The State Of SNAP
February 1, 2018 8:57 AM   Subscribe

“I resented myself for being poor. My pride kept the EBT card, untouched, in the back pocket of my wallet for almost a year. Using it was an admission of failure. It meant giving up my financial autonomy, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.“ How I Stopped Being Ashamed Of My EBT Card - Janelle Harris, Buzzfeed. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s preview of the new farm bill hints at increased restrictions on SNAP and food assistance programs. New, cashier-less Amazon Grocery stores don’t accept SNAP. What Americans get wrong about ‘food stamps’ according to an expert. Protect the food stamp program by giving them to everyone, even pets.

Previously: “Good and Cheap” Cooking on SNAP.
posted by The Whelk (49 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Related: 58% of Americans think we spend too much on “welfare”, but 84% of those same, presumably not-totally-racist Americans think we spend the right amount or even too little on “assistance to the poor”.
posted by migurski at 9:03 AM on February 1 [29 favorites]


I'm a former welfare employee—an essay I wrote about my experiences was even linked on the blue a few years ago.

I don't have time to go through all the links, but I do have two pieces of commentary from what I saw.

1) The _vast_ majority of welfare recipients work. Maybe not always above the table, but even those with under-the-table gigs will typically report their income in some form, be it the woman getting $50/week to sweep up hair at a salon, or someone who does pick-up construction or home care.

2) Selling EBT cards does happen, but not at any great degree of scale. Pennsylvania offers, or at least offered, a small amount of emergency SNAP benefits that you could get with a state ID, an affidavit, and a signed application. It was not uncommon for homeless to get an emergency SNAP EBT card, and offer it for sale outside of the grocery store near my welfare office. A couple even hit me up when I went there to pick up lunch. HOWEVER, the scope of this kind of fraud is literal pocket change compared to the amount of welfare fraud committed by employees working in the system.
posted by SansPoint at 9:32 AM on February 1 [17 favorites]


It really annoys me that I can't use my EBT card* for non-optional household stuff like toilet paper. They don't ban "junk food" because it would be too hard to police what's acceptable. The only restrictions are that you can't have hot takeaway or food that you're meant to eat at the point of sale.

I don't give a fucking shit if I get the side-eye from anyone in the grocery store. Besides the fact that I've paid into this system for 25 years and have used it for six months, it's not "free." For adults without kids, you're required to participate in work activities for 80 hrs/month (PDF). Max SNAP is $192/month - that's if you have no income - so that's about $2.40/hr.

*("Quest card" in Wisconsin, but the actual program is called "FoodShare")
posted by AFABulous at 9:32 AM on February 1 [19 favorites]


I grew up in a pretty conservative household. I'm *still* uncovering stupid ways that has had an impact on me, especially that I'm now pretty progressive and have more tools to think about how things should work.

One of the turning points away from that mindset was learning that drug testing for food stamps was just an extreme waste of money, because studies from Kansas and Florida showed 98% (or some huge majority of tests, definitely above >90%) of the tests came back clean. I didn't have strong opinions on drug testing before then but my deep-seated pragmatism definitely won out.
posted by emkelley at 9:32 AM on February 1 [13 favorites]


I read the Matt Breunig article, and I'm all Hell Yeah Universal Food Stamps! (Or EBT card, whichever - I don't think any place uses paper "stamps" anymore.) So much food gets wasted, especially produce. We might as well just give it away, right? That would solve hunger and food waste simultaneously.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:34 AM on February 1 [7 favorites]


Yeah there's a whooole other topic on food waste in this country. It's really disheartening.
posted by numaner at 9:36 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Drug testing for benefits sounds good to people because at some level a lot of folks believe that if you are poor, you did something bad and so you deserve it. Generations of Reagan and conservative myths, combined with the Prosperity Gospel, have done incalculable damage to this country.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:37 AM on February 1 [24 favorites]


Also it will be no surprise to any of you that these programs benefit people of color. I am almost always the only white person in FoodShare and unemployment offices, including the caseworkers. The area those offices serve have unemployment rates from 10-23% and POC populations of 80-98%.
posted by AFABulous at 9:49 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I gave up SNAP over three years ago after getting a job, specifically because negotiating the bureaucracy was so much work even before income reporting that it was kind of a low paying job - and this was before recent changes for work programs.

