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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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
- tampons or pads
- tooth paste
- diapers, cloth or disposable
- bakery goods
- cooking utensils or small kitchen appliances
- pots and pans
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.
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.
Interesting search term someone used to get to the blog one day recently:
Is being poor eco-friendly?
Huh. Well, in many ways,I suppose it is.
Taking the bus, walking, or biking because you don’t have a car or can’t afford gas and insurance for the car you have.
Making your own chemical free cleaners because you can buy the ingredients using food stamps.
Using cloth diapers,cloth wipes…and sometimes even cloth to wipe with instead of toilet paper because the disposable products are something you can’t buy with food stamps and don’t have money for.
Buying everything second hand…not because you are trying to recycle and make a statement about consumerism with your dollars but because t’s just the most practical and frugal.
For myself, I have always had a strong DIY ethic and have practiced the same frugal and environmentally friendly habits in my own house for probably the past 20 years. This hasn’t changed with my economic status. The difference is , when one has financial stability and wants to make these changes in the own lifestyle, it’s a choice.
There’s a big difference between voluntary simplicity and forced austerity.
Every month in the blogosphere there’s a new challenge issued to the Internet. From the clean eating or low grocery budget challenges to “Buy NOTHING New for 30 Days!” Oh,please. That’s my life, 365 days a year. I can’t dismiss the intention behind this but I also can’t help be a little pissed off at the lack of props given to people who rise to the challenge daily because there isn’t another option. The lessons from these blogging challenges are self-serving . Even if trying to raise attention to worthy issues such as globalization and our changing planet, the discussion about human beings who are affected by these things on a daily basis is missing.
The “Green Living” movement has created a strange paradox. People spend a fortune on products sold to them with the promise that they can attain good environmentalist karma when most (if not all) of those products are totally unnecessary or easily made with low cost ingredients. Poor people can live an unintentionally green life through necessity. Yet the pretentiousness and alienation poor people feel from those with money and a will to do good for the planet is ugly. “You don’t buy toilet paper made with 100% post consumer recycled paper and no chlorine? Oh, you horrible, beastly person. You are the reason the planet is dying!”
I would argue that corporations and entities bigger than the impoverished masses have a bit more to do with the planet’s demise.
On a bigger scale, poor people are the least likely to be able to make large changes in their life that would have a more profound effect on the environment and also provide immense benefits to low income and impoverished people. Solar and wind power, energy efficient appliances or even vehicles, land or greenhouse space to grow their own food…these things take some beau coup bucks …and a good credit rating.
Colorado Senator Vicki Marble made some rather rude and racist remarks about fried chicken. Wait, no…I have that wrong. She loves fried chicken and all that other good grub them black people down south eat. It’s okay if she eats it ….she just wishes they didn’t eat so much of it because …hello,poverty.
Most of the headlines I’ve seen about this have been polite and said that Senator Marbles linked fried chicken to poverty but let’s be clear…she made disparaging remarks about fried chicken and Southern food as a problem in “the black race”. It’s not about chicken.She also pronounced diabetes like Wilfed Brimley ,but that we will forgive. But the racial stereotyping of black people and their fried chicken? No love for that. I half expected her to start talking about how at least black people have watermelon and collard greens .
What she said exactly:
“When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race: sickle-cell anemia is something that comes up, diabetes is something that’s prevalent in the genetic makeup and you just can’t help it,” Marble said. “Although I’ve got to say, I’ve never had better BBQ and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down south and you — I love it.”
Last I observed of my fellow white folks, they love fried chicken and they have diabetes like you wouldn’t believe. Oh, and Scottish people! Goddamn, no one deep fries candy bars like them.
People ….just plain people….all sorts of them…. eat fried food. Okay? If you want to link it with poverty, fine but I think you’ll actually find that people of all economic stature and racial groups in America eat fried stuff.
She also said that Mexicans only eat vegetables in Mexico but once they get here, they eat poorly. Well, could it be because they’re at a lower socio-economic level ,so their access to anything that isn’t crap is limited? Huh. Yeah, I think maybe that’s it.
Oh,there are so many talking points here. How racism is what keeps certain people impoverished.The disconnect far too many politicians have with poverty and our food system and how they affect each other. The fact that racism is a tool politicians consciously use . At least the majority of her colleagues are all like, Oh,honey, this is not about chicken.
Seems like I mention this tidbit a lot, whether in discussions or in writing. I think it needed to have it’s very own post here.
The math on this: here
It works out to be about $36 per year. That’s about the average amount a SNAP recipient receives each week. On average. For my family , we receive $20/per person per week but my partner works full time. The amount varies based on your income and resources and it’s different in each state…but on average, it’s typically between $30-35/ week.
It isn’t a lot and I would be willing to bet that many of the people who are not rich politicians who complain the most about safety net programs don’t even earn $50K/year.
Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on poverty” has turned into a war on people who live in poverty. The focus on what poor people get detracts from other ways the government spends the taxpayer dollars and the ways government enables the rich to get richer. The focus needs to be on what is keeping people poor, not the programs designed to help them out while they are poor. You don’t want to your dollars going to support poor people? Then advocate and work towards making things better for poor people.
