi at 2:02 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


if someone had offered to pay for my groceries, I would've refused the offer and cried somewhere out of sight, convinced that the person who had earned that money had done so because they were deserving, hardworking, smarter, and that I hadn't done anything to earn their kindness

I can't promise anyone they'd experience it the way I have, because I know the world's a big place and there are some people who aren't very thoughtful or are in bad places and taking it out on others.

But just speaking as one person who's had to accept help -- most of the time when I've let people help me (either acquaintances or strangers), it's been an affirming and connecting experience for me.

I think most people who are kind are not thinking much of who deserves it, they're kind because they value kindness. Many of them even understand their position to offer something is circumstantial and part accident. Some of them have accepted help in turn, more will someday, perhaps even from you.
posted by weston at 2:03 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


When I think about it, I think about the Coup's Underdogs (SLYT... I've linked it a few times in threads before). The beginning crying hits me sometimes, especially when I'm feeling particularly empathetic...
A gang of preachers screamin sermons over murmurs and sobs
Saying pray for a change from the Lord above you
They'd tear this motherfucker up if they really loved you
posted by symbioid at 2:05 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


nadawi, The Limit has a storyline like that.
posted by BibiRose at 2:06 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


And then the woman let out a cry. I cannot describe it. If I was writing a scene in a TV show and I wanted an actress to make that sound, I have no idea what words I would put on the page to tell her what I had in mind. I'd probably write something about a cry of pain that seemed to say, "I can't endure any more of this…there is too much pain in my life."

That still wouldn't get the actress to make that sound but it might summarize what was on that poor woman's mind at that moment. Clearly, she could not pay. Clearly, she could not get on with her life in any way without groceries.

Although I have, at times, fasted for a day here and there just before I got money again and I have been short rationed often the last week of the month while homeless, I have never panhandled and I have never been as desperate as the description of this woman in this article. I know something about taking care of myself and living well and that resources are not just about money.

I left my corporate job so I could get well. I had financial problems already and I had recently been evicted (though not due to inability to pay my rent), but I did choose to quit so I could get healthier. I have, overall, been better off on the street than I was at my corporate job.

We spent six months in La Jolla, supposedly one of the two most expensive zip codes in the U.S. While there, college students routinely expressed envy of our meals and snacks. This was at a college where kids flew home to Asia for Christmas and treated a lost laptop like no big deal, like most people might treat a lost Gameboy game cartridge. These were mostly young people from very moneyed families and they had no idea how to feed themselves.

I started a blog not long after I became homeless. I did so to try to track and correct some of the info handed out at various services on paper printouts. It often contained inaccuracies and paper simply makes me ill, so I wanted an online repository of info that might matter to me. When I left downtown San Diego, I put up a notice stating that I would no longer update the site as I was no longer in downtown. But it continued to get small amounts of organic traffic, though I was not promoting it in any way and no longer updating it. I checked and the logs suggest that much of the traffic is from actual homeless people looking for helpful info. I also occasionally get a comment or email from someone, either someone homeless or someone looking for a homeless person.

I returned to updating it intermittently, as things occur to me. I recently got an email from someone thanking me for it and saying they are using the site as a citation in a paper they are writing at seminary. Having been homeless and never that desperate, I try to share information in hopes of making life less desperate for folks who really and truly are desperate. I occasionally get feedback that it has been helpful to other people.

Anyway, enough of editing this. I need to do actual work towards developing an online income, which is what I expect to be the thing to solve my problems. I am homeless because of my medical situation. An income that doesn't keep me sick is my ticket to a better life. I am clear on that.
posted by Michele in California at 2:07 PM on May 9 [19 favorites]


There was a good "so you are homeless or about to be" primer in an old Whole Earth Review magazine, but I could not find it online. It would have been from before 1998 (since I read it when I was reshelving periodicals in a library, and that was...uh, 1998)
posted by thelonius at 2:11 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


The Limit is not a short story though. I remember it because it seemed like a really good dystopian touch-- close enough to reality to be very scary. I would also like to know the story being referenced by Empress Callipygos.
posted by BibiRose at 2:11 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


The price of food has been rising at a seemingly shocking rate in the past five years or so. Prices have slowly risen while package size has declined. The cumulative effect really sneaks up on you: you pay more at the counter each trip, and end up making more frequent trips since you run out of food sooner.

Naturally this hits the poorest classes the hardest: they're the ones who have to monitor their food budget the closest, clip coupons, and so on, just to make ends meet. If you're like me, you eventually settle into a regular set of staples that you replace when needed. Most people know to keep an eye out for price increases but now you can't even expect the same brand containers to be the same size as they were last month! It's like you have to go back to square one comparison shopping on a regular basis.

The other day I bought a package of jumbo hotdog weiners [yeah it's not healthy; it's comfort food mostly] and didn't realize until I got home that they're now five to a package instead of six. Same price. Google "grocery shrink ray" and you'll find dozens of examples (mostly from the Consumerist, but still).
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:15 PM on May 9 [14 favorites]


I live close to the largest men's homeless shelter in my city. It has the shelter, a rehab center, and a cafeteria that serves lunch. Every day a little after 11 the main streets through my neighborhood see a small army of men, steady streams from all directions, walking to the shelter's soup kitchen for a meal. Weren't we taught that The Grapes of Wrath was set in the past? How does this go so unnoticed?
posted by dilettante at 2:16 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


It's like we're returning to Dickensian conditions. I'm horrified.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:21 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


16 October 2013 - Numbers relying on food banks triple in a year

3 March 2014 - Councils spending £3m on food poverty and food banks

16 April 2014 - Food banks see 'shocking' rise in number of users

It's like we're returning to Dickensian conditions. I'm horrified.

We are. Either there or the 1930s.

Some of the comments in this thread made me tear-up. Thank you for sharing your testimony with us.
posted by marienbad at 2:28 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I had to go on a hunt for it - it was part of a collection called "Writer's Harvest", which was released to benefit the Share Our Strength charity. It's "Market Day" by W. D. Wetherell.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:29 PM on May 9 [20 favorites]


I've worked for the last ten years mostly as a substitute teacher, and I spent most of that time trying desperately to bring my personal debt down from five figures. I have financially stable family (out of state), so I've never really had to face this sort of fate... but I felt close enough just the same. Asking for help is humiliating, even when you know nobody holds it against you. I can't remember how many times I paid for my groceries entirely with coins I scraped together from all over the house/apartment.

Over the last two years, I've done super well with self-published fiction. Last year I put out a military sci-fi novel (for all of $3) that made more than double what I could possibly make all year as a (college educated, fully certificated) substitute teacher, even after taxes. I cleared out the rest of my debt. I made that money just in time to cover an emergency appendectomy that would have ruined me if it had hit just a year earlier. And I don't have to take every crappy sub job that comes down the pike just for the sake of making the rent. I'm not rich, but for the first time in my adult life, I feel stable.

Two weeks ago I went to Safeway late at night to buy a can of soup on a whim. The guy in front of me looked back and asked (with an Irish accent) if he could pay for it. I was so stunned by his kindness that I just couldn't say no. I guess I was kinda dressed as a ragamuffin that night. I felt a little guilty, given that I really don't need the help, but I just got completely tongue-tied and could only say thank you. And since I've been making decent money, I've been pretty free with donations to food drives and even panhandlers and whoever seems to need it, so I feel like maybe I've paid it both forward and afterward.

But still. Hell of a moment.
Next time I put out a book, all the sales from at least one of my other titles goes to charity for at least a month, 'cause I scraped by for way too long to forget what it's like.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:30 PM on May 9 [42 favorites]


nanojath: " A couple Sundays ago I was cleaning up in the church kitchen and the phone rang and I had this call, again: someone asking if we had a food shelf - yes. What are the hours? Give them the hours, and there is the pause, and then the question: so... you aren't open today? The voice of someone holding it together, pretending that moment doesn't feel like life or death, that they aren't calling because they don't know how else to get food (statistically quite likely for the children they are raising alone). But you can hear the hopelessness, the desperation, underneath that veneer. "

I wish you could record such calls, collect them and send them to the fucking Republicans
posted by symbioid at 2:35 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


People are mentioning debts - do you mean student debts?
posted by Omnomnom at 2:36 PM on May 9


The next person in line said, "If you pay for them, do they come back the next night figuring you'll pay for them again?"

He said, "No, never. We never see them again. That woman who just left here…you will never see her in this market again. It's too painful. It just reminds them of how bad off they were that night."


That ending is like a punch in the gut by a reality too fierce to fathom. It's why I believe in a social welfare system that doesn't humiliate as a prerequisite to help.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:37 PM on May 9 [56 favorites]


I wish you could record such calls, collect them and send them to the fucking Republicans


90% of them would probably ask if those people were so poor why did they have a phone.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:39 PM on May 9 [84 favorites]


It's like there's this iron wall (maybe more like that Stephen King dome) between most of us--the 99%--and our government and the people who control it. These stories are everywhere, you barely have to look to find them, everyone I know has some story of desperation about themselves or their loved ones, and it just never reaches the top. I have a hard time believing all of those people are just irredeemably, Mr. Burns-level, evil, that they are happy to think of people suffering. I can believe they are willing to delude themselves that nothing is wrong.