I'm glad it was there but I don't think people realize how much work it really is to obtain them and stay on them, especially today.

Right now I don't know what the hell I'd be doing if it wasn't for my local food bank. I'd probably be wrestling with SNAP paperwork and work requirements.
posted by loquacious at 9:57 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Drug testing sounds good to people because if people have money to spend on drugs, they shouldn't get any financial assistance because money is fungible. Any dollar a drug user receives to spend on basic necessities (food, housing, toilet paper) is kind of a dollar they can spend on illicit substances that work against those "contributing" to society. But that's not what happens in the vast vast majority of cases, so why bother spending the money on it when you can either give out more benefits in dollar or to more recipients?

I don't disagree though that the fallacy "if you're poor you brought it on yourself somehow" is widespread. I worked at an affordable housing agency early in my career, and there were certainly people who made poor decisions. But everybody makes poor decisions and mistakes; it's just that the poor have less or no cushion to fix those. The vast majority of my clients were working toward some kind of betterment, even if that meant that they were never going to be independent from government support due to physical or mental illness or other circumstances. It is challenging to get support for programs when the most visible examples of recipients are people who are "not trying", support just on the basis that we are a community of humans and anyone could end up facing severe challenges at any time. I don't know how to combat that when so many people feel they don't need (or wouldn't stoop to use) a wider social safety net.
posted by emkelley at 9:57 AM on February 1 [7 favorites]


I work at a food bank. Even some of our supporters think that private charity should play the role SNAP does - but SNAP provides 10 times as many meals as the entire charitable support network. It also puts a ton of money into local economies. The idea of imposing work requirements, or drug tests, or any other limitation to the already-more-limited-than-it-should-be program makes me utterly livid. (Although I would love to see Paul Ryan have to prove he's not using drugs every time he wants to get groceries for his family.)

Here is a ton of SNAP info for wonks.

On the separate topic of food waste: lots of major grocery retailers partner with food banks to donate food that's nearing its sell-by date. Feeding America's MealConnect program is a good example. The real challenge, of course, is getting nutritious (that is, fresh and quick to spoil) food where and when it's needed.
posted by torridly at 10:03 AM on February 1 [13 favorites]


Can anyone from a more socialized country tell us how food assistance benefits work in their country? I believe that there are countries where the tax forms come pre-printed with income figures that the household verifies or adds to. I have a fantasy that this gets checked against databases and algorithms of everything one is eligible for and it's to some degree automated. Maybe this makes it too easy.
posted by emkelley at 10:05 AM on February 1


Drug testing sounds good to people because if people have money to spend on drugs, they shouldn't get any financial assistance because money is fungible.

No, it's because they think poor people are all lazy brown-skinned junkies who don't deserve help.

In 2018, can we stop trying to believe in the good faith of people supporting policies actively malicious towards the poor?
posted by praemunire at 10:09 AM on February 1 [20 favorites]


They don't ban Doritos because Frito-Lay knows how to lobby. The person with the EBT card has a full cart and gets in to a nice car because taking an Uber home with groceries a couple times a month means they can go to a real grocery, not the CVS or Walgreens or the grocery with the poor quality produce. There's no or very limited bus service to the Walmarts in my area.

We are a very wealthy country. If we use some of our wealth to subsidize food for people, that makes me happy. When Kid55 was in the Army and his wife was pregnant and they had a baby, they got WIC. My daughter-in-law was raised in serious poverty and bad nutrition. WIC requires visits where the baby is weighed and nutrition education is provided. The program has some weirdness, sometimes she'd have to buy 4 gallons of milk at once. She froze what she could and gave the excess to families that could use it. But she really needed that nutrition info, and the weigh-in/ check-in helped her get better at nutrition.