The attack on single mother who have children and are receiving government support is particularly upsetting to me. “Why should I have to pay for someone else’s bad choices? “, I was queried one day. “If you can’t afford children, don’t have them.”
It must be a comfortable place to be that you can wrap how life works up so neatly. There’s no margin for error, no speedbumps in life that complicate plans. Having children isn’t a good choice for everyone but those people usually don’t retain custody of their children. For everyone else who chose to have a child, the circumstances happened in their life leading up to,during, or after the birth of that child don’t offer valid proof to that decision being a bad choice.
Things happen and the group of people least likely to have a means to have a back-up plan to save their ass is women who made the choice to be a mother. Divorces happen. Women flee domestic violence. Partners die. Women are more likely to have left the workforce to care for the children they chose to have under secure circumstances and then be left with nothing when things go badly. Women are less likely to have a college degree and be able to get a living wage job. The daycare situation in the U.S is atrocious and accountability for deadbeat parents ordered to pay child support is ridiculous.70% of the poorest people on the planet are women. Don’t vilify women who have children to support. We haven’t exactly created a sustainable system that works for them.
The safety net in place does not give people an excuse to languish in poverty and living off the government dime. Trust me… no one is languishing in poverty. The Almighty Taxpayers need to stop believing the myths perpetrated by uninformed jerks who have prejudices about poor people. Before welfare reforms, it was more likely that people stayed at a status quo within the system. Languishing is not the right word. Existing would be more appropriate. These days, there are limits to how long a person can receive assistance without documentation of a disability. If a person is unemployed, they have to either get a job or enroll in school or job training. There is no infinite food stamps for someone who doesn’t work and getting TANF (cash assistance) is damned near impossible. A lot of criticisms made about the welfare system are spoken by people who have no clue what the actual rules are that recipients need to comply with.
The safety net helps people while they are struggling and gives support until they get out of the crappy situation they’re in. That’s what those programs do. They don’t enable people. They don’t take taxpayer money to pay for other people’s “bad choices”. Everyone makes choices that make life difficult in some respects and every single person deserves the chance and ability to be helped during the bad times.
The alternative is that we just let people become homeless and starve. I think if you advocate for that, you’ve lost the right to call yourself a human being. If you’re making $50,000 a year, just quietly let go of that $36 as a token of your humanity.
I was going to have a Jerkface of the Week thing but some weeks, it seems like there are way too many jerkfaces out there saying mean things about poor people to choose just one and it would be SO wrong to deny the prize to every single one of them. Here’s my compromise.
→Some douchebag at a Plaid Pantry store in Oregon publicly embarrassed and shamed a customer using an EBT card because she was buying snacky stuff – Discrimination comes with food stamp snacks
→Bill O’Reilly called food stamp recipients ‘parasites’ who take all they want without remorse. – video
→Adam Carolla was on food stamps growing up and thinks the judging that went with it was awesome because the shame made people want to get of it (yet used his own mother as an example as to how people become dependent and never get off of it. Huh) And Laura Ingraham said she wished it was still called food stamps and not SNAP because SNAP sounds nice and doesn’t have the same negative connotation that food stamps used to. Then she said that people shouldn’t buy soda and junk with SNAP and they both had a good laugh over making up a Taxpayer’s Shopping List that dictates limited things food stamp recipients can buy. Such a hoot. Laura made herself sound even stupider when she stated that you can use the card to get cash back and go buy a 40. Um, no you can’t. –audio
→Oh, Douglas Holtz. This guy says that if we raise the minimum wage, employers are just going to give those higher wage jobs to children of affluent people like himself. Because affluent people children deserve to be hired before kids of poor people?
The unemployment rate among teenagers is a serious issue in America, I guess? He is totally out of touch with Americans who are working at minimum wage supporting themselves and dependents. He sees no problem with major corporations paying starvation wages to workers while their CEOs rake in the profits.
These flyers are circulating in Portland. Just before the last election, I became familiar with a group of tea party types who believe anyone receiving benefits such as SNAP should not be allowed to vote. The logic(fail) behind this is if you receive assistance, you are going to vote for the candidate who is not going to cut your benefits. Never mind that Republican controlled areas tend to have the highest government assistance. The author of this particular message seems to be insinuating that only disabled people should receive assistance?
This whole thing pisses me off. The “taxpayers” get to decide eligibility based on appearances? And then what? They let the person starve?
When I wrote about why poor people can’t just grow their own food, Ron Finley came to mind as an example of people helping people to overcome these barriers I talked about. Ron Finley is a guerrilla gardener who is tuning the South Central LA food desert into a place where bountiful harvest is possible.
He started turning traffic medians,curbs,empty lots…any vacant space…into edible gardens in his community. As he says in his TED talk, “The drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys”. He recognized that food is the problem but it’s also the solution.
THIS is exactly what happens when someone fully grasps what it is that makes a large percentage of Americans eat junk and has a passion and compassion for helping people. Crazy,right? You might have thought the answer was to bitch on Facebook about how poor people shouldn’t drink soda or passing state bills that stop people on food stamps from buying potato chips. How amazing that nope, that’s not how we help people eat better. We just simply make better food more easily accessible.
It takes work. Let’s hope Ron Finley can inspire than drive in others.
Ron’s TED talk is a 10 minute Must Watch:
The key points from his TED talk: