Thursday, October 14, 2010

Should the Government Tell Me How to Spend my Food Stamps?

by JuJuBe (Joanna)

After reading several articles about food stamps in the past few days, I noticed a pattern in the comment sections following each story. And the majority of the
comments were very derogatory towards food stamp program participants.

Apparently, the general public believes that since food stamps are funded by tax payer money, they government should be allowed to act as a pseudo parent and put restrictions on what food stamp recipients can purchase with their EBT cards.

Recently, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he wants to prohibit food stamp recipients from purchasing soda with their benefit cards. Apparently, poor people are children who need the benevolent hand of the government to tell them what they should and should not be eating.

Food stamps can be used for food and non alcoholic beverages. Soda IS a beverage, like it or not. While I do not advocate that an individual go out and spend his entire food stamp budget on soda and sugary snacks, poor people have JUST AS MUCH right to make poor food choices. And, despite what people want to believe, most food stamps are used to purchase NECESSARY food items, NOT snacks and sodas.

I have been on food stamps for 7 years. If it were not for food stamps, I would be forced to eat ramen noodles for three meals a day every day. I use my food stamps to purchase fresh vegetables, lean meats, beans, eggs, bread and milk. And, on occasion, a bottle of soda. Should that small pleasure that I derive from a carbonated beverage once in a while be taken away from me simply because I am poor?

What comes next after a law prohibiting food stamp use to purchase sodas? Will the government then tell us we cannot purchase a bag of chips to toss in the kids school lunch, or to enjoy ourselves once in a blue mood? Will they decide that since canned vegetables are not as nutritious as fresh vegetables, that option will be taken away from food stamp recipients as well? I have even seen comments from people complaining that food stamps can be used to purchase shrimp and crab, healthy protein choices that people deem "luxury" items. Is there something wrong with a person on food stamps splurging a little bit on a special meal? (Not that shrimp is even that much of a splurge as compared to other protein sources).

Since there are so many misconceptions about food stamps, how they are used and who can receive them, I have decided to share some accurate information. Please think about these facts before you decide that the government should be able to tell people on food stamps what to eat.
Nearly 10 million people have been added to the U.S. food stamp benefits rolls since December 2007 as job losses and plummeting home values swell the ranks of the country's poor.

Almost 37.2 million people received government food assistance in September this year, the latest data available.

That's up nearly 35 percent since December 2007 and almost 18 percent year-on-year.

The average monthly household benefit from the program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was $292.31 in September.

Some quick facts about food stamps:

* Seeds for the program, which helps poor people buy food, were planted after the Great Depression. Congress approved the Food Stamp Act in 1964 and the program went nationwide a decade later with almost 14 million participants.

* The name of the program was changed to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in October 2008.

* The government ended the paper coupons associated with the program. It has used an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) system since June 2004. Food stamps and other benefits are loaded on EBT cards that work like bank debit cards.

* Recipients typically have household incomes below the poverty line, about $22,000 annually for a family of four. They can own a home or car. Households in general can have $2,000 in liquid assets. Retirement accounts and educational savings do not need to be spent before benefits can be received.

* The average person receives benefits for about nine months.

* About 40 percent of participants have someone in the household who still earns wages. Children account for a little more than half of users.

* Children of food stamp users are enrolled in free school lunch programs.

* The USDA expects to have more than $64 billion to spend on food stamp benefits in fiscal 2010, including nearly $6 billion in anticipated stimulus money, up 14 percent from the fiscal year ended September 2009.

* Critics of the program tried to kill it in the 1990s, after complaints that some users were eating better than the people who footed the bill, but political support has risen because many see the program as benefiting the working poor and others who have fallen on hard times.


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