But how small, how closed-off must your world be, not to see what's happening, not to hear these stories?
posted by emjaybee at 2:43 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


(Also, in reference to that book in my comments... all that self-publishing success came with no small amount of help and advice from Metafilter. So, THANK YOU, MeFi: you played a role in helping me claw my way a few yards back from the poverty line.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:43 PM on May 9 [17 favorites]


I was thinking, You buy the individual ingredients for those things and you can have fudge and salad and fruit trays for a month!

Assuming they have a working refrigerator. Or a regular space to live in.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:49 PM on May 9 [30 favorites]


People are mentioning debts - do you mean student debts?

It's equally likely to mean medical debt, or the consumer debt left over from when you thought it was going to be no problem to pay it off and bought a TV, or the debt that comes from paying bills and buying food and gas with credit cards after being unemployed, when savings are gone.
posted by thelonius at 2:49 PM on May 9 [26 favorites]


agatha_magatha: "I just finished packing up a bag this morning for the US Postal Service food drive--put a bag of food on your porch/by your mailbox and tomorrow morning your letter carrier will pick it up for delivery to a local food bank. Pretty easy way to help out. But in terms of making sure this kind of thing becomes a faint memory, I am just at a loss..."

God, thanks for reminding me!
posted by notsnot at 2:51 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I had just come back in from running my food drive bag out to the mailbox, when I sat down and saw this FPP.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:52 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


People are mentioning debts - do you mean student debts?

Student debts. Medical debts. The debts you rack up just trying to keep your car running so you can make it to work to pay off your debts. The totally reasonable, "Hey I can afford this" debts you take on before your finances suddenly change or your car goes on the fritz and then you really are in a mess. The debts you incur from being in a bad relationship with someone who doesn't understand finances but you don't break it off because a financial boo-boo here and there shouldn't be a deal-breaking sin. The list goes on, if you'd like.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:57 PM on May 9 [29 favorites]


The price of food has been rising at a seemingly shocking rate in the past five years or so. Prices have slowly risen while package size has declined. The cumulative effect really sneaks up on you: you pay more at the counter each trip, and end up making more frequent trips since you run out of food sooner.

Is this true nationally? I have not noticed a big change, but I am (as described above) privileged enough to not need to worry if my debit card will clear at the grocery store, so I may be missing the pattern. (The shrinking packages are obvious, though.)

Just looking around town, it is obvious that many people are struggling. I see more people driving cars held together with spit and baling wire than I did just a few years ago, more kids in worn out clothes. And this is an area with very low unemployment--it's low wages and poor social services, not just being out of work.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:00 PM on May 9


People are mentioning debts - do you mean student debts?

I bet 90% of the debts are down to student loans, medical debt or living expenses being paid on credit due to recent unemployment.
posted by fshgrl at 3:06 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I was just checking email and saw this sadly appropriate article about school lunches.
posted by mogget at 3:07 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I was just checking email and saw this sadly appropriate article about school lunches.

It feels like every month, I'm reading one of these stories where a school worker dumps some kid's lunch in the trash right in front of them. How hard do you have to be to do something like that?
posted by indubitable at 3:20 PM on May 9


Seems tangentially appropriate for this discussion..
Woman A Leading Authority On What Shouldn’t Be In Poor People’s Grocery Carts
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:21 PM on May 9 [15 favorites]


How hard do you have to be to do something like that?

It may well be that they are required to do it. If they refuse...well...there are plenty others waiting for a job.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:24 PM on May 9


Because if you found out that unemployment in Australia was US$950 a month (plus rent assistance plus we already have socialized healthcare) I think you'd shit a brick.

Unemployment in the United States is 80% (? or something like that) of salary, up to $1733 / month. Plus if you have no income, you qualify for rent assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, free school lunches, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and lots more.
posted by Hatashran at 3:29 PM on May 9


Woman A Leading Authority On What Shouldn’t Be In Poor People’s Grocery Carts

Please tell me this is ..sarcasm or something. Because otherwise I kind of want to stab her. And I am not prone to violence.

I eat well because it is cheaper to do so than the medical care I am supposed to require. And since I am homeless, I have no cooking facilities. So I get "pricey" precooked stuff regularly. I could probably afford to move to some nasty trailer in rural Alabama or Mississippi, but I have lived in a trailer and said "never again. I will live in a tent first." Guess what? I am living in a tent. And getting healthier, not sicker. It just makes more sense for me and also is less of a burden on society for me to just be healthy.
posted by Michele in California at 3:32 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


MiC, that is a link to The Onion, which is a satirical fake newspaper.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:34 PM on May 9 [9 favorites]


Thx, LM. I sorta vaguely thought so but I am rapidly turning into an out of touch old fogey who doesn't know what you young whippersnappers are up to, in the popular culture.

Back to ..whatever.
posted by Michele in California at 3:36 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Unemployment in the United States is 80% (? or something like that) of salary, up to $1733 / month. Plus if you have no income, you qualify for rent assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, free school lunches, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and lots more.

Yes, that's right! When you lose your job [at the mall/at the local Waffle House/at the car wash/at the seasonal cannery] as a childless adult, the government will absolutely just give you $1,733 a month, for forever, while paying for your imaginary child's school lunches and giving you free rent that everyone on welfare qualifies for and there is no wait list for at all, give you free healthcare without considering your income, give you food stamps, TANF, and WIC all at once so that you could theoretically feed an army for free even though you're neither a needy family nor a woman, infant, or child, and more! All for the low, low price of never happens like that.
posted by jsturgill at 3:39 PM on May 9 [98 favorites]


Plus if you have no income, you qualify for rent assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, free school lunches, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and lots more.

This is very much not universally true for all people. You can't qualify for WIC unless you are a Woman with Infants or Children, for example. My district has reduced school lunch but not free. Until the ACA, Medicaid in my state was impossible to get on for an adult.
posted by KathrynT at 3:39 PM on May 9 [9 favorites]


Unemployment in the United States is 80% (? or something like that) of salary, up to $1733 / month. Plus if you have no income, you qualify for rent assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, free school lunches, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and lots more.

but that's only if you have been employed in a job that payed into state unemployment insurance. contract work, part time jobs, graduate assistantship etc. all don't pay into unemployment, which is why now, when i haven't had any work in months, I am not in fact unemployed and get 80% of nothing. In fact, I don't think I have ever worked a job that paid unemployment. Rent assistance? Do you know how long the waiting list is for Section 8 housing in most parts of the country, and that's with kids?

I've cancelled my internet. My phone is prepaid. I'm driving a car because my credit card is almost maxed out. If i didn't have a car I would have to bike six miles to the nearest grocery store. The only reason why I am eating is food stamps.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:41 PM on May 9 [25 favorites]


Also to qualify for rent assistance, you have to have assets worth no more than $5,000, including your car, your computer, and your savings account. So good luck ever getting OFF housing assistance in a city where a two-bedroom apartment rents for $1100 a month and you need first/last/deposit to move in.
posted by KathrynT at 3:42 PM on May 9 [10 favorites]


MiC, that is a link to The Onion, which is a satirical fake newspaper.

But it satirizes an actual trend among conservatives of taking apocryphal anecdotes about food stamp users buying lobsters and extrapolating to the entire recipient population. I'm not sure if it's because they are incapable of reading and understanding actual data on the recipient population or they are too married to their mistaken beliefs and want to keep it that way.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:44 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


Somebody please send this to Paul Ryan.

I really wish, especially in a thread about a story of humans helping out other humans, that we could be kinder to each other, and not try to use it as an excuse for snark. There's already a lot of unpleasantness in the world. There's no shortage.

Some of us believe in public charity and others believe in private charity, but I think the important thing is trying to care for people. People are generous. People want to be generous. All people want to be generous. They just want to be generous in different ways. There's no need to hate them for it.
posted by corb at 3:46 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Oh, for Christ's sake. Paul Ryan doesn't need you to defend him.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:50 PM on May 9 [88 favorites]


I would like a society that cared for people without requiring them to humiliate themselves in public, in front of strangers. I would like a society that cared for people without every goddamn know-it-all coming along and saying "You should just..." to people they've never met and don't know anything about. I'd like that a lot.

People don't want to be generous, especially if they can score points by not being generous, like the people who want to cut SNAP or school lunches because those moneys teach children that their parents don't love them. They want kids to be hungry so they can make a fucking point. Fuck that.
posted by rtha at 3:52 PM on May 9 [32 favorites]


Plus if you have no income, you qualify for rent assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, free school lunches, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and lots more.

Woohoo! Gravy train!
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:52 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


All people want to be generous.

