“Happy shopping! Enjoy the 1st.”
March 17, 2013 8:01 AM   Subscribe

The food stamp economy of Woonsocket, RI, profiled in The Washington Post.
posted by downing street memo (55 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Single page version
posted by lalochezia at 8:09 AM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also: the comments, oh the comments
~25% of them them fall under the category: a conservative can't enjoy their breakfast unless they know someone else is hungry......
posted by lalochezia at 8:16 AM on March 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


"a four-gallon bottle of cooking oil ($5.99) "

...Does someone actually make a four gallon bottle of cooking oil that is sold in retail stores for $5.99

Sort of makes me question the accuracy of the rest of the article.
posted by HuronBob at 8:19 AM on March 17, 2013


The thing that got me the most was the frantic and stressful misery of Mrs. Ortiz's actual shopping trip. If you're tired and anxious anyway and your kids are unhappy about being in the grocery store and they want a treat (which is not an unreasonable desire for a three-year-old who has to go grocery shopping) and the lines are long and you're watching your money disappear and you can't really budget without starving -- Jesus, that sounded terrible and heartbreaking and discouraging and even worse is knowing that it might never get any better. It's not like there's some great job on the horizon for them, this is just the way life is going to be. I feel really badly for them; it just sounds soul-crushing.

Also, I can tell you that (at least in parts of DC) this is still totally, totally true, and it's not just food; kids need clothes and stuff as well. Some of this is helped with free breakfasts and lunches at school but that's not enough. The school I taught at in Southeast had a uniform and immediately after parents' orientation there was a line of people waiting to explain to the vice principal that their kids wouldn't be in uniform on the first day because they wouldn't have their checks yet.

And I guess this all also leads to the basic question, which is how can I help? I can donate money and food and that's great but it's not going to solve the fundamental problems or help enough people or get anyone a better job. I live in DC so I don't have congressional representation. Other than donations to individual charitable organizations which will help but not change anything, what are my options? (This is a real question because I seriously do not know and I am hoping there is an answer.)
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:33 AM on March 17, 2013 [21 favorites]




Yeah, the last page, detailing the shopping trip, literally made me nauseous.

As far as what to do, I'm a big fan of the "give money to poor people" approach. SNAP spending is on the order of $80 billion and makes up about 2.2% of the federal budget (as of 2011, sorry no link, I just did the calculation myself). Far be it from me to suggest taking $80 billion from bloated defense contractor budgets the Pentagon to fund an immediate doubling of the program.

That alleviates the immediate human suffering (or, much of it). But long-term problems remain. Woonsocket, for instance, has had endemic unemployment problems since the Great Depression. I don't know how you fix that, and no one does; what's worse, there's a pretty good chance that we're creating the same conditions for endemic unemployment in many, many other cities across the country as we speak.
posted by downing street memo at 9:01 AM on March 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


A thought I had when reading this: are the problems seen throughout America exacerbated in Rhode Island because it's so damn tiny? I think a story like this could have been written about cities throughout the US, but I was struck by the fact that the father in the story walked 1 mile to another state to go to work.

I could imagine in a state even slightly larger, like CT or DE, there's just slightly more tax base to support a few more programs on a state level, versus a state that's basically the size of a county in the rest of the country and therefore is surely missing some of the advantages of economies of scale.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:08 AM on March 17, 2013


Yeah, I'm from Rhode Island and I know Woonsocket (like many other decaying northeastern post-industrial towns) is not in great shape. They were doing fairly well when they were actual mill towns, I think, but so much of that area is suffering since no one makes anything and the only real economy seems to be providing services to help other people with little or no money (like the part-time grocery store jobs) or working in the fancy Stop-and-Shop where you can't afford to go.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:09 AM on March 17, 2013


Far be it from me to suggest taking $80 billion from bloated defense contractor budgets the Pentagon to fund an immediate doubling of the program.