When big corporations get tax breaks and don't pay taxes, there's nobody in line at the store giving side-eye and judging the coat they're wearing and the contents of their cart. I think benefit programs should have their rules enforced because fraud sucks, but every program ever invented will get exploited. Drug testing laws are nearly always promoted by people who sell drug tests. It strikes me as immoral to require a poor person to have to pay for a drug test to get food, when there is no possible benefit to them. If they test positive, there isn't going to be an offer of appropriate treatment.

Food stamps/ EBT are simple decency. Of course the Republican Congress, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries will cut them, at least in part to help pay for their obscene tax cut to the wealthiest people on the planet.
posted by theora55 at 10:13 AM on February 1 [9 favorites]


A few years ago there was a viral video of a woman berating a man for using an EBT card to buy groceries. If I remember correctly, she eventually shut up when security was summoned. I also remember, and I think it was posted here, a story of a woman humiliated by some asshole grocery cashier who deliberately held her EBT card up in the air, as a form of shaming, so other customers could see it.

I consider both of these incidents to be hate crimes and wish the act of ridiculing someone because they are poor to be a criminal offense.
posted by Beholder at 10:14 AM on February 1 [15 favorites]


Also it will be no surprise to any of you that these programs benefit people of color.

Pretty sure it's not a surprise to conservatives, either. It's just a (huge) bug for them rather than a feature.
posted by randomnity at 10:14 AM on February 1


It would be interesting to discuss providing an increased benefit for foods that have a lower %age of sugar and salt, or had a nutrition rating above some level similar to the way WIC is quite limited to nutritional purchases. I hate to see anybody's cart full of sodapop, chips, snack cakes, sugary yogurt, and other junk that barely qualifies as food.
posted by theora55 at 10:17 AM on February 1


(sorry my comment was kinda dumb, I know that's what you were implying AFABulous, I just find the stark opposite views of the same outcome interesting)
posted by randomnity at 10:29 AM on February 1


I hate to see anybody's cart full of sodapop, chips, snack cakes, sugary yogurt, and other junk that barely qualifies as food.

Then you'd improve your quality of life by not looking into other people's grocery carts, and asking yourself why you feel you have more authority to judge and control what poor people eat than other people. I'm pretty sure I could put my hand out in California and find someone who would find your cart appalling and would be willing to advocate that you not be allowed to buy what's in it.
posted by praemunire at 10:29 AM on February 1 [64 favorites]


I hate to see anybody's cart full of sodapop, chips, snack cakes, sugary yogurt, and other junk that barely qualifies as food.

I don't think it's my business. And while the idea of "increasing" the benefit for healthy foods is nice - I don't see how that can be separated from the idea of reducing benefits for unhealthy foods.

I would rather see policies that encourage healthy eating without punishment or judgment of people who eat unhealthy foods. You never know the reason behind someone's purchases. I eat better than probably 80% of people in the US but there are some days when my cart is probably full of items you'd judge, too.

I'm not sure what those policies would look like. Maybe deliveries for people who have difficulty making frequent trips to the store for perishable items, more accessible/affordable "prepared" but healthy foods (because time to cook is a huge issue), free family cooking classes (family, so people with kids can go), etc etc.

I don't think playing around with the amount of benefits is a good idea, though; it buys totally into the idea that poor people need to be controlled so they don't make bad choices.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:35 AM on February 1 [11 favorites]


"Encourage more healthy foods" would be easy - leave food stamps where they are (or, increase a bit because they are pathetic, but that's a side issue), and expand WIC to kids up to the age of 10 at first, slowly phasing up to age 18, and increase its monthly amounts accordingly; increase the types of food covered to help with kid nutrition instead of infant nutrition.

And set a wider schedule of support for it: I dropped WIC a year and a half before I was required to - I had a job, low enough income to be eligible, but I couldn't make the check-in appointments.

Supporting lower-prep-time foods is a bit harder - it's probably too expensive to cover much in the way of pre-made meals, but if they can do basic nutrition classes, they could do cooking classes that focus on WIC foods, or just "Here's your recipe book that features no more than $1/meal of ingredients that aren't covered by WIC." (For that matter, "here's a recipe book of low-cost high-nutrition foods for a full month's worth of food stamp meals" would help. And with digital options, it's easy to say, "first booklet is free; replacements cost $5; PDFs are free - download as often as you want and share with friends.")

I once got into an argument with the cashier about WIC - I was buying Tillamook sharp cheddar, and she insisted it could only be used to buy American cheese. (I pointed out that "cheddar" was one of the options listed and Tillamook was made in Oregon.) She grumbled, clearly upset that I was buying "fancy" cheese with my gov't handout coupons.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:49 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Several states already have increased benefits for healthy foods. Here in Illinois, people get a $1 for $1 match on every SNAP dollar spent at farmers' markets.
posted by torridly at 10:59 AM on February 1 [9 favorites]


Then you'd improve your quality of life by not looking into other people's grocery carts, and asking yourself why you feel you have more authority to judge and control what poor people eat than other people.

Amen, and didn't George Orwell write about this, about why the poor preferred junk food to healthier meals? If I remember correctly, his obvious conclusion is that the poor have very few ways to brighten their day, even fewer back then, and indulging in junk food was a form of therapy, an outlet for their suffering, because there was no other outlet available to them.
posted by Beholder at 11:00 AM on February 1 [23 favorites]


I’ve always wanted city run food halls/cafeterias* with a mandate to use locally sourced food and minimum nutrients standards, keeps the money in the community - something like a dorm room meal plan with a Whole Foods hot bar setup - you could put the farmers markets there too, keep the supply lines short and tidy.

*EyebrowsMcGee mentioned a great all in school lunch program where the people in charge had to taste test all the deals for that month, which sounds like an excellent thing to copy.

Plus, we coukd take the technology currently making our lives worse and make it work for us -Imagine if rather than working at unsustainable wages for postmates you got to deliver meals from said food halls to people who can’t get there - imagine the burden lifted on a working parent if they could rely on a service that like (I think Orwell had a similar idea of neighborhood kitchen shops )

Food, due to it being necessary to live and the fact that we overproduce and it rots eventually, is a great case for (partial) decommodification

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posted by The Whelk at 11:17 AM on February 1 [15 favorites]


(But as mentioned, if you made the assistance universal you’d remove the incentive for fraud)
posted by The Whelk at 11:47 AM on February 1


Can anyone from a more socialized country tell us how food assistance benefits work in their country?

Well I can tell you, from Australia, it’s pretty new, because up until very recently there was no “food assistance”, people were just paid in plain old money. You remember that stuff? Even poor, unemployed, even people of colour were trusted to use money to buy what they needed. Took me some time to figure out what Americans meant by “food stamps”.

Alas, obviously this couldn’t last, and in recent years we’ve seen the introduction of the “Cashless Welfare Card”, eg. an ATM card that has restrictions on what you can buy with this. Naturally, this was rolled out in indigenous communities first, and has proven to be such a total pain in the arse they’ve now rolling it out to white people too. But only in certain troublesome towns.

A major issue with these restrictions on cash is the effect on people escaping domestic violence. If you need to quickly move out and escape someone, you need cash - to buy second hand furniture for where you are trying to move to, to pay for a taxi to get away quickly after your husband takes away your car keys, whatever. This cashless welfare card is going to kill someone.

This Twitter thread from a conference on the card, with academic and indigenous speakers, is an excellent summary of this bullshit.
posted by Jimbob at 11:50 AM on February 1 [19 favorites]


so I've been living in a goddamn hotel for the past three weeks--three adults, one dog, two cats, one room. It is stressful. Everyone is working and my partner and roomie are both shift workers with no control over work schedules, so it is currently not uncommon for someone to drag themselves in the door and crash at ten or eleven pm and then for someone else to be scrabbling around at 6 or 630 am to do morning chores (dogwalking, cat feeding, etc).

we are trying to keep our food expenses not completely insane (although insurance has promised to more or less pay the difference between normal expenditures and this) by minimizing our "living off takeout" reliance as best we can. Unfortunately, minifridges are absolutely shit, and frankly I barely trust ours to keep food sliiiiiightly cooler than room temperature, which means that when we order food to eat it has to be eaten in one go or within a day or two.

I had a similar experience a couple of summers ago when we moved into the house and the a/c and fridge both blew and the stove/range were unusable and it was a month or two before we could get them replaced. I have lived out of minifridges off and on throughout my twenties and inevitably they are shit.

Our grocery orders are not heavy on fruit and vegetables right now, is what I'm saying. We're basically only bothering to buy things that are relatively shelf-stable at this point, because that's what we can reasonably preserve. And this is the kind of situation that someone without a lot of income is more likely to wind up in. As Whelk points out, for example, someone who has been displaced from their original home on short notice could easily fit the same category as me with more financial constraints--domestic violence survivors, or people displaced by flooding and hurricanes, for example.

My situation is temporary, I should note; so was the previous one. I am very lucky. I am only temporarily displaced from my home, which is hopefully going to be livable again next week, and then I can go somewhere with bedrooms and less in the way of sleep interruptions and the ability to go back to my usual routine of cooking my own food and freezing leftover bricks for meals.

But I know a whole bunch of people in unstable housing situations for whom it is not temporary. For example, I have friends who rely on things like minifridges because their housemates will eat their food without replacing it and/or steal said food if they leave it in a communal fridge. I know people whose housemates leave the kitchen so filthy that cooking in it is repulsive, but who will immediately dirty it up if they spend the effort cleaning it properly. I know a lot of people who live with other people in situations that are not good, and who don't actually always have access either to cooking spaces that make vegetables and good quality food accessible. I have in fact lived with only a microwave and a minifridge before, and I am doing it now, and I will again--and for people who are living marginally enough that they need roommates to survive but aren't lucky enough to manage finding roommates who pull their own share of the labor and have the energy and capacity to do so... well.

Don't begrudge someone a damn hot pocket, is what I'm saying. And if you're going to try to incentivize eating healthier and less processed, you also need to keep storage, prep time, and preparation resources in mind when you're deciding what people can and can't do.

Don't get me started on the goddamn "oh you can't buy a rotisserie chicken with food stamps" bullshit. Because god forbid the poor have the opportunity to buy a cheap-ass chicken that isn't totally cold yet, especially when it's one of the most common loss leaders in the grocery store. My roomie's grocery store is in one of the poorest parts of town, and one of the things I love about them is that they take the time to chill half the rotissierie birds and sell them cold at the same price--just so folks on food stamps can still have access to cheap protein.
posted by sciatrix at 11:57 AM on February 1 [36 favorites]


I’ve always wanted city run food halls/cafeterias* with a mandate to use locally sourced food and minimum nutrients standards, keeps the money in the community - something like a dorm room meal plan with a Whole Foods hot bar setup - you could put the farmers markets there too, keep the supply lines short and tidy.

Interestingly, Britain did pretty much did this as part of their WWII rationing program, and it was probably a major reason why the health of the British public apparently got better during rationing, despite shortages of many foodstuffs. Because it turns out that, if you cap the price of food and make sure everybody can afford to eat, people get healthier! Strange but true!
posted by tobascodagama at 12:05 PM on February 1 [10 favorites]


Rotisserie chickens are great budget-stretchers! You can make sandwiches, tacos, chicken alfredo, and many other things out of the leftovers. I agree that food aid ought to be extended to prepared food, like rotisserie chickens or other things from the deli bar, because many people live in situations where preparing or storing food is difficult or impossible.

I’ve always wanted city run food halls/cafeterias* with a mandate to use locally sourced food and minimum nutrients standards, keeps the money in the community - something like a dorm room meal plan with a Whole Foods hot bar setup - you could put the farmers markets there too, keep the supply lines short and tidy.

Street food has a long history in many cultures - we put "Grandma's wholesome home cooking!" on a pedestal, but, in many eras, the city-dwelling poor did not cook food at home - they ate what we now would call "street food" or "takeout." People living in crowded slums, or even just cramped flats, did not have nice kitchens to cook in. I'm sure Orwell was thinking of that when he called for communal cafeterias.

For those who do want to cook at home, I sometimes dream of a program that gives out a free Instant Pot to any household that needs one.

I really think we have the means to see that every man, woman, and child in America gets enough to eat. The food is there. The distribution channels would be pretty easy, too, except in isolated rural areas. (If we can manage CSA's and Door Dash and Blue Apron and etc. we can manage to get food to everyone.) All we lack is the political will (largely because a certain class of white voter doesn't want Those People to get anything).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:27 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Thank you Jimbob. Economically, cash is best, and thanks for the reminder.

praemunire, I have heard people say this about their own white family members, so not all people believe poor = brown = drug users and that's why they don't want to help them. The situation is a more nuanced than that, and it helps to understand different ways of thinking in order to engage. I don't deny those people exist too, though. They definitely do, sadly, and they suck.
posted by emkelley at 12:43 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


The Orwell quote is from the Road to Wigan Pier, and yes it's still true today. He's talking about the unemployed in specific but it's pretty well applicable for anyone struggling.
And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't.... When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don't want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit 'tasty'. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let's have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we'll all have a nice cup of tea!... Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man's opium.
posted by tavella at 1:21 PM on February 1 [9 favorites]


from Australia, it’s pretty new, because up until very recently there was no “food assistance”, people were just paid in plain old money

There is money assistance in the US too (and it's even more limited; there are horror stories; you don't want to know); food assistance is on top of that, or instead of it for people who don't qualify for cash.

There's some logic to it aside from the ridiculous "can't be letting poor people buy booze and cigarettes" drama - a lot of people in tight constraints have problems with budgeting; getting benefits in stamps instead of money can help with that. It guarantees you don't spend the food money on the electricity bill or gas for the car- because as much as you're not supposed to live in a house without electricity or sleep in your car, a week with the lights turned off* is not the same danger as a week without food.

If the amount given were enough to live on for the month for an average person, as opposed to a person who knows a lot of recipes and can evaluate produce and has the time to cook from scratch, they'd even work as a budget-learning tool. When you never have enough, you can't learn to budget; it's always "which bill do I dodge this month?" If food stamps were actually sufficient, they'd teach people how to buy in-season produce and what a reasonable splurge for a special occasion is.

*I know there are situations where no electricity is dangerous.

Short version: there's value in "food-only" moneybits for people in need. We just also have a system that often claims nothing *else* is needed, and that's stupid.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:30 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


The closest thing I've known to food stamps in the UK was a benefit for all new mothers* on a low income: vouchers for a certain amount of milk or fresh fruit or vegetables. The programme is called Healthy Start. The rules have changed since the person I knew was on them, actually, they seem to have got better. Children under a year old get two vouchers a week, each worth £3.10 (£6.20). Pregnant women and children under four are entitled to one £3.10 voucher a week.

There's also the Sure Start one-off maternity benefit of £500, I'm not sure if this is universal or tied to low income.

*In practice it's mothers who usually collect and use this benefit as pregnancy is one of the criteria for receiving it. Also it's possible to shop with cash as normal, handing over the vouchers for the milk and veg part of the bill. Also possible to save them up and use a few at a time. Retailers register if they want to accept them.
posted by glasseyes at 1:34 PM on February 1


It guarantees you don't spend the food money on the electricity bill or gas for the car

But this is one of the cruelties of the cashless welfare card - it’s linked to a bank account (Janet voice: not a real bank account) that things like rent, electricity etc. are automatically withdrawn from. Sounds great? Yeah except they just come out randomly - the person is given no opportunity to budget and prioritize, they just go to the store and find their welfare card has no money because a gas payment was suddenly taken out.

