Update on “family who were food stamp judged while buying food for sick child”

I put the title in quotation marks because this is actually a search term people have typed into Google to get to that post.
The one I’m talking about is this one:

“Its hard being poor in America. When your kid is sick enough that you can’t work but disability doesn’t pay the bills, it is crushing. “

The response to that guest post here a month ago was incredible. The outpouring of emotional support and compassion helped both the author of the post and myself regain some faith in humanity. Since writing that, the family has gone through even more challenges. Thanks to the November cuts to SNAP, their food stamp amount was cut to just $159/month. Then, the chimney collapsed in the home they were renting, the property was condemned ,and they had to move. Fortunately, their landlord was able to let them move into another rental property right away but they aren’t being allowed back in their old place to get belongings.

I’ve always thought there was a lot to that expression, “When it rains,it pours.” Sheesh.

Around the time of the food stamp cut, I had put out a message on the Poor as Folk facebook wall, just asking if anyone in that family’s area had ideas of what resources could be available for additional help. It wasn’t a call for personal donations and I did not expect that would happen but it did. Someone in their city(shoutout to Danyelle…who also wanted me to mention her friend Erica Quinn, who got many people on board) was motivated to ask friends and coworkers for help to  collect donations for the family.NEIGHBORS...Kindness is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow...I'm so blessed with some really great neighbors because when you need family and family is far away...they become your family!  I could not have made it through the last 17 days without the support of my neighbors...I'm forever grateful.

Not only did donations include about $400 in cash & gift cards, food, toiletries,and diapers but also winter boots,clothing, dog treats and more. Even a button hook tool for Mom who has rheumatoid arthritis.They made Christmas happen for the family with toys, including a wii and games for the kids. Every bit of it was greatly appreciated and helped alleviate a little bit of the stress this family is under. That’s incredible valuable in itself.

I think one of the greatest things about giving and exercising kindness is that the beneficiary isn’t the only one who benefits. Danyelle said, “This opportunity to help their family has not only strengthened my faith in the generosity of others, but has reinforced my belief that raising awareness is effective, but can be made to be exponentially more meaningful when it is followed by organizing action. I am so grateful to all that helped; I hope your blog continues to inspire organized action. Thank you for all that you do!”

For me, The Blogger, I feel much the same way and am so grateful for the opportunity to raise not just awareness on some issues but to inspire compassion. I’m amazed and touched every day just by the fact that people are so willing to share their often very personal stories of struggling. I don’t have a lot to give to others but I realize that just being the listener is enough. If telling the stories inspires others to give, this free writing gig is SO worth every minute I spend here.

Updated to add:  Some have asked where they can send some donations to this family. I do have an address but don’t really want to put it here publicly but you can contact me at jupitersinclair@gmail.com and I’d be happy to pass it along.

There is a donation page set up to help replace items lost in the house when the chimney collapsed HERE.

UPDATE Feb 23,2014 : Their daughter is having surgery this morning. Please keep the family in your prayers or thoughts or whatever it is you do to send out good juju. When she returns home, she’ll require the pre-packaged foods again.  So, I’m guessing that fundraising page linked up there might be more helpful now to offset grocery costs now.

Government & Thanksgiving Math

It’s been almost a full month since families on SNAP got their monthly allowance axed. In my family, we were without food stamps for a short time in November because we were re-certifying and the process wasn’t so straightforward this time. We got married on October 31st and social services needed a copy of our marriage certificate and all that jazz. So, it wasn’t until just last week that I found out what our new amount will be.DSC_1844

$509.00 for our family of 7, which is about $100 less than before. It’s roughly $2.60/day per person now. I am grateful because other people’s cuts were far worse . My husband also works full time ,so at least we have some actual money to fall back on, even if it means not paying something else. Some people  don’t have income when on SNAP.

It was said that the reduction would be  $36 less for a family of 4.Fullscreen capture 1112013 60429 PM So, by the chart released by the USDA, my family’s SNAP allowance should have been reduced by about $70, not $100. When I polled  people at the beginning of November on the Poor as Folk facebook page, of the hundreds of responses, only one person’s reduction was exactly what the chart said it would be. Most were far more than the estimate given. Two had gotten an increase of just a few dollars.

Is it just me or does the government have their own math?

Just like the tables with the “averages” that people receive on SNAP. Hardly anyone gets those amounts. Unfortunately, this is what people who do food stamp challenges base their week’s shopping from, giving everyone this pretty skewed idea of what shopping on food stamps looks like. $5/day?! THAT  would be uh-may-ZING and totally doable for most people.