Well, that's obviously not true. I'll accept, though, that the Republican Party politicians who quite definitely do not want to be generous with public money to the nation's poor genuinely believe that in the long run this will leader to a more prosperous and happier nation than doing otherwise. The problem is, though, they they quite explicitly and avowedly claim that a necessary part of the means of bringing that change about is to threaten people with destitution. That's what all that talk about "welfare dependency" and "cultures of entrepreneurship" and so forth is about. They believe that you don't help someone by giving them money and helping them get back on their feet--that you help them by threatening them with going hungry so that they'll feel incentivized either to take a shittier job than they were holding out for or to come up with some sort of independent money-making plan etc. I mean, you can't really have it both ways: you can't say that you're all about making people "get off the public teat" and "learn to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps" AND claim that you really want to be "generous" to the suffering poor.
posted by yoink at 3:53 PM on May 9 [29 favorites]


Re the US vs. Australia (and other 1st world countries). I don't think Australians should necessarily be too smug about this. If you look at the last UN Human Poverty Index findings, the US and Aus are not that far apart on the table. Admittedly that's 2007, and I imagine that the US has gone down with the effects of the Great Recession, which has largely passed Aus by (because of its huge resource boom), but neither both the US and Aus are world's apart from the top performing nations (which are pretty much the Scandinavian social democracies you'd expect to see there). In any case, we're talking about countries with sufficient wealth that they could all but eliminate poverty as a meaningful part of the social fabric and they collectively choose not to do so. It's shameful.
posted by yoink at 4:05 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Has this graph + article about what costs have fallen and what costs have increased made the rounds at MeFi yet? Feels relevant to me here...
posted by rivenwanderer at 4:08 PM on May 9 [8 favorites]


By the way, to no one's surprise, gungho's mysteriously deleted numbers are wrong. The average SNAP recipient in Maine received $122.79/month in 2013 per the USDA's own report.
posted by kewb at 4:09 PM on May 9 [20 favorites]


All people want to be generous.

I guess I don't want to be generous. Because the generous thing, the charitable thing, would be to agree with you. But in America, in 2014, I just cannot believe that the American right wants to be generous in any way. Their ideology necessitates a viewpoint that this woman is flawed, that she deserves not to eat, or at the very least that her eating should be predicated on her admission of her flaws accompanied by some groveling, followed by their public display of largesse, in turn accompanied by a lecture from them on her personal failure.

Never mind that facts don't back up this ideological stance -- given a choice between facts and this cherished belief, they will choose the fantasy.
posted by Killick at 4:16 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


Is this true nationally?

Sorry, I don't have cites to national studies or anything meeting rigorous academic standards. It's just an impression I get from personal observations, and confirmation bias could be a big part of it for all I know.

Sometimes when you see the old and new containers on the store shelf, the difference is striking. Other times it's subtle enough that I don't notice until I'm down to the last can of the old stuff, buy more, and discover that the new size doesn't stack well with the old. I haven't seen one of those "now 20% more!" signs on a package redesign since the 90s.

Not to derail from the topic of empathy, compassion, and assistance to the poor, I just wanted to acknowledge the stealth inflation happening with food. Even with my relative privilege, I've had the experience of being surprised at the checkout and having to use a debit card because I hadn't brought enough cash, because I hadn't changed my shopping list in almost a year and wasn't paying attention. How crushing would that have been if my usual was all I could afford, instead of just what was comfortable with my budget?
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:22 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I really wish, especially in a thread about a story of humans helping out other humans, that we could be kinder to each other, and not try to use it as an excuse for snark. There's already a lot of unpleasantness in the world. There's no shortage.

I have no snark in me for people who want to help others. The idea that the undeserving poor are leading lives of luxury, though, is not helping anyone or anything. It's a disease. I would feel morally culpable if I sat back and did nothing when presented with it.

Unfortunately, fake enthusiastic agreement is the only way I can communicate how terribly wrong certain kinds of ideas are. Drive by comments with zero real information about or understanding of a supposed welfare gravy train fall under that category. This is a poor tool I must admit, but it's what I have to work with and the work is meaningful.
posted by jsturgill at 4:23 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


Hatashran: "Unemployment in the United States is 80% (? or something like that) of salary, up to $1733 / month. Plus if you have no income, you qualify for rent assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, free school lunches, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and lots more."

LOL.

Good one.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:26 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


Hatashran: ". Plus if you have no income, you qualify for ...."

Unemployment counts as income in many cases.
posted by Megafly at 4:30 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


Sorry, I don't have cites to national studies or anything meeting rigorous academic standards. It's just an impression I get from personal observations, and confirmation bias could be a big part of it for all I know.

Sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I was demanding scientific proof! I have definitely noticed the shrinking package thing (my favorite cereal has shrunk to the point of absurdity) but don't track my spending closely enough to see how much prices might have risen, so I was wondering how big the increase was and if that was the same nationally or had been much worse in some areas.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:35 PM on May 9


The price of food has been rising at a seemingly shocking rate in the past five years or so. Prices have slowly risen while package size has declined. The cumulative effect really sneaks up on you: you pay more at the counter each trip, and end up making more frequent trips since you run out of food sooner.

I think it's true that manufacturers have been shrinking package sizes, but that's just because of general overall inflation, not because food inflation is particularly high. Ironically, the move to downsize package contents (rather than just increase prices) is a reflection of the fact that we're in a very low-inflation economy so the manufacturers fear that the public will be resistant to price hikes. Food costs have actually largely kept pace with overall CPI inflation over the last decade or so (although they're more volatile generally). What has risen faster than overall inflation is not packaged or processed foods but meats and produce (source).
posted by yoink at 4:36 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


In the past 6 months alone, I've been the person calling around to all of the food shelters, praying to find one open whatever day of the week it was. I've had days where the only thing I ate were stolen saltines from the supply closet at work. I've been at walmart, buying $7 worth of ramen, to have my card declined, and to have to go home to people to tell them we'll have to think of something else.

Just today, I went to a job interview , and couldn't pay the $3 to get my car out of the garage. And I have a full time job.

I know a lot of people here on metafilter are in this same position (though probably more that aren't), but I can't even begin to describe the feeling when you see people talk about your life in the abstract- either as a point on a chart, a piece of data in some study, or as the bane of republican's existence.
posted by FirstMateKate at 4:39 PM on May 9 [42 favorites]


To expand on my earlier LOLwhut response: here in California weekly unemployment rates range from $40-450/week. The last time I had to go on unemployment I qualified for the max rate. But the reason for that is that I had high enough income prior to becoming unemployed to qualify for that rate. Which also meant I was probably the least desperate among all those on unemployment. Those less fortunate than me do not get $450/week. And, trust me, even $450/week does not get you very far in any of the metropolitan areas.

So, yeah, it is possible to get $1,733 or even more per month in unemployment but the people who need it most don't get anything anywhere near that. And then they get taxed on it. And then it runs out eventually.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:41 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I spoke with a woman recently who is currently homeless; she receives around $200 a month in food stamps, and another $200 or so in cash aid. She was apologetic about receiving the cash aid - she told me that she tried to get by just on food stamps, but she couldn't buy certain things (like soap) with them, so she needed the cash. $400 a month and she was apologizing to me about needing that much to live to on.

Anyone who thinks that people who receive public benefits are lazy/getting too much money/etc hasn't spoken with very many people who are in that situation.

(And by the way, for those that don't know, many public benefits cannot be received at the same time - for example, if you live in California and get SSI, you cannot get food stamps.)
posted by insectosaurus at 4:48 PM on May 9 [18 favorites]


Plus if you have no income, you qualify for rent assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, free school lunches, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and lots more.

I can't decide what I love most about this comment.

Is it the blithe assumption that qualifying for something means you get it automagically?

Or is it the complete obliviousness to the fact that having no income is not the only qualification for any of the programs mentioned, and may actually be a disqualification for some?
posted by dogrose at 4:50 PM on May 9 [44 favorites]


No, actually, what I love most is the "Plus" and the "lots more."
posted by dogrose at 5:00 PM on May 9 [51 favorites]


after getting unexpectedly fired around the time my lease ran out, i was homeless some years ago, sleeping on friends couches, using the piddly savings i had to buy food. i tried to get food stamps - i certainly qualified at the time - after the 4th time i stood in line with my filled out forms only to see them disappear behind a door and for me to never hear another word about them, i finally gave up because i just couldn't get any more rides out to the office during the hours they were open and it didn't seem to matter any way. each time the people behind the glass assured me that i qualified and that it'd only be a week or two, but i never received as much as a communication from them.
posted by nadawi at 5:08 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


Hatsharan - unemployment varies WILDLY from state to state. I am currently on unemployment in New York State, which maxes out for all residents at about $1200 monthly, BEFORE taxes. That is less than HALF of what I was making in my full-time job.

What you say about unemployment being 80% may indeed be true in your state, but please understand that that figure - as well as whether a person would also qualify for other social assistance - is almost guaranteed to not also be true of many of the other states in which many of the people in here are living.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:08 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


All people want to be generous. They just want to be generous in different ways.

Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity plans $125 million spending spree
“If the presidential election told us anything, it’s that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak,” reads the AFP memo.