You do realize that cutting federal programs also puts people out of work in cities and towns throughout the country, don't you? (Not a fan of bloated federal contracts, but they do create jobs and cutting them is not exactly a Robin Hood scenario.)
posted by headnsouth at 9:12 AM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]



Far be it from me to suggest taking $80 billion from bloated defense contractor budgets the Pentagon to fund an immediate doubling of the program.

You do realize that cutting federal programs also puts people out of work in cities and towns throughout the country, don't you? (Not a fan of bloated federal contracts, but they do create jobs and cutting them is not exactly a Robin Hood scenario.)



If only there were other federal employment that was needed and could be offered with that defense money that employed more people and did good for the US/world, like infrastructure repair and development, teaching, green energy development, environmental remediation, childcare for working parents, rehabilitation for criminals, healthcare for the poor, grand visonary societal restructuring work to enable future generations to enjoy the same levels of luxury that we had ........

No wait, That's crazy talk: Guess it has to be for defense!
posted by lalochezia at 9:23 AM on March 17, 2013 [38 favorites]


You do realize that cutting federal programs also puts people out of work in cities and towns throughout the country, don't you? (Not a fan of bloated federal contracts, but they do create jobs and cutting them is not exactly a Robin Hood scenario.)

I mean, take it from wherever you want (or just fund it with debt) but when you see your 29-year-old next door neighbor buy a Porsche with his defense-subsidized check, while these people can't feed themselves for a month with their HHS-subsidized one, one starts to think there might be $80 billion worth of fat to cut without hurting Boeing and Lockheed assembly line workers too badly.
posted by downing street memo at 9:27 AM on March 17, 2013 [26 favorites]


It is utterly absurd that a household with two kids and two working adults needs government assistance to get by. We need to raise the minimum wage or tax the companies who are profiting off this system and give the money to their employees.
posted by humanfont at 9:30 AM on March 17, 2013 [36 favorites]


Unlike Detroit, Rhode Island was fairly well diversified economically - it was a center for finance, small piece manufacturing (like jewelry, fine pens and watches), and fishing and the servicing of fishing fleets.

Mergers destroyed the finance industry and sent all those jobs down to Charlotte or up to Boston. China took over small piece manufacturing entirely. The fish stocks collapsed. One after the other, the mainstays of prosperity all disappeared.

The housing bubble covered a lot of this with construction jobs that all evaporated as soon as housing prices tanked.

There is a nascent tech sector here - but that was dealt a near-fatal blow by the 38Studios debacle. No-one will take RI seriously as a tech destination - for one, we had to bribe a start-up to come to Providence, for another, they failed and went out of business despite the $75mln handout.

Bad things can happen to good places - it's not just an issue of relying on one industry to support a region. Even with multiple industries, you can find it all gone.

Also, be aware, RI has a population of 1mln - population density is 4th on the list, after DC, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Our tax base is fine, we just have a real problem with ineffective and/or corrupt leadership at the state level doing stupid things with it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:40 AM on March 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


You do realize that cutting federal programs also puts people out of work in cities and towns throughout the country, don't you?

I'm piling on here, but I'm really tired of trickle-down economics. The idea that an effective way of helping poor Americans is by giving money to rich businesses is completely broken. Defense contractors are going to invest in tooling and white-collar workers, not low-wage workers. Any increase in their budgets is going to filter to the top, not the bottom. We can help an order of magnitude more people by giving the money to impoverished Americans, where the money will go right back into the local economy in a matter of hours.
posted by phooky at 9:48 AM on March 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I was struck by the fact that the father in the story walked 1 mile to another state to go to work.

That's only a twenty minute walk. People here walk that far to get their bus or their train to work.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:51 AM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


It wasn't the mile I found interesting, it was the "to another state" part. That's not super common in the US, or at least in my part of the US.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:58 AM on March 17, 2013


Yeah, RI is seem to be very good about anticipating the future. I think part of it comes from the way that people don't leave the state, so there are really close family ties, and there is a strong assumption that it's who you know not what you know that is important. Which works fine much of the time, but when the "what" you don't know is changing demographics or major shifts in industry, RI seems to be very slow to respond.

