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I Buy Pizza and Soda With My Food Stamps

September 5, 2012 2:24 am · Posted by marybabysteps

I had an interesting conversation on Facebook the other day. It was in regard to a political post I put up on my wall. It was actually an enlightening discussion. It made me consider the kinds of things I post when it comes to politics. The post in question was bound to incite some ire on the part of those who disagreed. Despite the disclaimer I added that I didn't agree with everything in the article I posted, it was the incendiary part that people focused in on. I couldn't seem to get them to see the underlying message, the part that I wanted people to see. 

But that's not what's been weighing so heavily on my mind since that discussion. No. It's the part during the discussion when a woman I went to college with truly and honestly tried to clarify her position by relating a story of her recent trip to the grocery store. It seems the man in front of her ,"kid you not", while she was "buying stuff with coupons", had his cart filled with "frozen pizzas and tons of soda" for his kid's birthday party to which twelve kids were invited. And, then he, "pays with an Access card. Is that not taking advantage?"

A friend jumped in the conversation and asked the question that really needs to be asked, "How on Earth is what was in someone else's shopping cart any of your business?" That's the part that was so upsetting to me. The attitude that people are just out to take advantage of food stamps and other assistance programs is what I simply don't understand.

Let me tell you a little bit about food stamps from an inside perspective. My family and I receive food stamps, and yes, I've purchased pizza AND soda with my Access card. (While I know the program is actually called SNAP now, everyone is familiar with the term food stamps.)

1. Food stamps probably don't cover an entire month's worth of groceries. 

The amount of money a family receives is based on their income, family size and cost of basic living expenses. We receive only a small portion of the maximum amount a family of five can qualify for in the state of Pennsylvania. That means we pay for food costs out of pocket when the food stamp money runs out. So if I, or the man from the example, choose to pick up the food for our kid's birthday party, we'll just have to pay out of pocket later. Whether the money comes out at the beginning of the month or end, it's the same amount. It would be ridiculously inconvenient to take time to ring up two purchases - one that people think is appropriate to buy with food stamps and another that others may find questionable and should be paid for with cash out of pocket.

2. People on food stamps use coupons and budget, too.

Just because I'm getting all this "free money" doesn't mean I'm out there buying all kinds of crappy food at the tax payer's expense. I personally shop primarily at a discount grocery store and Aldi. Occasionally, I'll head to Giant Eagle to pick up sale items and because Brady likes to play at their child care facility. That does not make me an irresponsible shopper. 

3. Food stamp recipients are are not looking to take anything from anyone. 

Why is there an assumption that people in need of financial assistance are out to take anything from those who work hard? This afore mentioned Facebook friend noted that her son asked if he could get a card like that to pay for his birthday party. Really? I cannot believe that a kid is even going to notice what the person ahead of him in line is using to pay for his groceries. That's one observant kid. I believe that A.) His mother brought the subject up. or B.)  The man felt some sort of obligation to explain why he was buying the pizza and soda with his food stamps and was the one who discussed his method of payment.

4. Those who get food stamps aren't proud of it. 

I don't know a single person who brags about qualifying for food stamps and how much free food they're getting. I have friends on food stamps and have worked with several clients, when I was a mobile therapist, who got them.  If anything I've heard stories of folks being embarrassed to use their card at the register and of those who feel uncomfortable by the judgmental looks they get from those around them. There is no shame in receiving help to meet your family's needs. 

5. Those using food stamps usually try to eat relatively healthy.

We're really not all out there stocking up our carts with pizza, soda, ice cream and candy. Not everyone is aware of nutritional guidelines and are simply eating the way they were taught in their families or making moderate choices to the best of their ability. Very few in our society eat strictly healthy diets, and it's incredibly arrogant of anyone to expect food stamp recipients to have different nutritional habits than the general population.  The people I know, as well as myself, are all choosing foods that are pretty middle of the road nutrition wise. As a rule, I buy very few sweets, some snacks, mostly meat, produce and staples like bread, eggs and milk. 

