I was four or five. Still small enough to ride in the front of the grocery cart at the store, which I loved and my mother probably loved because it kept me corralled. We finished our week’s shopping, our small groceries barely covering the bottom of the cart.
My mom was putting our purchase on the counter for the cashier when she pulled out a cheap cut of steak, two days past its “sell by” date and on sale for less than a dollar. Then my mom pulled out her wallet and readied her foot stamps, the bright pieces of paper obvious to anyone who looks at them.
The woman behind us in line looked at the counter, looked and my mom’s hand with the food stamps, sniffed, and said, “Well, I wish the government was buying ME steak.”
My mother was utterly humiliated.
I’ve told this story many times before, so I apologize for telling it again. But this year, one of the biggest gutting of the food stamp program ever has happened, and I’m terrified for those families who live like my mom and I did in the early ’70s. My mom was working, too at a minimum wage job. She earned $210 a month. $150 was rent. $30 was for bills and gas for our VW Beetle. That left her $20 a month to feed us with, and buy things like shampoo if the car didn’t break down, if I didn’t need new clothes, if if if.
We would have starved without food stamps to feed us.
I thought of this when I read about Dustin Rigby of Tennessee, called a “reluctant user of food stamps” in a recent New York Times article. And Tarnisha Adams who had to leave her job because of cancer. They both eat only once a day so their children have enough to eat and Mr. Rigby hunts to supplement his food supply.
Do you think it’s healthy for a cancer patient to eat once a day? I don’t, and I’ll bet medical professionals would back me up.
The reality is this: you cannot feed a family on a full-time minimum wage job. Even McDonald’s had to admit this fact when they published their infamous “budget” for their employees, showing how even a single person couldn’t truly support themselves on minimum wage; they were required to have two jobs to meet the very low month income needed to survive.
What if you have multiple children? What if you’re caring for an elderly parent? How, exactly, does a parent work full-time at more than one job and parent or even afford day care?
And if you say, “Well, they shouldn’t have had kids then” I’m going to have to come over there and flick you unless you have some sort of magical life-management powers that you can share with everyone.
Here are the stats you should know about food stamps (from Feeding America, and SNAP is the food stamp program).
76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.[i]
SNAP eligibility is limited to households with gross income of no more than 130% of the federal poverty guideline, but the majority of households have income well below the maximum: 83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013), and these households receive about 91% of all benefits. 61% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 75% of the poverty guideline ($14,648 for a family of 3 in 2013).[ii]
The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744; net monthly income of $338 after the standard deduction and, for certain households, deductions for child care, medical expenses, and shelter costs; and countable resources of $331, such as a bank account.[iii]
I know some people are sneering at this. “Food stamps are for freeloaders. There is rampant abuse of the system.”
Stop right there. Feeding America has something to say to you.
- Given SNAP’s exceptional efficiency, it is simply not possible to achieve significant savings without directly impacting participants. About 95 percent of federal SNAP spending goes directly to benefits and the remaining spending covers important services like employment and training services that help participants move from welfare to work, nutrition education that empowers individuals to make healthy choices on a limited budget, and federal oversight and trafficking prevention for the roughly 200,000 retail stores that accept SNAP benefits.[xiii]
So, this September, in honor of Hunger Awareness month, pick up the phone and call your congressional representatives and tell them to fund SNAP. Send an email. A letter. Hell, send a carrier pigeon.
Because these aren’t freeloaders. They are families, with hungry children. We are too rich a country to let children go hungry. Come on now.