It was also quite annoying that people didn’t even receive their official notice about their reduction until the last week in October. People who don’t read or listen to the news or utilize the Internet for that kind of information (like this blog or the page) were totally blindsided.

The cuts that happened November 1st were planned and shouldn’t be confused with future cuts to the SNAP program through the Farm Bill. It was supposed to happen. In 2009, there was extra money budgeted for SNAP as part of the stimulus. It was scheduled to end later than November 1,2013 but Congress in their (in)finite wisdom moved back the date.

This confuses me. If they felt the need to move back the date, all righty but why in November, a month that begins the holiday season? Thanksgiving and Christmas are both rough holidays for low income people as it is. For people on food stamps, their allowance is pretty much spent for the whole month by the time  those holidays come around toward the end of the month. When your food budget is $1.50-$2  per day per person, a $25 bird isn’t a reasonable purchase and then to figure in the sides…the average traditional Turkey Day dinner ends up being about $50. It’s just not a cost effective meal, even if you figure out all those ways to stretch the leftovers.

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Someone wasn’t thinking too clearly about the effects of that. Or didn’t care, I suppose.

Food pantries in America are always over taxed during the holidays as it is. This November has been “particularly hellish”, as one volunteer told me. Some have decided to not give out turkeys this year and instead focus on more practical items that will help over the whole month instead of  just one day.
Some pantries are praying that the holiday food drives will be better than ever and perhaps will give them a surplus of donations that will help families after the holidays,too. That’s the crazy thing about being poor. You still need to figure out how to eat the other times of the year besides the holidays.

Stephen Colbert on the government “slimdown”

Yeah.
Some states are still funding their WIC programs and everyone will be seen during the government shut down as usual and checks will be issued normally. Other WIC programs are closed but WIC staff have made sure their answering service gives emergency numbers for women who may be out of formula or other food. Some staff are volunteering their time to help families who need assistance.

The very beginning of every month is very unstable for many low income  families . Things are due all at once, leaving no extra cash for groceries and many SNAP recipients don’t get benefits until the second week of the month. If someone was scheduled to get new WIC checks this week, there’s going to be a horrible gap for that family between now and when they will finally have access to WIC or their scheduled SNAP allowance.

I know. They didn’t think about that when they shut the government down, nor do some of them even care.

It has been mentioned that we should consider why there are so many “non-essential” employees that aren’t allowed to work during the shut-down. I think it’s more important to access and evaluate who and what are considered essential government workers and programs instead. I’m really sorry that there were veterans who wanted to go see some memorial this week and couldn’t because it was closed but babies drinking watered down formula ranks higher on my essential priorities list.

The Good Stuff: A Couple of Politicians Who Don’t Suck

Hey, I like when big House votes happen on issues that matter to me. It helps me categorize politicians into the Against Us and On Our Side file folders in my brain.

Jim McGovern has held residency in the On Our Side category for awhile now. His #endhungernow speeches make me realize that this man probably feels a lot like I do: regurgitating the same information over and over and over again , in an effort to undo false information that Republicans fabricate about social welfare programs designed to help low income families. But the major thing that makes me love Jim McGovern is his assertion that we can end hunger, it’s a matter of political will that we choose not to.

The day after the vote, he expressed how offensive the outcome was. Because human being,you know?

I just think this guy gets it and he has been consistently fighting for poor folks who need to eat.
We out to have another 'war on poverty.' We should articulate the goal that no one should suffer from hunger. - Rep. Jim McGovern, co-chair House Hunger Caucus

 

Last week, Jackie Speier gave examples of the food expense allowance of some members of Congress, provided to them via taxpayer dollars. Some of these representatives are allowed $150/day for food. To use my own situation to put this in perspective, my SNAP allowance right now is $3/day per person. Less than $100/month.  And hell, I can’t even get vodka with that money!
Not that I would or am I saying that anyone should be allowed to buy alcohol with their food stamps. I actually don’t think anyone should be able to buy alcohol with tax dollars, most especially congressional reps who aren’t doing a whole lot to earn their salaries, let alone foodie perks.

Listen to Jackie Speier here try to talk some shame into the leeches.

 

It’s too bad that pretty much nothing the good politicians say can make their colleagues have a similar sense of humanity and shame but I love them for trying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shopping at the Farmers’ Market with Food Stamps

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I love my Farmers’ Market but for various reasons, we had only made it once or twice all summer long. Those two trips happened to fall on the Wednesday before our Food Stamp Day (the 9th of every month), and we had to spend cash instead of use our EBT card.