6. Those who qualify for the full amount in food stamps are likely very poor. 

If a person is able to buy his groceries exclusively with food stamps because he receives the maximum amount available, he probably has an extremely low income. So should we really begrudge him the money it costs to buy some pizza and soda for his kid's birthday party or otherwise? I've seen the living conditions of people who are awarded the entire food stamp amount available based on their family size. These people tend to take great pride in their food. They use food as a way to celebrate, to come together, to feel normal. I think they should be allowed that much. 

I am not ashamed to receive food stamps. I am a college educated woman who is struggling for now. I report my income for required program updates and provided my paystubs to the assistance office when I began bringing in more money so that the amount we received could be accurately determined. . The personal examples I shared were not because I feel I need to justify anything or because I feel ashamed. I gave them because I want to show what an average food stamp recipient looks like, the kinds of choices most of us make. I hope those who are of the belief that we're all just sponging off of handouts will at least give some thought to the kinds of assumptions they are making. 

I'm actually not at all against making some modifications to the program in order to address some of the concerns many people have. In the time that I've been receiving assistance, I've never been given any nutritional counseling or education. Perhaps that is a component that is missing from the program. Also, a budgeting course or frugal shopping lesson would be something that could benefit those who receive aid. But, above all, people need to be given the dignity to make their own choices about what they feed their families. The majority of food stamp recipients aren't abusing the system. Please don't treat us like idiots who can't make decisions or derelicts who are just lazy free loaders. 

Do you receive food stamps? Have you gotten them in the past? I'd love it if you would share your story in the comments. I can only offer my personal story and the accounts of others I have witnessed. If others would share what they've experienced, I think it would go a long way to providing a human face on food stamps.

 

UPDATE: 

In a conversation on Facebook, it was alleged that a family bought beer with their food stamps. Um, no. Here is a list of eligible food items. Beer's not on it. But birthday cakes are approved. 

I also came across this report from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service that lays it out more succinctly than i could in terms of why it doesn't make sense to regulate the kinds of foods people can purchase with their food stamps based on nutritional standards. 

Filed under: money, Family Tagged with: Decision Making, food stamps, choices
posted by Mike H
9/05/12

There's you, the honest 'food stamp' user. Then there's these guys. You're both posting your experiences in using assistance online, you're just not bragging or rapping about it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o64Fz-KW1Dk


posted by Pitts Burger
9/05/12

This article is out of touch. Nothing I like more than working 40hrs a week to eat cheap cuts of steak, while EBT users check out in front of me with Strips and Porter house on the gov't dime


posted by
9/06/12

You bring up a great point - people on food stamps DO work. I do, my husband does.


posted by Anonymous
11/13/12

I saw the link to this on a friends page & had to read it and I totally agree with you! I went to college (haven't finished yet, but went for a good 2 years), I have a certificate in medical billing and coding, 2 med. terminology classes under my belt and am half done with all the classes necessary to be a paralegal. I grew up in a middle-class household and my father enjoyed spoiling me - therefore, up until the past 2 years, I've always been given nice gifts for birthdays, Christmas, etc. Now that I am out on my own and a mother of 2 toddlers, working 40 hours a week, it isn't enough. I receive SNAP, but by no means is it enough to pay for an entire months worth of groveries, ESPECIALLY if you want to eat healthy. Incase some people havent noticed, a huge family sized bag of greesey Lays potatoe chips are a lot cheaper than a big bag of SunChips, or organic potatoe chips. Canned veggies with God knows what in it is a lot cheaper than fresh veggies and a case of pop is cheaper than a large container of good juice. You do the best you can with what you've got. When my kids are at their dads, I eat a steady diet of oodles of noodles and pb&j sandwhiches so that when they're home, we can eat chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. And it's humilitating to use your Access card. I get the dirtiest looks. I'll be standing in line with in Ugg boots (birthday gift) and a Coach purse (Christmas present) and bust out my Access card and literally want to crawl in a hole and disappear. The cashier looks at you like you're literally stealing the money right out of their paycheck to go shopping at the outlets or something. But, its just how people are. And I know people who are collecting disability or unemployment, getting the max food stamps that they can a month, then do side jobs making $4,000 in a week - those are the people who give it all a bad name. There's no shame in doing what you have to do or can do to make sure that your family is taken care of.


11/13/12

I've never been on food stamps, but we did end up receiving WIC for a short time when I got laid off from my job in 2006 when TJ was only a few months old. I hated going through the line with the WIC checks. But we needed them to pay for TJ's formula and a few other things. You do what you gotta do.

As for "Pitts Burger" judging the cuts of steak an EBT user buys, remember that the cost of that steak means they will have less money for other foods at the end of the month. You never know if they have scrimped and saved on other shopping trips in order to have a special steak dinner for an anniversary or birthday.

I confess that I used to be a lot more judgmental about things a few years ago, but times are tough, and you have no idea how any person came to be in the situation they're in nor what they have to do in order to make ends meet now.


posted by
11/13/12

Thank you so much for the comments of understanding and encouragement. I appreciate them. I posted this as a way to educate and inform. It's nice to know there are people who don't judge.


posted by A Better Way
11/13/12

While I agree with some of your assumptions regarding eligibility, I will disagree with the statement regarding the USDA & its own inability to regulate the type of food purchased with food stamps. The USDA has nutritional guidelines for their WIC program that specifically state what foods can be purchased; fruits & vegetables, milk (both cow & soy), cheeses, tofu, cereals & other whole grains.

The list by state can be found here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/Contacts/stateagencyfoodlists.htm

Food stamps and assistance should be a supplement, which in your case, it seems to be. However, there should be tighter restrictions associated with what and how that assistance can be spent on. Pre-packaged pizza is often high in saturated fats and salt, while running low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Soda has less than zero nutritional benefits.

Government doesn't have the right to tell you how to spend the rest of your budget. However, if you are going to accept assistance, it certainly has the right (and should) restrict what it is willing to pay for.


posted by
11/13/12

WIC is a different program than SNAP (food stamps). In some cases, SNAP may not be a supplement, depending on a family's income. The income guidelines, along with the allowable purchases, are set by the program. Apparently, as noted in the USDA publication I linked in the update, the agency feels that people should have self-direction to determine their own food choices. You are entitled to your opinion. You are not entitled to dictate anyone's food choices, despite how they are paying for those choices.


posted by A Better Way
11/13/12

WIC may be a different program, but it has guidelines for a reason... to improve the overall health and well-being of mothers and children through nutrition.

You, I, & the agency can agree to disagree on how SNAP is implemented. But the general public would have a better opinion of those utilizing the assistance if it were for healthy items, rather than food with little nutritional value.


posted by Anonymous
1/02/13

I would like to say that I agree on teaching nutrition to people that receive SNAP but I don't think there should be strict guidelines on what you can and can't buy. I do receive SNAP and most of the time I get basics. But there are times I get premade items for when I am sick and can't cook or when I just don't feel like cooking. We go through meat, veggies and fruit like crazy. And I do use coupons and shop sales or clearance as well. And yes stores do mark food down to sell. It just requires freezing. People on SNAP are not on it to go buy whatever they want to eat. They are on it to keep their kids fed and healthy. One example is my kid who is 4 will not touch french fries. She prefers salad or raw carrots. So please change your view.