Echoing Charles Koch’s opposition to the minimum wage, it asserts that free market, low-regulation policies “create the greatest levels of prosperity and opportunity for all Americans, especially for society’s poorest and most vulnerable.” Yet, the memo says, “we consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy — and its advocates — benefit the rich and powerful more than the most vulnerable of society. …We must correct this misconception.”
posted by Room 641-A at 5:15 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


No, actually what I love most is the "Plus" and the "lots more."

Yeah, as if life on public assistance is a Carnival Cruise.

Anyone who thinks that people who receive public benefits are lazy/getting too much money/etc hasn't spoken with very many people who are in that situation.
needs to be thrust into that situation with no escape or assistance from friends/family until their hearts grow at least three sizes.

Every time I hear someone utter that bootstrap horseshit it makes me want to make my boot part of that person's ass.
posted by Pudhoho at 5:16 PM on May 9 [15 favorites]


What I love about that comment is the image it projects toward the next homeless person you see - he's actually making $1,700 a month in unemployment, getting food stamps, housing, health care, etc.

Ye gods - could anyone really believe this nonsense?

Many years ago I was in a grocery line when the lady in front of me, who had her little girl with her, was checking out with food stamps. Among her purchases were three packets of seeds, two of which were for vegetables and the other was for flowers. The clerk, with an honest-to-God snarl, informed her that she was not allowed to purchase flower seeds with food stamps, only vegetable seeds. She apologized, said she didn't realize that, and told him to just ring up the vegetable seeds, then. The clerk then dropped some comment about how if you could buy flower seeds with food stamps, why not just let food stamps pay for anything a person might want?

Her daughter was disappointed, but didn't make a fuss. I moved up and dropped a few dollars in with the food stamps and told the clerk to put the flower seeds back into the order and I also told him his comments were uncalled for. The lady and her daughter left the store and I checked out, but I never went back to that clerk again.

I've had to scrounge pennies to get something to feed my child, but we've never been truly hungry. I have been homeless, but could probably have rented a room in a dump somewhere; instead, like Michele, I preferred to live in a tent (this was after my child was grown and on her own). I've lived many times without utilities because they were turned off for nonpayment and when I was waiting for Social Security Disability to come through I was without income of any kind for 9 months - that was a scrounge time, believe me. That was when I was 49 and had been diagnosed with Parkinson's a year and a half before; I continued working for that year and a half, but it was just because my employer put up with me - I really couldn't do the job. Otherwise, I worked full-time for 31 years, sometimes two jobs, and never collected any sort of public assistance, including food stamps; there was a time when that was a source of pride with me, but I look at it a little differently now.

My heart breaks for these people who are dancing on the razor's edge just trying to stay alive from one day to the next. We need a massive overhaul of the way we do things in this country, but that would actually impact the upper crust and so it's not likely to happen. In the meantime, most of us do what we can to help in little ways.
posted by aryma at 5:21 PM on May 9 [33 favorites]


When I was in high school -- this would have been the late 80s -- I was sitting in the waiting room of my doctor's office for a checkup or something. This was a small town, and this was the only doctor in town, and the town I grew up in wasn't really all that far removed from Jim Crow. (There was one black teacher in the school district -- seriously, one -- and the one fact everyone knew about him was that he'd been the principal of the black high school back during segregation.) All that is to give you an idea of what kind of town this was.

Anyway, I'm sitting in the doctor's office, the waiting room is full of people I know from school and church and whatnot, and an African-American man and his ~11 year old son come in. The man had a cast on his arm, and asked if he could get it removed. The receptionist said sure, fine, and handed over a clipboard with the standard paperwork. The 11-year-old took it from her, said "My dad doesn't read." And they sat down together, the kid asking the questions on the form, the dad answering, and the kid filling them all in.

The kid took the clipboard back up to the receptionist. She took it, said "Okay, that will be $7." (I don't know why I remember that it was $7, but I do.) The kid looked to the dad, and the dad stood up and went through his pockets. He came up with some sum less than $7 and asked the receptionist if they could bill him for the rest. The answer was a very emphatic NO. He asked again, nicely, promising to bring the money the next day, but she would have none of it.

The man and his son left, the cast still on the man's arm.

I was watching this whole thing wishing I could give them the $7 they needed. I didn't have any money on me, though. I was 16. I had a check from my mom. But all of those other people in the waiting room? Any one of them certainly could have helped. No one did. None of them even looked up from their copies of Reader's Digest or Guidepost.

I hated it; hated that experience. I've thought back to it often, but always in the context of "I'm so glad things are better now." But they AREN'T. Things are no different at all.

I don't know if that makes me naive, or if it means I wear blinders, or what. I don't really even have a point, I guess.

The folks who were in line behind the woman in this story are awesome, and I'm really happy to hear that they helped out. I've seen the other side of it, though, and I suspect it is probably much more the norm.

We can do better, and our government needs to look up from its copy of Reader's fucking Digest.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:25 PM on May 9 [48 favorites]



Some of us believe in public charity and others believe in private charity


And some of us nastily dismiss such things as "magical unicorn candy" and should not pretend that they feel otherwise.
posted by elizardbits at 5:27 PM on May 9 [48 favorites]


worth noting that food stamps are the most productive form of government spending
posted by p3on at 5:37 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


Also worth noting is the record number of military and veteran families on food stamps.
posted by aryma at 5:42 PM on May 9 [8 favorites]


My daughter just got food stamps. We help her out as much as we can, and she works part time and teaches a course at the university while she's finishing her dissertation. She got $15 a month in food stamps.
posted by Peach at 6:12 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


Since a few people in this thread have mentioned that they're currently struggling to afford groceries, here is my go-to recipe for when I need to eat as cheaply as possible ($1-$2/day):

1 cup rice
1 cup lentils
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
~5 cups water
season with whatever
cook in a rice cooker (ideal) or in saucepan on stovetop

That will give you ~1700 macronutritionally balanced calories, which is adequate for most sedentary people. Add rice as needed if you need more carbohydrate energy for physical labor or other exercise. (1/2 cup of rice = 300 calories, also add 1 cup of water for every 1/2 cup of rice.)

Adjust the water as necessary to get the consistency you prefer. If it's too dry, add water next time, if it's too mushy, reduce water next time.

This recipe is great for people who lack proper kitchens because you can cook it in a cheap (<$20) rice cooker and the lack of animal products means that it doesn't spoil very fast and thus you can eat from the pot all day even if you don't have a refrigerator.

Rice can be any kind, so either use what you already have, buy the cheapest available, or (if you can afford it) use brown rice for extra fiber and nutrition. (Your poops will be a dream if you make this recipe with brown rice.)

Lentils combined with rice create a complete protein, and they cook up much much faster than beans.

I prefer the taste of olive oil but you can substitute any kind of vegetable oil. So either use what you already have or buy the cheapest.

This dish is like a culinary blank canvas so you can season it with almost anything: salt and pepper, sauce packets from fast food restaurants, hot sauce, soy sauce, cumin, garlic, onion, garam masala mix, cajun spice mix, etc. If you already have a well-stocked spice rack you can use this dish as an opportunity to experiment with different combinations. Sometimes I will make a pot of this to use up leftover liquids from other meals -- it goes well with anything from thai curry sauce to pot roast juice. Varying the seasoning from day to day will greatly extend the number of days you can eat it without getting bored.

While it's macronutrtionally balanced (adequate carbs, protein, and fat), it's lacking in a lot of micronutrients so ideally you should take a daily multivitamin/multimineral.

You can't eat this way forever, but it will get you through a rough patch without going hungry.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:44 PM on May 9 [102 favorites]


Holy crap mudpuppie. That story...I just...I want to go back in time and just give that man $7 and then take him and his son for ice cream.
posted by sio42 at 6:46 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


Jaqueline - with all due respect, I don't think shopping advice is precisely what those without money with which to shop actually need.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:48 PM on May 9 [11 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: Well, given that the economy and social welfare programs aren't going to change overnight, it's the thing that they can benefit most immediately from.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:49 PM on May 9 [10 favorites]


Gungho: “In all including rent, heat, phone, food, healthcare, school lunches, annual subsidies are equivalent to earning a $56,000.00 annual salary.”
Not even close, broheim. When I added it up earlier this year, this was my conclusion for Georgia: "That comes to $22,594 in earned income and benefits for a family of four, including a babe-in-arms still being breastfed. That's $456 under the 2012 federal poverty level for our hypothetical family." There simply aren't able-bodied people being provided benefits that come anywhere close — let alone more than — the median household income in the U.S. To claim otherwise if bearing false witness.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:55 PM on May 9 [15 favorites]


[Maybe let's not get derailed onto recipes or should-we-have-recipes discussion? Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:56 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I want to go back in time and just give that man $7 and then take him and his son for ice cream.

No kidding, mudpuppie, that's a heartbreaker.

Similar heartbreaking story on hunger from a somewhat-similar thread.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:04 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


The idea that the undeserving poor are leading lives of luxury, though, is not helping anyone or anything. It's a disease. I would feel morally culpable if I sat back and did nothing when presented with it.