We are incredibly fortunate that we have a great Farmers’ Market within walking distance of our house and that they accept food stamps. Less than half of all Farmers’ Markets in the U.S. accept food stamps.    Avi Miner, who is my local market manager and Local Foods Community Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension , said he didn’t understand why more farmers’ markets don’t participate because the process is very simple.
This is problematic as there is more discussion about states adopting “junk food bills” that restrict the types of food people receiving SNAP can buy.

It’s ridiculous to limit the food choices of people, especially when they may live in an area already hindered by poor choices (for example, food deserts). You can’t restrict options without offering an affordable alternative to replace that gap. Farmers’ Markets are vital to serving that need. DSC_0483

As far as being a food stamp foodie using EBT at a farmers’ market, it’s also very easy. Although it may be different from market to market, this is how it works at ours ….

At the market office, your EBT card is swiped for whatever amount you think you’d like to spend.  For our trip last week, we asked for $30.

Once your card is swiped for the amount you want, you’re given tokens.

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AND , thanks to a grant, my market gives additional coupons to SNAP recipients . For every $5, you get an extra $2.  Some markets will double the amount you spend.

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So, we had $42 to spend.  As much as I love eating the food and everything, I also love just taking pictures of it.  It’s all just so gorgeous.
 *Gratuitous Produce Porn*
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I know. Swoon worthy,right?

Here is some of what we ended up taking home. We spent $41 Missing from this picture are raspberries, which were already in the kids’ bellies two minutes after we got home, and a watermelon we had for dessert.

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If the tomatoes from my own garden hurry up and finish ripening, those peppers are going to be awesome in salsa. Those purple peppers are gorgeous things. They turn green when you cook them.  They also inspire one to attempt saying, “Peter Piper picked a peck of purple pickled peppers”, while cutting them up.

If you aren’t sure if your local Farmers’ Market accepts SNAP or not, go here to find out:
Farmers’ Markets Accepting SNAP

If your local Farmers’ Market does not currently accept SNAP , I would suggest making some phone calls to those in charge of the market, urging them to consider applying.  The application for Farmers’ Markets to accept SNAP can be found at the USDA website here:
Accept SNAP Benefits at Farmer’s Markets application

My gratitude to the Trumansburg Farmers’ Market,  for supporting food insecure families in the community by providing accessibility to quality,local produce.  You rock.

Review: Food Stamped

Originally posted January 7th, 2013 on crazy dumbsaint of the mind and edited for clarity & additional thoughts

Food Stamped documents Shira & Yoav Potash’s challenge to feed themselves on a food stamp budget. This has been on my To Watch list since it came out but my library just got a copy of it last week. I was the first one to check it out!   So, I watched the library’s virginal copy last night.Shira is a nutrition educator who teaches families how to eat well within a food stamp budget, as well as children. I used to do something similar in a program with Head Start families. It was that experience, as well as working with children in my own daycare ,that helped me to understand one of the key pieces to helping people eat well when they’re living on limited resources. It all has to do with education. I encountered a lot of families who had never made anything that didn’t come in a box or a can(and on the other end of that, MOST low income families did know how to cook but didn’t have the money to eat well). I worked with children who could not identify common vegetables. Even a potato, despite french fries being a  staple of their diet. And really, this education is not just needed for poor people. This applied to every economic class.3D-DVD-coverWhen I started this food stamp series , I had a mission and that was very basically, to prove that you CAN eat healthy on a food stamp budget. It’s certainly become  diversified as I’ve become more aware of obstacles others face to make that happen. I feel like I haven’t focused on things that need to be discussed in depth ( for example  I have over 3,000 words sitting in my drafts folder just about junk food and the complexities of why we shouldn’t prohibit certain items from being purchased on SNAP and why the current political climate isn’t going to allow change to happen anyway and why. It needs to be put out there but it needs edited so people don’t fall asleep reading it) . Overall though, this is still my main objective . This was also the basic premise Shira set out to explore :Can you eat healthy on a food stamp budget?