On the other hand, a lot of states are having problems with this, so maybe what I have noticed is just RI's way of not dealing with situations.

As far as distances go, any trip that takes 20 minutes in RI is generally considered to be international travel. The horizons here are very narrow indeed, which also has an effect on planning and policy. We have a 30x50 mile state with 36-39 school districts, because people want local control for a rather insane (to me, a foreigner) scale of "local." This sort of thinking affects all sorts of other state polices, too, making a state that should be able to do comprehensive planning easily oddly unable to do so.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:09 AM on March 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm piling on here, but I'm really tired of trickle-down economics.

Maybe all government money should be disbursed to individuals, requiring contractors to do mass mailings to get paid. That would be something!

Sadly, given the level of political awareness and critical thinking, I imagine that plan might very well backfire and leave support programs even less well-funded.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:11 AM on March 17, 2013


I don't understand why they get their food stamp money all at once like that. Here in NC and also in WV, which are the only states I have current personal information on food stamps (oh yeah I was on them and I am hoping to a god I don't believe in that my recent raise to $10 an hour, part time, won't disqualify me when I reapply because that $115 a month made a difference in my life like you wouldn't believe) the "checks" are staggered. Depending on the first digit of your social security number, you get your money - which is loaded on your card; paper checks are a thing of the past - on a different day of the month. I got mine on the 21st. My son got his in WV on the 12th. That was instituted, I believe, to prevent just this sort of monthly frenzy, which was a very familiar sight in Baltimore in the 80s and 90s.

The real problem, of course, is the ever shrinking wage. Here in lovely Asheville, NC the living wage - that would be what you need to rent an apartment at current market rents, pay your bills and possibly eat now and again - has just been recalculated to be $14.50 an hour. Minimum wage is, of course, $7.25. Most jobs here - really, seriously, most jobs, including those which require a college degree - pay about $9 or $10 or maybe $13 if you are very lucky indeed. As a tourist destination and retirement center we are a bit skewed with a higher cost of living and lower wages (it is easy to pay nothing when people flock to live in your town and will work for food) but the central problem is the same all over the US: the majority of people are making less and less money.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:25 AM on March 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


"It wasn't the mile I found interesting, it was the "to another state" part. That's not super common in the US, or at least in my part of the US."

I'm assuming you live in Alaska or Hawaii?
posted by HuronBob at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2013


No, I just have never lived in a place where development patterns were such that urban areas spread across state boundaries. I think that sort of development is much more common in small states, which was the point I was making about Rhode Island in particular: in a tiny, economically depressed state, walking a mile to another state for a job makes perfect sense, but it's pretty different from lots of other places.

If you look at a map of the southeast, most of our cities are a long way from the state borders, with the exception of Charlotte, but the parts of the Charlotte area that border South Carolina are not walkable. (Also, our cities are less walkable in general, I will grant.)
posted by hydropsyche at 11:16 AM on March 17, 2013


It's basically one megalopolis from DC to Portland. When I lived in New England it was not at all uncommon to live in one state and work in the one next door, though usually one got there by driving or busing, not walking.
posted by rtha at 11:24 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's pretty common in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area too, to work in one state (or district) and live in another. A major cause of the terrible poverty in D.C. is that (Georgetown excepted) almost all the wealthy people who work in D.C. live and pay taxes in the affluent Maryland and Virginia suburbs.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:45 AM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think there are probably several interesting comparisons to be made between Rhode Island and DC. I find tiny land area places interesting because they are very different from non-tiny land area places. I suspect that the problems in both DC and Rhode Island come at least to some extent from their tinyness, each in their own unique way. That was really all I was trying to say and I apologize for my apparent (unintentional) derailing of a conversation about urban poverty and SNAP.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:06 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


the "checks" are staggered. Depending on the first digit of your social security number, you get your money - which is loaded on your card; paper checks are a thing of the past - on a different day of the month.