You know, this is something I really struggle a lot with, as someone who works in (private) social services. Because you really do see all kinds. I see people who absolutely, without a doubt, are trying to scam the system. One hundred percent. Men who try to count children they're not paying child support for as their dependents in order to make it under the poverty line. People who pretend to belong to a specific class that is being helped so they can get more money. It's not the overwhelming majority of people, but it certainly happens at least once a week. We've had people come in who make more money than I, as a worker there make, pretending to be indigent in order to get more financial assistance.

But there are also genuine people in need, who really need help, who are incredibly grateful to be helped, for whom the assistance makes a real difference. They don't want more than they need. They really, genuinely, do want a hand up and will work hard to keep themselves on an even keel once you get them there.

And the honest-to-god problem is that the former are ruining things for the latter. Every person who comes in "without documents" who turns out, when checked, to be making a high salary means that the next honest person who comes in without documents is going to get the third degree. Because even though I really want to stretch the rules for them - I really want to take them on faith - I've seen other people take advantage of that faith before, and I don't want to put myself on the line for someone who will kick me in the face. There's a reason why social workers have incredibly high rates of burnout.

One thing, though, that this story really made me think about is the fear of the card being declined. I've also lived through some tough times where cards were declined, except I was far too proud to admit it to strangers. I'd be one of the people who stepped outside to call my bank and never came back. And now, even though my family makes decent money, even on the occasions when I've just looked in my bank account and know I have a lot of money, even if I'm buying a stick of gum - every single time, I catch my breath until the card goes through. Just in case the stars have aligned such that the unexpected happened and the card is somehow no good. I catch my breath and hold it. The habits of poverty last forever.
posted by corb at 7:07 PM on May 9 [11 favorites]


I've been this woman before too. I still have a note in my drawer of this one time I knew I had exactly $48.76 in my bank (and I didn't have credit cards or other magic money....that is all the money I had) and I went to the SuperFresh here in Philly and I was so accustomed to buying the cheapest food that would last me the longest that with my order of peanut butter and bread and water and beans and lentils and chicken and tilapia that my checkout came to $48.66.

I was eleven cents off from being too poor to afford these groceries. I lived off of that sub 50 bucks for 5 and a half weeks. I'm not kidding you. I lived on $10 bucks a week of food for five weeks. And this was last year - 2013, I was 29 and employed.

I had a bachelor's degree, no health insurance (pre-existing condition and poor) but luckily was qualified for an economic hardship deferrment for the reminaing $6k of my student loans. I worked hard in high school, got a mostly full ride, but no job because the motherfuckers in the generation before me (and the motherfuckers in power that really called the shots) tanked the economy and my degree was useless two years before I even earned it.

I was born in 1983 and I've worked a full time job since I was 15 years old. I've been working 15 years now and every fucking year I've been paycheck to paycheck. There have been times where I've eaten at a Krystal for months on end because it's the cheapest calories I can afford.

There have been worse times where I've stolen food from roommates or strangers or coworkers who knew I was doing it and shamed me for it...but I literally had no other options than starvation.

I've always worked, paid my taxes, voted, and if I've ever treated myself to a fun time outside of my means I seriously cannot recall it. Maybe a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in 1999. That's the first thing that comes to mind.

I'm 30 now and still hand-to-mouth, check to check. I don't know if I was ever supposed to expect anything from this fucking country or this life, but I don't have it. The ONLY SILVER LINING AT ALL is that the ACA passed and for.....I'm actually tearing up as I type this....for the first time in my life....

fuck.

Okay so I have a pre-existing condition, a heart malfunction called PSVT....and for the first time in my life I can (barely) afford health insurance because of the ACA and because I work 60 hours a week bartending for a company that is progressive when they DO NOT HAVE TO BE and they pay 1/2 of my health insurance because I've been there for a year. NO ONE ELSE DOES THIS in the service industry.

But at least now I can see a specialist about my heart and maybe try and live past the age of 50.

This is America. And I'm a fucking cis white male. This shit is fucked up.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:16 PM on May 9 [63 favorites]


Thanks for doing what you do, corb, I've had social worker friends with similar stories (and burnout). I also like to ask people who get indignant about welfare cheats why they don't care nearly as much about wealthy tax dodgers and the contractors who made literal pallets full of money disappear in Iraq, considering the much bigger scope of the second problem. They never have a good answer.

Of course, if we funded more social workers and paid them more, we'd be able to help more people and be able to deal with the occasional scam artist more effectively. Overworked people in a place with high turnover are, after all, easier to fool and confuse.
posted by emjaybee at 7:17 PM on May 9 [8 favorites]


Medical debt is a killer. I have relatively decent insurance, and I'm STILL drowning in what it doesn't cover. I'm still paying off my portion of surgery I had three and a half years ago. I've had so much medical debt for so long I'll never have good credit.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:31 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I see people who absolutely, without a doubt, are trying to scam the system. One hundred percent.

Since no system is perfect you have to make a choice:

1. If you optimize the system to keep out cheaters, you will accidentally fail to help some people in need.

2. If you optimize the system to make sure everyone gets the help they need, you will accidentally give money to cheaters.

Any system without stories of scammers cheating the system is unquestionably failing to help people in need.
posted by straight at 7:33 PM on May 9 [67 favorites]


My family earns $54,000 a year. A few months ago we were on unemployment, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, and heating assistance. I would like to report that the $54,000 check is a whole lot more money (I mean unless the public housing down the street that appears to be modest apartments is in fact GINORMOUS MANSIONLIKE apartments, then okay).
posted by gerstle at 7:33 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


2. If you optimize the system to make sure everyone gets the help they need, you will accidentally give money to cheaters.

Indeed. The push to drug-test people on welfare a few years back? Someone did a study and discovered that the cost of the drug testing exceeded the potential savings from identifying the addicts (who would presumably be kicked off the welfare rolls, even if they otherwise qualified).

Given the difficulty inherent in just applying for benefits (I have a law degree and I found the instructions for filing for California unemployment impenetrable), I think it's safe to say that the amount of fraud which is successfully perpetrated on the system is fairly small in comparison to the number of people the system is helping.

And I'd rather lose some money to fraudsters, while feeding the hungry.
posted by suelac at 8:13 PM on May 9 [13 favorites]


Better for twelve guilty men to go free...
posted by wenestvedt at 8:17 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I see people who absolutely, without a doubt, are trying to scam the system. One hundred percent.
So?

That's the price we pay to make sure those who need assistance get assistance.
Or to put it another way, scammers gonna scam.
posted by fullerine at 8:19 PM on May 9 [8 favorites]


many public benefits cannot be received at the same time - for example, if you live in California and get SSI, you cannot get food stamps.

However, if you have kids that get SNAP or TANF, or are foster or Head Start, they're automatically eligible for free school lunch.

My district has reduced school lunch but not free.

Wait, what? Is it a public school district? Does the district not participate in the National School Lunch Program? Do you not have anyone in your neighborhood living within 130% of the poverty line? I'm so confused...

Oh look here... "School districts must implement a school lunch program where 25% or more of the enrolled students in grades from kindergarten through fourth qualify for free or reduced price lunch."

Man you're weird, Washington. Weird.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:26 PM on May 9


It costs an average of about $47,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in prison in California.

But god forbid anyone should get a nickel they don't "deserve" in food or health or rent or heat or or or assistance from federal or state programs. Better my tax dollars be spent on locking people up rather than mitigating the need to lock 'em up in the first place. Shit.
posted by rtha at 8:31 PM on May 9 [37 favorites]


I see people who absolutely, without a doubt, are trying to scam the system. One hundred percent.

Every system in the imperfect and messy real world that tries to solve problems shared by millions is going to have cases where people cheat. Were I to insist on a zero percent cheat rate before supporting food programs, I would in effect be deciding that my personal sense of fairness is so precious that millions of people need to suffer hunger and want to buy it.
posted by amery at 8:33 PM on May 9 [23 favorites]


A friend of mine is a foster parent for medically needy infants and toddlers, and the children receive a food benefit similar to WIC, paid for by specific-food-naming checks rather than EBT. Many of her children required special, expensive formula paid for by the state. She is also a gourmet cook. She frequently buys a couple WIC checks of formula, Cheerios, and brown rice, and then uses her own money on organic produce and high quality meat and so on, and her children eat delicious, fresh, healthy meals she pays for out of her own pocket.

She has MORE THAN ONCE been harassed by busybodies in line at the supermarket telling her it's morally offensive of her to waste her money on beef when she's so poor she needs WIC. One lady even followed her out to the parking lot and shrieked at her that because she was driving a Subaru she was obviously defrauding the government to get benefits.

That's who your lobster-and-food-stamps, nice-car-diving benefit recipients everyone's so offended by are: FOSTER PARENTS who buy nice food for their kids but use the food benefit so stretch their food budget, literally exactly as intended. PEOPLE WHO TAKE NEGLECTED AND ORPHANED CHILDREN INTO THEIR HOMES.