posted by Anonymous
1/02/13

If I'm not mistaken there are some pizza places that now accept snap cards for payment...... But my real point to make is in agreement with a previous poster. When we first erlocated to Tx and finding jobs we needed assistance. We no longer receive assistance, but probably should. It breaks my heart to read about all the foods I should NOT be feeding my children unless you buy organic. We have to live with what I can buy for 100-125 a week for a family of 5. That does not leave room for making some healthier choices. Would she have been offended if the gentleman was buying ALL the individual ingredients needed to make homemade pizzas? I've tried and the price of the pepperoni and cheese alone was more than ordering one for delivery. He wanted to do something nice for his child and he did the best economical choice he could. What is truly upsetting to me is that once we've outgrown small family parties at home it's going to cost upwards of $500 for a party at a venue (bounce house etc.) Our society has turned birthday parties into a huge money making industry. I don't know if we'll be able to "keep up with the Jones's" but at the same time I don't want mine to be the only kids in class who don't have the spectacular birthday. I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.


posted by
2/02/13

I read through articles like this and then get to the comments section and literally have to walk away from the computer for a while before I give in to the urge to respond.

I agree with the OP in living a life with food stamps. We are not evil, we are not lazy, and we definitely aren't trying to take you for all you have and shove it in your face. Seriously, it is not about you.

Do you know how often I have had to endure the withering stares, snorts and derision when I have to use my SNAP card? People who do not know us, our situation, or even how much we receive monthly feel entitled to sneer and disrespect me every time I go to the grocery store. I don't have the luxury of multiple car trips to different spread-out stores (spending the gas money is more than any price difference can be in this area), and often have to take what is available and that can make the most impact in our monthly meals instead of getting cuts of steak. We haven't had steak in years. Nice try, though.

I wonder if you saw me in a store without my husband nearby, would you know my story? Would you just see the card and what is in my cart and make your snap judgments? Who do you think you are to judge another person to start with? In reference to choosing what I or my family should be able to buy with SNAP benefits, I would love to see you come to my house, care for my mentally AND physically disabled husband, three children, clean the house, run to all of the appointments, pay the bills, do the shopping AND do all of this wonderfully healthy cooking. By the time it comes to meals, I am simply exhausted, and it's not always possible to cook from scratch and stand long enough to do so. Microwaved meals it is, sometimes. Who are you to judge ME for my decisions when only *I* know what our family life is like? BUTT OUT.

It seems like some people have an over-inflated sense of worth and watchdog status when the money has left their pockets already, and feel like they have the right to dictate what others purchase with what is not even THEIR money (the person complaining). Seriously, people.


posted by Mutso
2/02/13

Great article. I agree with every point you make. The sad thing is that the conservative poster child for eliminating assistance programs does not exist. Ok, there might be a few. But even the rapper from the first post is bull. I grew up in the City. He made that rap just to piss people off. Specifically white people who now nothing about black culture and inner-city life. In fact, I thought it was not only hilarious, but brilliant because his creation had the exact effect he wanted.

When my wife and I first got out of the Army (20+ yrs ago) we were so poor that we received food stamps (I'm not ashamed to say food stamps, but of course it wasn't EBT then). I do remember waiting at the assistance office, submitting to a grueling process of waiting and proving our need. Meanwhile, I commuted 1.5 hours each way into the City to go to school and I worked at night. Waiting for hours at the assistance office was time I could not afford. I remember seeing a woman in line with us who had a floor length leather jacket that looked very expensive with matching purple leather boots, a matching purple eel-skin beeper cover, and a matching purple leather purse. As a young, freshly released soldier this woman pissed me off. Now when I reflect I think, "I knew nothing of that woman. Who was I to judge?" I am human, just like the woman in the leather jacket. Was I better than that woman? I certainly thought so at the time.

And frankly, anyone that complains about the poster-child assistance receiving person needs in my experience is 1. Typically a conservative voter; 2. Is most often proud to be a Christian; and 3.The country's biggest patriots. What disgusts me these days are so-called Christian patriots that are first in line to whine about these examples of abusers but do nothing good and cannot even look inward to realize they are worked up about an imaginary situation. I would much rather party with Mr. EBT who is smart enough and creative enough to make something he knows will piss people off than spend a second in the presence of self-righteous, hateful, and ignorant people.


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