Sounds like states are realizing that's the best way to do it, and I wonder if there's a way to implement it in states that don't in a way that does not include a month where everyone is waiting 32, 34, 37 days since their last benefit.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:15 PM on March 17, 2013


The pile-on in response to my comment misses the point. Cutting other federal programs (defense or anything else) doesn't magically give more money to people living on the edge. It creates more people living on the edge (the ones who made the widgets or worked the breakfast shift at airport hotels or answered the phones). It's incredibly naive to think that any amount of robbing peter to pay paul is going to affect the Porsche-buying set one way or another.
posted by headnsouth at 12:54 PM on March 17, 2013


It wasn't the mile I found interesting, it was the "to another state" part. That's not super common in the US, or at least in my part of the US.

I'm about a mile from the NC/SC line - it isn't walkable unless you have a death wish, but my husband crosses the line to get to and from work, and I cross it a few times a day to get to the nearest gas stations and groceries.
posted by Daily Alice at 1:43 PM on March 17, 2013


We have a huge backlog of maintenance on our schools, roads, power grid and other infrastructure needs, so if we are going to make jobs for people lets do that rather than throwing money at questionable defense projects. Furthermore the margin on these super weapons systems is enourmous. Most of the profits of the industry ends up enriching the super wealthy.
posted by humanfont at 1:55 PM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I work in Delaware and frequently go to lunch in Pennsylvania. It's probably a mile or less. I would not be surprised if somebody walks from one state to the other for work. I know people definitely drive or take the bus. The border area between Pennsylvania and Delaware is very built up and you only know you've left one for the other because of the signs. Plus the roads are smoother in Delaware.
posted by interplanetjanet at 3:06 PM on March 17, 2013


Defense contractors are usually large cap, blue chip stocks and infrequently have concentrated or founder stakes, and pay their employees modestly. Many of their well paid senior executives devoted 25 to 35 years of their lives to public service as military officers. Most of their dividends go to pension funds and people who own diversified mutual funds and ETFs. In other words, the super rich get a far lower share of defense profits than they do of tech industry profits, or Hollywood profits, or even roads-and-bridges construction profits. Take the class war elsewhere.
posted by MattD at 3:12 PM on March 17, 2013


In other words, the super rich get a far lower share of defense profits than they do of tech industry profits, or Hollywood profits, or even roads-and-bridges construction profits.

first, the "tech industry" and the defense industry are not mutually exclusive, ever heard of In-Q-Tel?

second, all defense expenditures come from the federal budget. the tech industry gets some (often via the defense budget), the roads and bridges get some, hollywood gets very little, so the influence the government has over those industries is diminished. if we want to find room in the federal budget to ensure that the working poor have enough food to eat, it's the natural place to start.

and pay their employees modestly.

lol
posted by downing street memo at 3:26 PM on March 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


ThePinkSuperhero: "Sounds like states are realizing that's the best way to do it, and I wonder if there's a way to implement it in states that don't in a way that does not include a month where everyone is waiting 32, 34, 37 days since their last benefit."

This is pretty easy, you just pro rate the deposit on the 1st to account for the time till the next deposit on the beneficiaries new day. For example If Joe normally gets $300 a month on the 1st and his new day after spread out benefits is the 15th you'd put $150 dollars in on the first and then $300 in on the 15th.
posted by Mitheral at 3:33 PM on March 17, 2013


Ah yes! I knew there must be an easy way :D
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:34 PM on March 17, 2013


Food stamps here in PA are staggered but what that means is the money arrives sometime between the first and the fifth. It's different every month. January it may be the fourth, February the 1st, March the fifth and so on. I actually hate this because I can't predict when I will actually have money for food so it's hard and anxiety-inducing to plan for when I can actually get food. At the end of December they send everyone a postcard which has all of their payment dates for the next year, but they never actually match when the dates really are. I never know from month to month when I'll have money for food. What Rhode Island does seems crazy and I don't think I'd like that either. It's terrible that on top of everything there are these extra indignities (super-crowded stores because everyone gets paid the same day, or never knowing when you'll have the money in my case).
posted by Danila at 3:41 PM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


The just released documentary A Place at the Table focuses on food insecurity. Their "take action" page includes quick overview with facts:
- Many food stamp recipients have employment income: Over 60% of participating households earn income that they contribute toward the family food budget—it’s just not enough to stave off hunger.