As a person not reliant on welfare, when I receive a utility bill I get a month to pay it, I get the opportunity to decide when to pay it, to maybe pay it in a few instalments. But people relying on the cashless welfare card just get charged immediately and randomly and suddenly can’t afford food.
posted by Jimbob at 1:45 PM on February 1 [12 favorites]


Remembering past UK scandals where loan sharks or bad landlords were found to have kept families' child benefit books, I also think there's value in at least some food-specific benefits.

Child benefit: a weekly benefit paid out for each child from the Post Office, you had a book of vouchers which you would hand over for that week's cash. This was and is a truly universal benefit, designed to put cash in the hands of whoever was caring for the children. Now it's paid into bank accounts so it no longer does that last part.
posted by glasseyes at 1:53 PM on February 1


When it was introduced at a time few women were in paid employment, it was described as the tax concession for having dependent children, put into the mother's hands as cash in order to make it more likely to be spent on those children.
posted by glasseyes at 1:57 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


this is one of the cruelties of the cashless welfare card - it’s linked to a bank account (Janet voice: not a real bank account) that things like rent, electricity etc. are automatically withdrawn from

How... charming. They took a fucked-up system and added more bonus fuckedupitude.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:00 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Protect the food stamp program by giving them to everyone

This a thousand times. This was Roosevelt's greatest insight for Social Security: If everyone gets it, even the wealthy, then everyone feels it is theirs and will defend it.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:40 PM on February 1 [15 favorites]


We don’t have food stamps in Canada, we have cash. I prefer cash, however it can lead to food insecurity, especially as rents can be so high. Food banks help in some areas. Food insecurity in the North is especially bad - like horrifically bad.

While I would like to see better subsidized housing in my area of Canada so more of people’s social assistance dollars could go to food, poverty is complex and people should be fed wherever they are. I’m not sure the US has this one so wrong.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:21 PM on February 1


The food stamp program is from the department of agriculture. It is a subsidy for the sugar and corn industry as much as it is a safety net, so you're never going to see chips and soda pop excluded, or toilet paper added. And you'll never see it converted to cash in the US.
posted by Miss Cellania at 8:39 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Yeah I'm a "just give people money" person like 90% of the time but food is a unique enough thing* that it feels worth singling out, and you can use more uh "market friendly" language to expand it, better someone pays for the food then it rots on the shelf, the store owner already paid for it afterall - and promoting healthier foods can be done in a few ways, from dollar matching to explaining SNAP acceptance to farmer's markets (and expanding farmer market and green grocer access)

SNAP is an good example of a public program, its only flaws are being difficult to get, overly restrictive due to fraud fears, and not big enough. All solved with universality.

It's also not completely unreasonable to see the argument for expanding it to toilet paper, or even pet food as mentioned in the post.

*Orwell, again, he talked about the charity vouchers churches would give out, after you endure sermons, that where only good in some eateries and full of restrictions and sometimes you had to use a back entrance - anything to avoid that kind of "assistance" is a step in the right direction

Also, related, I think about the first link a lot and the shame of poverty and it reminded me of the roll out documents for the NHS, every page stressed this was NOT charity, this was part of YOUR government that YOU paid for through your taxes that you DESERVE to have. Combined with the link that people support "assisting the poor" but not "welfare" makes me think a little change in messaging would reap big benefit. "You actually deserve not to starve!"
posted by The Whelk at 9:17 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


SNAP kept my brother and I fed through graduating high school and college respectively. If people need food just fucking give it to them.
posted by runcibleshaw at 11:21 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Also important to say, my Mom was on WIC and SNAP for my brother and me and it probably literally saved our lives.
posted by The Whelk at 11:57 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


If I remember correctly, his obvious conclusion is that the poor have very few ways to brighten their day, even fewer back then, and indulging in junk food was a form of therapy, an outlet for their suffering, because there was no other outlet available to them.