The self-appointed morality police really need to take a day off.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:26 PM on May 9 [120 favorites]


Damn that's sad.
posted by homunculus at 9:33 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I see people who absolutely, without a doubt, are trying to scam the system. One hundred percent.

Yep. I know one of them back home. And do you know what I say to that? Good.

We pay the equivalent of US$950 a month for him to sit on his ass. Business doesn't have to pay $2400/mo (minimum wage in Australia) for someone who doesn't really want to be there and is having none of it and someone eager to make their lot in life better gets a shot at it. He gets to eke out a meager standard of living. We pay him enough to find shelter and some food. So long as he doesn't lie, cheat or steal I'm good to pay him to just go do his thing (or nothing) and leave the rest of us the hell alone.

Why?

Because what's the point? Could we get vindictive? Make him live on the street? But then he'd just get sick and clog up a hospital bed. Or possibly turn to crime. Or become a vagrant or other undesirable. Short of putting this man down (which last I checked was no bueno) the path of least resistance here is for us to pay him to sit on his fat ass playing computer games and still let decent welfare reach those who truly are less fortunate.

The allure of working to better your lot in life should be the motivator to get off unemployment not some sadistic "make your life so painful even if you did have no choice in the matter".
posted by Talez at 10:00 PM on May 9 [58 favorites]


Somebody please send this to Paul Ryan.

Just so you know, I live in his district (just about a mile from his house). He doesn't listen to us, either. In our school district (his kids go to Catholic schools, though) we have 55% of students eligible for at least partially paid-for lunches. But he didn't hook up with anyone locally for his great poverty initiative, because he lost his hometown badly in 2012 (when he was also the GOP candidate for Vice President). He's only been able to stay in office because they moved parts of one of Wisconsin's reddest counties into his district.

This is not snark. This is cold reality. We know he doesn't care about the poor because he's never lifted a finger for the poor right here in his hometown. He was in the Labor Day parade (indeed, his group's assembly point was right in front of my house that year) and refused to take questions from an activist/reporter about jobs, as if the parade held on Labor Day were just some sort of random civic celebration (a "good time") having nothing to do with workers. The man is an absolute ass and I wish to hell we could send him packing. Unfortunately, despite what we think of him locally, he has become a major player in influencing poverty policy in this country, and may well have the opportunity to effectively set poverty policy beginning next year.

I don't know why he gets fawning profiles in Buzzfeed. I wish to hell somebody would come around here and ask why he needs to go two states away to get "educated" about his signature issue. Here, where we know him best. Paul Ryan is the epitome of pretense. He holds in his hands the power of the purse and power of the pen, if you will, even life and death for millions of Americans. I see no reason to be kind about how he wields this power.
posted by dhartung at 11:35 PM on May 9 [53 favorites]


Every system in the imperfect and messy real world that tries to solve problems shared by millions is going to have cases where people cheat.

Sure. I'm not even saying that we need to alter the system significantly to ensure that people can't cheat. Sometimes I even pass someone through that I'm pretty sure is cheating, but don't have proof, because my gut feeling shouldn't get to make those decisions.

What I am saying is that the scammers are real, but so are the decent folk, and it really frustrates me when people seem to take a zero-sum approach to it: either "There are no cheaters" or "Everyone's a cheater." Because the truth, like in almost every other situation, comes in between.

I think sometimes people get defensive and try to counter the "Everyone's a cheater" with "Those people don't exist." Which is an understandable motivation - to defend people who are (mostly) falsely being accused of fakery and living in luxury on the taxpayer dime. But when that happens, it makes those of us who do deal with these situations feel as though people are contradicting our lived experience just to make political points.
posted by corb at 12:00 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


I know people who are master manipulators of "The System" - oh, yes, there's no doubt that some people find it a fun sort of challenge to see what they can get for nothing, others have that sense of entitlement that the world should be paying them just for living in it, and others, I think, grew up in an atmosphere where the only way you got anything at all was by cheating, so it's simply the way of life for them and they're defensive as heck about it.

But I also know a great number of people who have earned every dime of assistance they get and actually try very hard to be sure they don't get any more than they are legitimately eligible for - and one lady actually tries to give back part of what she gets because she says she can live on less. I know a man in his 40s who lives with his mother - she actually lives in the garage so he can have the house - because he has a "bad back" and is on disability; he also teaches martial arts - for cash; but I also know a man with schizophrenia who would be dead by now if he had to live on the streets, but thanks to the resources available to him and people who help him get all the volumes of paperwork done, is living comfortably in a small apartment of his own and doing well.

My neighbor from a few years ago used her diagnosis of a common pain problem in women to collect Medicaid, housing assistance, etc - she even got Meals on Wheels. Her Medicaid paid for her to get mental health counseling, physical therapy, pain treatments, loads of dental work (beautiful teeth), contacts, etc. But when they delivered her Meals on Wheels she'd take the food to the trash and then drive her nice, relatively new, car to McDonald's and bring home a bag of burgers and a giant soda. I was nasty enough to notify Meals on Wheels and they dropped her. All the dental work and counseling was geared toward getting her a job, but she'd never work if she could find a way around it.

However, the neighbor on the other side of me in the triplex, a woman in her early 20s, had a live-in boyfriend who controlled her every move and beat her from time to time. Finally, with help from her friends, she got help through a Women's Center here for domestic violence and got rid of the boyfriend. Local resources helped her get the help she needed to relocate and get a new job, as well as treatment for her bipolar illness. None of those things would have happened by themselves.

The man across the street was dying of lung cancer in his 40s - the state took care of him with rent assistance, a caregiver, medicine and health care. He was very happy to be in his own place instead of a nursing home.

I live in a building that's 50% apartments for low-income elderly and 50% market rate. Some of our folks get "commodities" every month (cereal, canned carrots, dry milk, etc., some cheese sometimes), some get food stamps, some get free produce from the farmer's market, all are on Medicare, some with Medicaid backup. These people - all of us - live in dignity thanks to the social service resources we're receiving.

I have a couple of young friends - in their 30s - who have a child who is severely autistic; she's 15 years old now, pretty and happy and doing well considering the problems she has, but she's going to need help for the rest of her life. She's had access to every sort of training and counseling and medical care since she was maybe three years old and, thanks to the system as it is right now, she'll be able to count on the same in the future.

None of us has any real awareness of how many of our neighbors are relying on help from State and Federal programs; not all hungry people or needy people are pushing grocery carts full of their belongings. We must - absolutely must - keep taking care of all our people; at least, that's what I think. I hope corb keeps fighting the good fight, helping the underdog, without stressing about the cheaters - I admire him for the work he's doing.
posted by aryma at 12:02 AM on May 10 [9 favorites]


What I am saying is that the scammers are real, but so are the decent folk, and it really frustrates me when people seem to take a zero-sum approach to it: either "There are no cheaters" or "Everyone's a cheater." Because the truth, like in almost every other situation, comes in between.

No one in this thread has said that there are no cheaters. Everyone has said that while they acknowledge the existence of fraud, they would prefer a system with a small amount of fraud to one that is so zealous about preventing fraud that non-fraudulent applicants are denied needed aid. You are having a conversation with people who are not here, in a discussion about a woman whose benefit status we don't even know, for reasons I cannot discern.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:25 AM on May 10 [30 favorites]


corb: What I am saying is that the scammers are real, but so are the decent folk, and it really frustrates me when people seem to take a zero-sum approach to it: either "There are no cheaters" or "Everyone's a cheater."

I don't think anyone thinks there are no cheaters (but the real cheaters are mostly not the poor). I, too, don't like that people believe that everyone on welfare is cheating, but if you watch right-wing media that is the only narrative being pushed there, and a big chunk of the U.S. population believes exactly that.

But when that happens, it makes those of us who do deal with these situations feel as though people are contradicting our lived experience just to make political points.

But corb, what do you think about straight's comment: either you turn a blind eye to the cheaters (which as you admit, are a small percentage), or you make everyone--that's most people, the ones really hurting--hurt across the board. Which is it? You have a choice...it seems you are choosing the latter because to you, you at least get a sense of justice at curbing the cheating, maybe. Even though the "worthy" take a hit. Or? Am I reading you wrong?

As a teacher, I used to punish the whole class for the behavior of a few bad kids. It took a while to realize that a) this tactic didn't work, and b) it just created well-deserved resentment among the majority of innocent kids.
posted by zardoz at 12:38 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]


I'm a Libertarian and at this point even *I* think that a Guaranteed Minimum Income would make more sense than the plethora of perverse-incentivizing, expensive-to-administer, complicated, contradictory, and humiliating welfare programs we have now. Then you don't have to worry about "cheaters" because everyone is supposed to be receiving it anyway.

I figure if the Libertopian ideal of no government welfare programs isn't achievable (which it obviously isn't, given others' politics) then we might as well have a welfare program that isn't stupid. Just giving people money and letting them make their own choices is the least stupid option.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:28 AM on May 10 [13 favorites]


Thankfully, none of the fine corporations who contract with the government cheat, scam or steal.