First of all, the amount Shira & Yoav worked with is quite a bit less than most food stamp challenges you read about. The amount they allowed was about $1 per meal for one week. Realistically, this is more accurate than the $35/week amount most challenges  work with. This has been hotly debated both here and on my Facebook page before. I also moderate a private group online for food stamp recipients and no one receives this amount of $35/person. Right now, we receive $20/person per week and that seems to be about the norm.The film showed both Shira and Yoav’s grocery shopping trip and also the grocery shopping trip of a food stamp recipient. Whereas Shira & Yoav’s objective was to eat healthy, the food stamp recipient represented the Standard American Diet.I took notes while watching and compared how we shop to both:

Shira & Yoav’s Grocery List

  • One thing that can’t be reflected in just a week challenge is the staple items you might buy that will last a whole month. Like for me, vinegar & baking soda are essentials because I also use them for cleaning …and along with the oil they purchased, they could have had salad dressing. Also flour…they could have made bread themselves.
  • During the summer months when we have good access to free produce thanks to the Veterans’ Sanctuary Farm and garden shares, we have a little bit more flexibility to buy the more expensive things like coconut oil. I think the jar of coconut oil I have right now was bought in September and I use it for many things (even making deodorant). It was$9 ,so not a purchase that could be made when I have no flexibility
  • They showed very well how every purchase requires forethought and how much planning needs to happen.During discussions of living within a food stamp budget, the critics will always scoff and point out that SNAP stands for SUPPLEMENTAL blah blah…. that the program isn’t designed to fund a recipient’s entire meal plan. This is where education of the general public fails and the disconnect with those people and the reality of living on food stamps. For most people, that is absolutely all there food budget is and for some, food stamps is the ONLY income they have.
  • I was happy to see that they supplemented with a little dumpster diving (for bread). Depending on  the city, there are some organizations who will collect all the perishable food from the supermarkets and distribute to those in need, so you don’t have to dumpster dive.
  • Yes, we eat a lot of beans,too. Not always organic and it’s honestly the last criteria I have when buying food. It’s important to have enough to feed my family and that takes priority over things like whether it’s organic or local.
  • I buy coffee. It’s not ethical coffee and I consider it my “sin item”. One of these days, I’ll quit it.

Richard (SNAP Recipient)

  • we do buy ramen,too but we throw the nasty flavor packets out (MSG makes me ill and my  kids don’t need it either).We just add spices and herbs to season. I joke that my Faux-Hubby should write a ramen cookbook because of the diverse dishes he can make with ramen noodles. We always add veggies..sometimes meat. The veggies aren’t always fresh .
  • Meat is always the first thing axed from the budget to allow for produce
  • Richard is type 2 diabetic (like my own dear Faux-Hubby) and admits that his diet isn’t what his doctor would recommend. I know from living w/ someone who doesn’t follow the best eating plan for a diabetic that it can be really hard to break out of the habits,even if you do know better. And besides, a food stamp budget quite often does not accommodate special eating needs

They also visit a damn good food pantry. Here in my very small town, the food pantry very rarely has fresh produce. Actually, we don’t use the food pantry because most of what they offer is processed , pre-packaged foods. Obviously, if we were not making do within our food stamp budget, I’d have no problem accepting the food if I had to in order to feed my family but it’s not what I choose to feed them normally. It’s a last resort for me.

 

However, we have accepted food from The Friendship Donation Network, which is one of those organizations I mentioned before that collect perishable food  from supermarkets,restaurants, and caterers and distribute.Other than the actual experience of food shopping & cooking within the parameters of a limited budget, Food Stamped very thoroughly covers the basics of the hunger in America, the food stamp program itself , the political factors affecting poverty in America , the obstacles poor people face in accessing healthy food, and (hallelujah!) the relationship of The Farm Bill to SNAP. Shira & Yoav Potash did an excellent job at presenting the information that everyone should know, whether they are a critic of  SNAP, a concerned citizen who would like an activist role to play in food security, or a food stamp recipient. Rep Jim McGovern  and other politicians also appear to offer their input on why hunger is how it is and what should be done. As McGovern says, “Hunger is a political condition. We have all the resources, we have all the knowledge…we have everything we need to solve it. What we don’t have it political will.”

 I often feel that if  citizens were better informed on the issues, there would be more of a push to affect change and more pressure put on politicians to change the broken system.The harsher of my own critics who have followed the food stamp series here are the kind of people who could benefit the most from seeing all this information in one piece. I always feel so frustrated after watching a good documentary because I feel like the people who need the information the most will never take it upon themselves to watch it ,or if they do, they do so with their ingrained mindsets firmly planted and closed to receiving info that could even slightly alter their view. My local grassroots organization Back to Democracy hosts public viewings of documentaries on many topics and it’s always the same people who attend. People who already have an inkling on the subject matter and already would have a leaning to not only be receptive to any information learned but also be inspired to take action towards changing things.