- No one is buying filet mignon with food stamps: The maximum monthly allotment—$200 per individual and $668 for a family of four—nets out to around $2 per meal.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:37 PM on March 17, 2013


It is utterly absurd that a household with two kids and two working adults needs government assistance to get by. We need to raise the minimum wage or tax the companies who are profiting off this system and give the money to their employees.

Look, everyone knows that's not how it works. If we pay the poor more, they'll have no incentive to work hard -- they'll just coast along, wallowing in the luxury of their extra $60/week. Shoveling higher pay at people only produces better results when they're CEOs and CMOs.

Science.
posted by verb at 4:37 PM on March 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


No wait, That's crazy talk: Guess it has to be for defense!

I tend to agree with the sentiment expressed by the original poster - cut defense spending, and you're cutting jobs. People need jobs. The government has constructed an entire economy that depends on defense spending. It's not like people working those jobs or the communities that depend on them have much a choice oftentimes, unless of course going on SNAP is considered a choice.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:21 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you give Academi (a.k.a. Blackwater) a dollar, how much of that goes to workers in this country in, say, the bottom quartile of incomes? If you give the USDA's SNAP program a dollar, how much now?

I'm don't think the overall argument is to cut defense to zero or without thought, but rather that the closer you inject the money to those in need, the more the needy tend to get.
posted by introp at 5:32 PM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Geez Danila, that's the worst outcome of both worlds. What TPS and I were talking about is any particular person would always have the same day but the days would be evenly distributed though out a month.
posted by Mitheral at 6:01 PM on March 17, 2013


I think that sort of development is much more common in small states

Eh? This is simple geometry. Smaller states, almost as a rule, have more of their land area within a short distance of another state. I live in a city that's 25 minutes from another state (by car), with another city literally on the border, and there are plenty of people who cross the border either way for work. I've also lived in Jersey City and worked in New York City -- so it isn't just small states. In general, development happened in places for reasons other than there being a state line a safe distance away, like water power or the railroad coming through. The borders themselves are best understood as arbitrary, and in fact often a hindrance to cooperation and development.

cut defense spending, and you're cutting jobs

But of course. It's mostly pork, after all. The problem is that there's a huge mindshare of belief that this is the way it should be perpetually. Somehow we've never really achieved that old canard, the peace dividend, despite round after round of base closures -- 9/11 was really, really fortunate for those with certain investment portfolios.

It's not, however, the same dollar for dollar to build an articulated combat bridge and have it blown up on the other side of the world, and to build a road bridge here that supports the next 50 years of transportation needs. The former largely works on the broken window fallacy, after all.
posted by dhartung at 6:04 PM on March 17, 2013


For Mrs. Pterodactyl and any other folks who might want to make the case for food stamps (to those who see SNAP benefits as encouraging dependency), David Hilfiker's book Urban Injustice is a short powerful reframing, even though it's over 10 years old. From pages 74-75:
In the US, we consider programs like Social Security, Medicare, disability pensions, and disaster relief to be social insurance. All of us pay in and, in times of trouble, any one of us can take out. Usually, there is no stigma attached to taking help from a social insurance program; we think that that’s what it’s there for and that we should take it if we need it. Yet we consider payment to families with young children, food stamps, general relief, an Medicaid to be “public assistance,” akin the charity, undeserved handouts given by a generous “us” to a handicapped or malingering “them.”