I would bet $100 that, as a percentage, "scammy" corporations vastly outnumber "scammy" public assistance beneficiaries. And I bet the actual dollars is orders of magnitude more lost to the corporations than it is to the gold-plated cadillac driving, lobster-eating "welfare queens."

But, of course, corporations are our betters. So.
posted by maxwelton at 3:39 AM on May 10 [14 favorites]


I see people who absolutely, without a doubt, are trying to scam the system.

For example, Mail on Sunday reporter and allround scumbag Ross Slater, scamming a foodbank to report on how easy it is to scam foodbanks and therefore donating to foodbanks is wrong, whose scheme backfired when donations quintupled just hours after his article.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:06 AM on May 10 [11 favorites]


When I lived in the States for a few years one of the first things that jumped out at me was that the mediocre food in the supermarket had WIC signs next to it; it took me a little while to find out what "WIC" was, and then I was horrified that it wasn't just a program that provided food but a program that provided only certain kinds of food, many not great like the cheapest kind of supermarket-fluff bread and processed cheese, and a highly stigmatizing shopping experience for WIC recipients. It was so weird and foreign and I never stopped marvelling at the little yellow WIC signs and noticing what might be forbidden to me if I was a broke mom. My own mother never bought "supermarket fluff," and now my own kid is steered away from the bread with a paragraph of ingredients, but here it was the government-approved bread.

Then I found the thing where people actually do stand around and comment when they spot somebody buying food through a gov't assistance scheme. My god. And yes, the cashiers are not above this! Twice during my stint in the States I complained to supermarket managers about bigot checkers. I got a very polite and very confused response from both; clearly I was missing something about expectations.

We are on the verge of an election here in Ontario and the furthest-right candidate has a proposal to roll some sort of food-purchasing-only plastic card into the general welfare benefits. (There are no food-specific state aid programs here, just various flavours of cash benefits.) Having seen how that rolls in real life, I am...appalled, disgusted, happy to campaign against the fellow, etc.
posted by kmennie at 6:53 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


I'm a Libertarian and at this point even *I* think that a Guaranteed Minimum Income would make more sense than the plethora of perverse-incentivizing, expensive-to-administer, complicated, contradictory, and humiliating welfare programs we have now. Then you don't have to worry about "cheaters" because everyone is supposed to be receiving it anyway.

I would also like to see some variation on a minimum income. It would be more dignified and less trouble for the person who is laid off and can't find a new job, say. But we are still going to need an apparatus with trained staff and various administrative programs to help the people who aren't as high functioning physically and/or mentally -- people who are intellectually disabled, sometimes the elderly, and so on. Just giving everyone a minimum income doesn't solve anything for the person who needs a visiting CNA to help learn to manage home injections or the parents of a disabled child.

Nor is it going to prevent kids from showing up at school without breakfasts or lunches, say. However you choose to pay for it, we are still going to need subsidized programs of all sorts.

There are components of the current social assistance programs that could well be replace with a minimum income (including unemployment, say), but it's not the total replacement that people sometimes suggest.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:59 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]


I've been unemployed a few times over the last few years, and I usually check in with one or another unemployment forum. These forums were pretty busy back in 2008/2009. The last time I checked in on one (earlier this year), someone had posted a question asking where everyone had gone. Someone responded, saying some no longer had access to the internet and others had died. It was sobering to read that. The workplace these days is no picnic either - you have to put up with a lot of abuse from people who are scared and overworked and just trying to hang on. Somehow, it seems that we can do better than this, that we have done better than this.
posted by jenh526 at 8:06 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


No one in this thread has said that there are no cheaters.

This is exactly like the voter fraud issue. No one is claiming it never happens, but over and over again the GOP's own investigations reveal the rate of fraud is almost non-existent, like this latest one from Iowa that found a voter fraud rate of 0.008427933%.

And just like allegedly rampant voter fraud is an excuse to enact harsher and harsher voting hurdles and restrictions, allegedly rampant "welfare queens" are an excuse to enact harsher and harsher public assistance hurdles and restrictions while subjecting, honest, needy, and sometimes desperate people to the humiliating and denigrating experience of being presumed guilty.

Every person who comes in "without documents" who turns out, when checked, to be making a high salary means that the next honest person who comes in without documents is going to get the third degree.

That's on you. If your system is so good at finding cheats then there's no reason to assume that the next person isn't honest, because they will be caught. There's no reason to take away someone's dignity because they are asking for help. You're not even doing that in the name of preventing fraud, you're doing it in the name of preventing attempted fraud.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:06 AM on May 10 [20 favorites]


Just giving people money and letting them make their own choices is the least stupid option.

But what if they spend that money on things like DRUGS or BOOZE or HOOKERS or UNHEALTHY FOOOOOOOOOOD????

./concern troll
posted by elsietheeel at 8:36 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Which is it? You have a choice...it seems you are choosing the latter because to you, you at least get a sense of justice at curbing the cheating, maybe. Even though the "worthy" take a hit. Or? Am I reading you wrong?

You're reading me wrong. It's actually more like a combination. I do get a sense of justice at curbing the cheating, that's true, but it's more a sense of justice for the other people who need it more. There's a limited budget and a specific, finite number of people we can help. I know that number. Every cheater who gets through means one more family I can't help. At the same time, though, I will start processing even the people I think will be eliminated because of scamming, because this way if they're honest they won't miss time. And then I'll start doing the work to check their stories. "Trust, but verify."
posted by corb at 8:54 AM on May 10 [6 favorites]


Lots of people scam food stamps in small and large ways, some people get TANF (welfare) and still spend money on illegal drugs, people get housing assistance and don't report all the income they get, etc. Especially in April, but all year, there are scads of articles about how to pay as little tax as possible. Really rich people get Congress to make laws that reduce their taxes. and so on. All systems will have cheaters, scammers, and people who push the rules. The damage and cost of rich people cheating is way larger. The damage done by corporations whose sole responsibility is to enhance shareholder value makes my blood boil. They'll go bankrupt, transferring assets out via legal maneuvers, and we'll pay for coil ash spills, toxic waste, contaminated water supplies, etc. I just can't ruin my Saturday morning by typing up more of a rant, but the rich are screwing us all so very, very hard.

rent assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, free school lunches, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and lots more. In Maine, rent assistance isn't even taking apps where I live, because the waiting list is so long, Medicaid is a mess because our governor is an utter asshole. No kids - no TANF. No job? bummer. Traditionally, a lot of assistance programs reward people for staying poor - you get more benefits over time as you came up on waiting lists. Thanks to years of Republican/ Conservative cutting, there just aren't that many aid programs left.

And the Right is fighting raising the minimum wage, tooth and nail. A rise in the minimum wage benefits local business, as people an afford to buy stuff, like, you know, toothpaste, shoes, rent on a decent place to live, car repairs, maybe even a birthday party for the kid. Corporate profits are high, wages at the top continue to rise to absurd heights, luxury products sell pretty well. There's still a hell of a lot of amazing wealth in the US. But pay people fairly? Cutting food stamps. Really. There are such things as 100US hamburgers, but somebody can't afford 10US/hour for the cashier, the customer service rep, the child care worker?

Individually, there really kind rich people. But anybody with wealth, who doesn't support helping others out and helping people up, well, fuck you. You don't need your McMansion while people live in terror of homelessness. You don't need to eat at fabulous restaurants 4 times a week while people can't feed their families. that's what my taxes are supposed to be doing. precisely.
posted by theora55 at 9:07 AM on May 10 [8 favorites]


But what if they spend that money on things like DRUGS or BOOZE or HOOKERS or UNHEALTHY FOOOOOOOOOOD????

Well, since I'm a Libertarian and think all those things should be legal, I really don't care. That sort of spending still bolsters the economy through the multiplier effect and generates tax revenue, right? :P
posted by Jacqueline at 10:51 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


Woman A Leading Authority On What Shouldn’t Be In Poor People’s Grocery Carts

Please tell me this is ..sarcasm or something.


It might be sarcasm but in every thread about this issue on metafilter we get a number of people up on their high horses about the Poors and what they'd spotted in their carts.

I feel comfortable as always saying that if you have enough time to critically audit what's in other people's grocery carts you need to find more to do with your mental processes.
posted by winna at 11:33 AM on May 10 [6 favorites]




A couple of months ago, I was in line at Walmart behind a lady who was buying some groceries with her little daughter. The bill came out to about $35. She pulled $20 out of her purse and started madly scrambling looking though it to try to find the rest of the money. She couldn't find it. She was panicking. Finally, Her daughter said, "Does that mean we can't get the oreos this time, Mommy?"

I looked at her, her daughter, the vegetables, milk and oreo cookies on the belt, the sad and tired look of the cashier, playing out this same scene again for the umpteenth time this week. I thought to myself: "I can fix this." I reached into my pocket, grabbed two $20 bills, bent down to the floor, and said, "Ma'am, I think you dropped these." I'd be damned if I was going to let that little girl go home without her oreos that day.