As my friend Jennelle just said, “What annoys me more is people who should see a particular documentary and not only do they *not* see it, but then they comment on it like they’ve seen it when they’ve only vicariously seen it through whatever bullshit they’ve heard about it in the media.”

It’s SO true. I know I’m an altruistic dreamer but I really wish people could just be open to receive information purely and unfettered,without preconceived notions and bullshit clouding how they process it and exactly what Jennelle said…. be willing to get the information themselves instead of being fed what they know from other sources.So, see it or don’t but of all the information out there, this is one excellent resource to get the fundamental idea of the issues that affect those living on food stamps

What Can & Can’t Be Bought With Food Stamps & An EBT Card

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Infographic source unknown. Someone sent it to me from Pinterest.

This infographic is a good rough guide to what you can and can’t buy with SNAP.

I have a huge gripe with the way some states or counties in  parts of the U.S. work with their clients.  The most frequent search terms on my other blog where I started blogging about SNAP is questions about what people can buy with their food stamps.

This should be a caseworker’s job, not a blogger on the Internet. I am very happy to provide the information but from what I understand ,there are food stamp recipients who never even see a caseworker or the only info they’re given about purchasing things is ,”You can’t buy cigarettes and alcohol.” Well, no duh.

Based on my most frequent search queries, here is a list of things people wondered about that you CAN buy with food stamps:

  • baking soda
  • vinegar, all kinds
  • coconut oil
  • any cooking oil,including olive oil
  • seeds …EXCEPT sunflower seeds, unless they are packaged and ready to eat.
  • plants that produce food and potted herbs

Here are specific items you CANNOT buy:

  • toilet paper
  • shampoo
  • tampons or pads
  • deodorant
  • tooth paste
  • diapers, cloth or disposable
  • bakery goods
  • cooking utensils or small kitchen appliances
  • pots and pans
  • dishes

Yes, it’s totally true that you CAN buy bows and arrows in Alaska but not live animals. Like lobster. You can’t buy a live lobster to cook…or chickens ,if you were to want to raise them yourself.

Since we’re talking about what can and can’t be bought using an EBT card, I want to clear up some things for those who are misinformed.

This is what my EBT card looks like. All inconspicuous, not announcing that ,”I get benefits!” or anything.

Nobody is given paper food stamps anymore. Everyone who receives food stamp benefits gets a card. An EBT card. Electronic Benefits Transfer card.  It works like a debit card.

EBT cards are also given to people who receive cash welfare benefits. Some people who get food stamps also receive cash benefits but just to clear up a misconception... it’s very hard to get cash assistance . Because of the Work to Welfare program and other reformation of the system,  once someone is approved for cash assistance, they must either enroll in school or job training, or prove that they are job searching, unless they are disabled. Most states have a limited time or a cash cap limit that you can receive while looking for a job. They will also place people in jobs, basically at a just above minimum wage rate for as many hours as comparable to the amount of cash assistance they get.  If they don’t go to work or school, they lose the assistance. Once they’re earning money, they also lose the cash assistance. It’s a temporary assistance program, which is why it’s called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It’s that simple.

In some states, the EBT card cannot be used at a register in a store for non-food stamp items. The recipient has to go to an ATM or a store office and withdrawl cash.  In some states, it can be used right at the register, which I’m guessing is causing confusion to nosy people who stand in line behind other people in line, checking out what kind of card it being used to pay for groceries.

Also, it’s important to put out there : Some states put a single mother’s child support money into the account attached to their EBT card if she’s also eligible for food stamps.  So, the state isn’t being the baby-daddy there. The actual contributor of DNA paid his child support and that’s how the state is giving her that money.

All those stupid memes online about beer,tattoos,cigarettes being bought with EBT….
I’m not going to say that no one buys those things with their cash benefits but if you pay attention to how those ridiculous things are worded, they are completely fabricated . “Today I saw a woman in line paying w/ food stamps blahblahblah…IPHONEblahblahblahLEXUSblahblahPOTATOCHIPSANDSODA!”
No, you didn’t. You want people to get riled up and start a shit storm on your page or tumblr.

97% of the time, I guarantee it.

Or I’m only person in the store,minding my own business and thinking about the stuff in my own cart. If someone has time to cart judge, they need a constructive hobby. Go volunteer and the local food bank or something.