Whenever I see food stamps in the news, I brace myself. I never know how information will be given, received, or absorbed. Without a doubt people will have opinions, and they will share them. More often than not, the person relaying the news will not have first-hand experience with poverty or food stamps. More often than not, the person with an opinion on food stamps has never been on them.
Back in 2015, the U.S. Census released statistical information about the number of children who are receiving food stamps, estimating “16 million children, or about 1 in 5, received food stamp assistance compared with the roughly 9 million children, or 1 in 8, that received this form of assistance prior to the recession [of 2007].”
I heard some newscasters at that time present that 16 million number as children we have failed. Other media outlets were quick to remind us that more than half of these children live in single-parent households. They believe the “report is a stunning reminder of the vital role marriage plays in combating child poverty and the expansion of welfare rolls.”
How about it’s indicative of a single parent who reached out for help?! These numbers reflect children who will hopefully not wonder if their next meal is going to happen. Sixteen million children being enrolled in food stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also means 16 million children with access to nutrition education.
The numbers are actual, but they have been politicized, spun, twisted, and sensationalized into headline news fodder meant to shock us. “How could we let this happen?!” This is the question being thrust at most of us.
I’d like to challenge you to take a moment and pause. Take a step away from politics and party lines. Think about the kids in your neighborhood, the kids you see at the bus stop or at church. The kids in your son or daughter’s school who are on food stamps.
The 16 million children currently on food stamps do not care about the politics of food stamps. Seriously. They don’t care about stats or numbers or data. They care about security, comfort, and peace of mind.
Is it ideal that so many families needed to ask for help? No. But they did, and they received it. Sixteen million children got help thanks to an adult in their life applying for, and then being approved for benefits. And aside from just the governmental programs, other organizations like Feeding America are making sure children and families don’t go hungry, too. As their Senior Vice President of Network Development, Ami McReynolds, tells Babble:
“Our network of food banks, pantries, and meal programs work every day to alleviate the chance that a child will have to go without. Our summer food programs, kids cafes, school pantries, backpack programs and SNAP outreach augment our agency services and aim to offer support in times where children are most vulnerable.”
When my family was on food stamps, I didn’t talk about it. I felt guilty for needing help. I also felt embarrassed that I needed help. Applying for state benefits was one of the most demoralizing processes I have ever gone through. I can still remember feeling shame every time I bought groceries. Sometimes I wanted to tell the cashier my story, explain how things had gotten to where they had for my family. But mostly, I wanted to disappear.
My family needed to turn to public assistance because of an economic crisis in 2009. Like many families in America, we had savings but we never really thought the bottom would fall out. Our household was a bit unique in that my mother was the primary breadwinner, I was a full-time caregiver to my grandmother, and I was also 32 weeks pregnant. While it was initially mortifying to apply for help, that feeling quickly faded away. It was replaced with resolve. I was doing the best I could do for my baby, for myself. THIS is what I needed to do to get back on track.
Families who are on food stamps are not camping out there. It’s not a long-term way of life. Not a “let’s just chill and coast” situation. It’s a gift. An opportunity to catch up and climb out of a pit of poverty. It doesn’t always happen, the climb. Sometimes it can take a while, and many times the setbacks are beyond brutal. But a family on food stamps wants something better, and they are working towards it.
My family was on food stamps for almost a year and a half, which is longer than average. During that time, we applied for jobs, underwent skill training, released our egos, and finally, FINALLY, we bounced back. I will always remember the day I got a paycheck and realized I earned enough to no longer qualify for assistance. That realization was both terrifying and triumphant.
If somehow you have convinced yourself to not apply for help, you might be doing yourself and your family a huge disservice. If you are stressed out about where your next meal is coming from, nothing can be done to move ahead. No job searches, no training. Try being a calm parent when you’re hungry or you’re anxious about your child being hungry. It is impossible. A few years ago I wrote about the judgment many families face when they are buying groceries with food stamps.
“When a family qualifies for SNAP benefits, they need help. End of story. You seeing someone out and about with an EBT card and making a judgment call on them is ridiculous. The person holding the card had to go through tons of paperwork, interviews, a screening process. They have a card = they need the card.”
I beg you to please keep an open mind when news stories about food stamps data come out. Before you fire off a rant on your Facebook wall about some story you heard about people abusing the assistance program, consider who might be reading it. It’s times like these that food stamp etiquette is vital. Because at the end of these statistics are people, and in this case, children.