You see, a few years ago, after I got laid off, before my wife found work, while the State of Indiana was jerking me around making me wait months for unemployment benefits and after I had maxed out my credit cards, I was the one calling around trying to find a food bank that was open on a Sunday.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:27 PM on May 10 [39 favorites]


The woman at Walmart was confused. She wasn't sure if she really had dropped $40, and if so, might have been wondering where the hell it came from. The little girl let the cat out of the bag when she told her mother in the loudest possible stage whisper, "Mommy. You didn't drop that money. That man pulled it out of his pocket!"
posted by double block and bleed at 11:33 PM on May 10 [28 favorites]


Here in Australia the Tory Government, two weeks before presenting its first budget, released the results of a "National Commission of Audit" that they've been sitting on for many months now, conducted by a bunch of fat corporate fucks and predictably recommending cuts to everything in sight.

Murdoch press front page the day before the results came out: PASSPORT TO BLUDGE, a two inch headline over some confected outrage about disabled pensioners living overseas. The next day, a three inch headline over a story about the proposed cuts: TOUGH LOVE.

There are no deserving poor.
posted by flabdablet at 11:30 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend is 25, has a solid work history, a diploma in graphic design, a diploma in beauty therapy, and is generally articulate, polite, well-presented, hard working, and white. She has been looking for employment for three years now. This is in Australia, allegedly one of the world's strongest economies. So, I'm supporting both of us, and though it can sometimes get a little tight (such as a debt repayment that needs to be delayed, or an electricity bill that needs to be deferred), it's been a long time since I've personally been in the awful position of getting my card declined when buying food.

But it has happened, and it is fucking awful. It is soul-destroying to go shopping for some white bread and some peanut butter and some jam or whatever, because that's what you had planned to be eating for the next three or four days, and for that ten dollar purchase to be declined. You look around at the supermarket that is burning through that much money in lighting bills every five minutes, and it's throwing thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good food into locked dumpsters out the back, and you wonder how it is we got everything so perfectly wrong.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:58 PM on May 11 [12 favorites]


I blame the Protestant work ethic.
posted by flabdablet at 11:35 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


This system is screwed. It breaks my heart that this is possible in a country that has enough to feed everyone, yet, we'd rather throw out food than give it away.

My husband works six or seven days a week, more than eight hours a day and I work as much as I can for the local newspaper.

We have health insurance, but they won't cover the electric wheelchair I need to get around, so I cannot work as much as I want/need to work. For want of $3000 we are steadily sinking further and further into debt.

Every time we have some money saved, something happens: Car broke down, fixed it, it died again, permanently, had to buy a new one for husband to work. My car has 300,000 miles on it. We know that it is not going to last much longer, so we baby it. My medications cost us so much a month to keep me alive it is breaking us. I'm on the cheapest medications my doctor could find, barring one, but it is still killing us.

We just barely don't qualify for help. Just over that line, and the fact we have no children, so we don't qualify for anything. I have a multitude of health problems from kidney cancer to diabetes to hashimoto's to lymphedema and several others. We pay a shitload of our income to keep good health insurance, yet, the "good" one won't pay for a way to allow me to get around.

The $3000 might as well be the moon.

We eat on such a tight budget that I go several days a week without eating lunch. My husband has no clue about it, as I don't want to upset him. The days I do eat lunch I eat as cheaply as possible, and breakfast doesn't exist in our world. That is money that we cannot come up with.

Poverty is a cycle you become stuck in. When I had a mobility device that worked, I worked a lot more and we were doing better. It died (from old age and the parts being obsolete) so, I had to cut back on working. Our income is going in the wrong direction and I have no clue how to stop it.
posted by SuzySmith at 12:10 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]


Then I found the thing where people actually do stand around and comment when they spot somebody buying food through a gov't assistance scheme. My god. And yes, the cashiers are not above this! Twice during my stint in the States I complained to supermarket managers about bigot checkers. I got a very polite and very confused response from both; clearly I was missing something about expectations.

The supermarket near my house used to have an express checkout. They posted a hand-lettered sign over it: "No WIC." WIC is hard to navigate, so that causes delays, and more nastiness, mostly from other customers in line. It's just brutal. We live in an area that's like a little strip of middle middle class/prosperous working class, with middle to upper class on one side, and low income housing on the other. The supermarket is patronized by all three groups. They got bought out recently and got rid of the express checkout altogether, so at least people don't have to look at that sign. But I am sure it is still awful checking out of there with any kind of food program. That's class warfare in that store, every day.
posted by BibiRose at 5:19 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


When I had a mobility device that worked, I worked a lot more and we were doing better. It died (from old age and the parts being obsolete) so, I had to cut back on working. Our income is going in the wrong direction and I have no clue how to stop it.

Where I am living, there are some sources for helping to fund something like that (a mix of church and community foundation kinds of places, which are explicitly aimed at helping backfill gaps in the official safety net for exactly this kind of thing). But to access that support is itself basically a full-time job, is guaranteed to have horribly undignified moments, and pretty much requires the help of an advocate who knows the people and the system.

In other words, the help may be there, but accessing it still presents barriers and the time and effort required can create other problems, like time away from work. And most of it is still focused at people who are all the way down, rather than helping someone struggling but doing almost ok.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:32 AM on May 12


SuzySmith, Please contact your local Masonic Lodge. They often have a room full of donated medical devices. I donated an electric wheelchair to my local Lodge, because, well for one thing I couldn't sell it for the life of me. That being said, check craigslist for a used chair. Typical asking price is very high, actual selling price, around $250.00
posted by Gungho at 6:38 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


In other words, the help may be there, but accessing it still presents barriers and the time and effort required can create other problems, like time away from work.

Back when we were trying to get child support from my father, that was how the county Legal Aid office was. You couldn't make an appointment. You had to come to the office in the county seat (an hour's drive from where we lived) and wait to be called. If you weren't called that day, you could come back the next. In the waiting room on the first day, Mom talkied to people wo had been coming for two weeks without being seen. (It was a very poor county, with limited resources and a lot of people who needed them.) Our car wasn't in good enough shape to make that one-hour drive, so she had to beg rides there and back, and miss days from the casual restaurant job she had been able to find.

After a few days she had to stop trying to go because the restaurant owner said there wouldn't be any more work in the future if she wasn't available, and she was running out of people to ask for rides. She'd make an occasional stab at it now and then, but with no luck. It was a choice between the guaranteed few dollars from a restaurant shift or the possibility of maybe seeing a lawyer who maybe might help.

And the kicker was, we HAD an order for child support, but we couldn't prove he wasn't actually paying it. So, his high income was always counted whenever we applied for any kind of aid, meaning we never qualified. This was all pre-Internet, so no help there. The Social Services office had the same setup as Legal Aid, but when we finally did manage to get through once, no help because of Dad's income. Just a condescending suggestion that we go to court.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:55 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


And the kicker was, we HAD an order for child support, but we couldn't prove he wasn't actually paying it. So, his high income was always counted whenever we applied for any kind of aid, meaning we never qualified. This was all pre-Internet, so no help there. The Social Services office had the same setup as Legal Aid, but when we finally did manage to get through once, no help because of Dad's income. Just a condescending suggestion that we go to court.

I'm not sure how this isn't handled by the federal or state tax system. Garnish the wage directly to a point, government hands it straight to the other partner perhaps topping it up with welfare to make it liveable. Add the remainder to a tax debt, any tax refunds apply directly to it, increases in job income increase the percentage taken gradually. Working partner loses their job? Government steps in to help to make sure the kids get taken care of.
posted by Talez at 9:29 AM on May 12


I'm not sure how this isn't handled by the federal or state tax system. Garnish the wage directly to a point, government hands it straight to the other partner perhaps topping it up with welfare to make it liveable. Add the remainder to a tax debt, any tax refunds apply directly to it, increases in job income increase the percentage taken gradually. Working partner loses their job? Government steps in to help to make sure the kids get taken care of.

It might have progressed to that if we could have gotten back to court. Again, this was years ago.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:00 AM on May 12


And most of it is still focused at people who are all the way down, rather than helping someone struggling but doing almost ok.

That's the problem. We have insurance, it just doesn't cover this. I'm lucky that I have insurance as I would be dead by now without it, but the vast majority of places won't help if you have it.

Another complicating issue is I am fat due to genetics, disability and disease, so I can't use just any device. I am going to contact the Masonic lodge in town as that is something I had not thought of!

Thanks for the ideas, MeFi!
posted by SuzySmith at 6:36 PM on May 12


Some of us believe in public charity and others believe in private charity,...

The only purpose served by this false dichotomy is to demote charity.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:41 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Mental Wimp: “Some of us believe in public charity and others believe in private charity,...

The only purpose served by this false dichotomy is to demote charity.”
Precisely. Benefits provided with public funds are not charity. When they are allowed to function properly, they are an investment in the future of the nation. The current climate in which people are becoming increasingly desperate is what they are meant to avoid. If we want to lower the less than 10¢ per revenue dollar we spend on benefits in the U.S., the best way is to target full employment — real U-6 full employment — in bread-winner jobs. Not that we'll see the labor renaissance necessary to make that actually happen.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:04 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


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