I don't know if Orwell said this or not, but it is so obviously true and so little considered that it depresses me. Imagine your whole life has been crushing poverty, and that you expect the rest of your life, too, will be so. What do you expect someone would do if they got a sudden windfall? They can put it away and wait for the next disaster to wipe it out, or they can enjoy themselves for one of the few times in their lives.
posted by JHarris at 12:02 AM on February 2 [4 favorites]


It's also not completely unreasonable to see the argument for expanding it to toilet paper, or even pet food as mentioned in the post.

When the SNAP/food stamp program started, pets were not really considered part of the family. Now they are, so I am fully on board with including pets in the SNAP program. Anastasia the Cow Cat agrees!

In addition to toilet paper, let's make a "basic hygiene" category. That would encompass toilet paper, soap/body wash, deodorant, and menstrual products. Poor female-bodied people can have real trouble affording tampons, pads, cups, and the like.

Hmmm. I think it's possible to expand benefits - from food, to food, pet food and basic hygiene, to food, pet food, hygiene, household products...finally growing into a stealth basic income of sorts.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:12 AM on February 2 [3 favorites]


I am almost always the only white person in FoodShare and unemployment offices, including the caseworkers. The area those offices serve have unemployment rates from 10-23% and POC populations of 80-98%.

Who Gets Food Stamps? White People Mostly

It's not helping to propagate the idea that most poor people are black or that most black people are poor. A slighlt higher percentage of black people are poor, but it's far from the majority and a crappy stereotype that reinforces white people making decisions that hurt their communities too.

Kthxbye.
posted by dame at 9:12 AM on February 2 [3 favorites]


But is more white people on food stamps just further evidence of our system of racial inequality? Perhaps there would be more black people on "food stamps" if the people who are in charge of gatekeeping the benefits were less racist.

One example from the Washington Post in 2017 – "States with more black people have less generous welfare benefits, study says."
How much cash welfare assistance families in poverty receive largely depends on where they live, with welfare eroding in every state except Oregon* during the past 20 years, according to a new study by the Urban Institute.

The study, released Tuesday, unveils wide racial and geographic disparities in how states distribute cash welfare, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Two decades after President Bill Clinton carried out the welfare overhaul that created TANF, states with a larger share of African Americans tend to have less generous welfare benefits and more restrictive policies, the study found.

These states also have shorter periods of eligibility for assistance, stricter requirements to maintain benefits and more severe sanctions for people who don’t abide by state welfare rules.
*I checked and Oregon is the 15th whitest state. Just wanted to be sure that that isn't the reason for the disparity. And as an Oregon resident, it surprises me that our benefits are not eroding. Maybe it has to do with in-migration.
posted by amanda at 12:32 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


It would be interesting to discuss providing an increased benefit for foods that have a lower %age of sugar and salt, or had a nutrition rating above some level similar to the way WIC is quite limited to nutritional purchases. I hate to see anybody's cart full of sodapop, chips, snack cakes, sugary yogurt, and other junk that barely qualifies as food.

Someone has probably made my point already but I just have to say this.

I have been unemployed for a year. I haven't bought clothes, books, music, or anything "fun" since last August. I'm giving up my car on Monday. I don't smoke or do drugs. I go out maybe once every two weeks and have a $4 beer with friends. Food is the only "luxury" I have. I do eat fairly healthy, but on my last trip to the store I bought soda and frozen pizza because THEY TASTE GOOD. Do you want me to show you the results of my last physical? My perfect bloodwork? My BMI is 20 and my waist is 30".

When I get a job, the first thing to improve will be what I eat. I can't wait to have berries and avocados and almonds but I can't justify those right now.

I would say a few other words but I've already had one comment deleted in this thread.
posted by AFABulous at 5:05 PM on February 2 [6 favorites]


On a less furious note, for anyone in the US who is struggling, this website - posted on mefi awhile ago - has been invaluable to me. Aside from food, there is a lot of public and private help available if you're willing to deal with the bureaucracy.
posted by AFABulous at 5:19 PM on February 2 [5 favorites]


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