As a consequence, federally administered “social insurance” programs have substantially better benefits than “public assistance.” Compare the average $394 TANF payment for a family of three to the usual $515 payment for a single disabled person covered by the federal SSI program. As another example, in the 20 years before the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, AFDC benefits (adjusted for inflation) declined by 40% while Social Security benefits remained stable.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:09 PM on March 17, 2013


I wonder if there's a way to implement it in states that don't in a way that does not include a month where everyone is waiting 32, 34, 37 days since their last benefit."

The average (mean) length of time on the program is 8-10 months, so the way to implement it is with new participants getting a custom day. The others -- save a small percentage of perpetual recipients, e.g. permanently disabled -- will age off the program in a couple of years.
posted by dhartung at 6:10 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The pile-on in response to my comment misses the point. Cutting other federal programs (defense or anything else) doesn't magically give more money to people living on the edge. It creates more people living on the edge (the ones who made the widgets or worked the breakfast shift at airport hotels or answered the phones). It's incredibly naive to think that any amount of robbing peter to pay paul is going to affect the Porsche-buying set one way or another.

100% of SNAP money goes to benefit people who need it and benefit directly (you might say biologically) from it. How much of defense spending goes to waste, fraud, and excess 'profit' or excessive pay? Or are 100% efficiently deployed for some purpose to achieve something we don't need?

Anyway, usually the people who defend defense spending say that poor people are poor because they are lazy or morally deficient. If the defense types lose their jobs, they'll just get new ones because they deserve them. Everyone knows it's impossible to keep good people down.
posted by sensate at 7:53 PM on March 17, 2013


drjimmy11: "It's pretty common in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area too, to work in one state (or district) and live in another. A major cause of the terrible poverty in D.C. is that (Georgetown excepted) almost all the wealthy people who work in D.C. live and pay taxes in the affluent Maryland and Virginia suburbs."

The point still kind of remains, but this is nowhere nearly as true as it used to be.

Funding's no longer the enormous problem that it once was. The District's tax revenues have gone through the roof over the past decade, and the local government is still finding it very difficult to combat generational poverty, even with lots of money available to throw at the problem (and a decent level of public support to back it up).

(Which is not to say that we're throwing nearly enough money at the problem, but it's an especially difficult situation when our immediate neighbors in Virginia are too greedy to fund social programs of any kind, Maryland is too poor and inept to do much about the problem in their state, and federal programs to combat poverty are so unpopular with the electorate. There's a growing body of evidence that DC is helping newer generations out of poverty, but that many of these people understandably choose to get the $*#& out of DC once they have the means to do so.)
posted by schmod at 8:47 PM on March 17, 2013


, the roads and bridges get some,

Bridges and main roads are mainly federally funded actually.
posted by fshgrl at 2:43 AM on March 18, 2013


I support the idea of distributing benefit days over the entire month, if only to prevent businesses from trying to exploit the monthly cycle at their customer's expense.

I've read somewhere (maybe here at MeFi? I tried searching but couldn't find it) that Wal-Mart for example, maintains three sets of stock for their entire store: one to sell during the first ten days of the month, one for the middle ten, and a third set of items that are only sold during the last ten days. The first set of merchandise features special items like 12-packs of paper towels, priced to encourage bulk purchases which are withdrawn from the shelves on the tenth. At the end of the month, they offer things like TP (only?) as individually packaged rolls for sale, at a greater per-item markup than they are sold for earlier.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:48 AM on March 18, 2013


100% of SNAP money goes to benefit people who need it and benefit directly (you might say biologically) from it. How much of defense spending goes to waste, fraud, and excess 'profit' or excessive pay? Or are 100% efficiently deployed for some purpose to achieve something we don't need?

Do you seriously believe this? I cannot speak for RI, but in MA there are at least 19,000 recipients who cannot be found (voter registration info sent by Senator Warren's campaign office was marked return to sender address unknown). At least 20,000 recipients "lose" their card more that 3 times per year (When was the last time you lost your debit card?). The AG has determined that there is a minimum of $25.000.000.00 of fraud in the small sample she was able to audit. Hundreds of cases of MA benefit cards being used in places like Las Vegas and Hawaii. So I don't think 100% is getting used in the way it is intended.
posted by Gungho at 6:51 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel terrible about how hard it is to live on SNAP, it's got to be so frustrating for people.

I'm a huge couponer and I do a lot of cooking at home, and I've always felt that it could be so much easier for folks to do this if they knew a lot of the scrimp and save tricks that I know.

The thing about it though is that I'm totally privilaged. I have a car that I can take anywhere to buy anything I need. I'm educated so I know a lot of recipes. I work one job and don't have kids, so I have plenty of time to spend on cooking a good meal.

For example, here are some things that make sense to me, sitting here at my job, in my comfortable middle class existance:

1. Powdered Milk. Yes, it tastes a little weird, but it is easy to transport, doesn't go bad and you do get used to it. (we drank it when I was a kid, we complained, but we drank it.)

2. Sugared ceral. I know, you want to give the kids something they want, but we all know Oatmeal, Puffed Wheat and Generic Corn Flakes are much cheaper.

3. Convenience foods. It makes me crazy to see expensive, garbage, flavored with salt, salt and cancer causing initials, when people are feeding kids.

So that's me, that's what goes through my mind and I'm a bleeding heart liberal.

I often craft a class in the back of my head that I could deliver to food stamp recipients to teach them how to shop and cook on very little. But how much of it would make sense to folks who are living in kitchens that may not have a spice rack, or a freezer that works, or an oven?


I will say that when I was young and broke, I lived on $20 a week for groceries (not just food but everything.) There was a lot of cheap bologna, pasta and ground 'meat', but I made it work. I also owned a crock pot, which is pretty integral for a lot of cheap cooking.

When I taught high school in the hood, the nearest actual grocery store was 5 miles away. The only grocery/bodega close to school was a place called Omar's. Once, when we were hosting a breakfast at school, someone asked to to get some juice, so I went to Omar's.

I know that most neighborhood groceries don't have a full selection of food, but I was shocked at what I saw at Omar's.

Shelves of pop, the cheapest, nastiest pop, Faygo mostly. Bags and bags of chips, and other fried, salty snacks. Candy. Synthetic hair for weaves. Cigarettes. Beer. Malt Liquor. Thunderbird. And in the back, a place where one could buy hot food. The top selling item, fried chicken gizzards. I had one student tell me, "When I was pregnant I craved Omar's gizzards, he boils them before he fries them."

So, even if the SNAP recipients came to my class, I'm not sure they could actually do anything with the information I gave them. Because Omar's doesn't sell pinto beans, or pasta, or rice.

So much needs to change, especially with something as fundamental as food.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:14 AM on March 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


“Happy shopping! Enjoy the 1st.”
My brain automatically read this in the same voice it uses for Effie Trinket.
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:29 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


So I checked out the weekly specials flyer for the Price Rite mentioned in the story. Ironically, they had Australian legs of lamb cheaper than I can buy them here (less than 60miles from where they are raised), but also advertised California Oranges at 2 for $1, while my fruit market regularly has them 5 for $1. Ridiculous.
posted by bystander at 12:18 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Defense spending: The Most Expensive Fighter Jet Ever Built, by the Numbers (estimated total cost $397 billion, $84 billion spent so far; 133,000 jobs to date)

Nutrition spending: SNAP benefits by the numbers. (estimated annual cost, using Nov 2012 figures, is $77 billion; 47,693,000 people receiving SNAP)

If it matters, I have skin in the game on both sides, having been raised by an engineer father who worked on the B2 bomber, and having worked on a short film on EBT/SNAP at local farmers markets.

Gungho, does MA have a particularly troubled Dept of Health & Human Services? It looks like all the hullabaloo over welfare fraud since the Clinton era has led to pretty strict accounting, at least at the national level. From Feeding America (with links to pdfs of GAO reports):

- SNAP error rates declined by 61% from FY1999 to FY2010, from 9.86% to a record low of 3.81%. The accuracy rate of 96.19% (FY2010) is now at an all-time program high and is considerably higher than other major benefit programs, for example Medicare fee-for-service (89.5%) or Medicare Advantage Part C (85.9%).

- Two-thirds of all SNAP payment errors are a result of caseworker error. Nearly one-fifth are underpayments, which occur when eligible participants receive less in benefits than they are eligible to receive.

- The national rate of food stamp trafficking (when recipients sell benefits for cash at a discount) declined from about 3.8 cents per dollar of benefits redeemed in 1993 to about 1.0 cent per dollar during the years 2006 to 2008.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:25 AM on March 19, 2013


So I checked out the weekly specials flyer for the Price Rite mentioned in the story. Ironically, they had Australian legs of lamb cheaper than I can buy them here (less than 60miles from where they are raised)

Supermarkets here in the US regularly use "loss leaders" or "doorbusters" - high profile items that they sell at a loss to attract shoppers. While they're there for the cheap lamb, the other essentials of an Easter dinner - herbs, veggies, bread, etc - are marked up a bit.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:16 AM on March 19, 2013


The [Massachusetts] AG has determined that there is a minimum of $25.000.000.00 of fraud in the small sample she was able to audit.

My Google-fu is failing to find anything that matches this claim. Perhaps you could provide a link? It's possible that various incidents are being mashed together here:

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has indeed been investigating SNAP fraud
, of the sort where a legitimate SNAP recipient illegitimately lets someone else use their card, in exchange for cash. (Usually you only get half of what the benefits are worth, but you can spend it on rent or medicine or cigarettes or whatever.) However, I can't find anything about $25 million.

The Massachusetts Inspector General does seems to have reported that millions of dollars in SNAP benefits was sent to households that had not been recertified (recertification is required annually). According to the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (PDF), the issue in this case was not that the households didn't qualify, or hadn't completed their side of the paperwork; rather, the problems here were that government caseworkers were overloaded, and that the Inspector General was applying rules other than those legally required. (Basically, the Inspector General was only looking in one place for the data, which the caseworkers had often found or recorded in other ways.) This does not imply that any money was wasted.

The executive summary of the Inspector General's report itself presents the $25 million as a rough maximum total of how much money might have gone to households that might have been slightly over the threshold for benefits:

Extrapolating from the statistically valid sample, the potential eligibility errors identified throughout this report are expected to be present in the range of about 33.1% of the households receiving TAFDC benefits. Potential eligibility concerns that could result in the termination of benefits are expected to be present in the range of about 8.9% of the households receiving benefits. These eligibility concerns could potentially have an expected average cost to the taxpayers in the range of about $25,000,000 a year.

posted by feral_goldfish at 10:17 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gungho, does MA have a particularly troubled Dept of Health & Human Services?

Well the head of the Transitional assistance department recently retired over the various problems. and i misspoke it wasn't 25 million it was 27 million. http://www.boston.com/metrodesk/2013/02/01/patrick-administration-seeks-new-head-for-department-transitional-assistance/U7MbpWLhZLOAj03JLFWZmM/story.html
posted by Gungho at 12:28 PM on March 20, 2013


But what made the USDA claim these benefits had been misdirected? I haven't managed to find any cause, unless the $27 million was a misprint for, or a slightly different calculation of, the same $25 million in benefits referred to in the source Gungho cites:

The report, which was requested by the Legislature, found that the DTA could not verify that about 5,000 of the 50,000 people receiving TAFDC continued to be eligible to receive the benefits, valued at about $25 million.

[Inspector General] Cunha said that if DTA followed its own rules on eligibility verification, the state might find that everyone is qualified.

posted by feral_goldfish at 9:28 AM on March 21, 2013


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