Why do you judge how I use my food stamps? An open letter to “news” writers

October 29, 2014

Dear Judgmental “News Writer,”

Since I’m too sick to work, my financial situation isn’t so great. So I applied for SNAP, formerly called food stamps. A couple weeks ago I got the letter stating I’d received the benefit. I went to the grocery store and, lo and behold, food stamps covered everything I bought, just like they’re supposed to!

But apparently, this is evil and will destroy our society. Or at least, that’s what you seem to think.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what I could buy with food stamps. Toilet paper? Toothpaste? Vitamins? No, no, and no, as it turns out. The SNAP web site answered some of my questions, but not all of them. So I turned to Google and typed in a few search terms. What I found was horrifying.

10-29-2014 10-58-16 AM

This screenshot is from the first page of search results. The first few items were all government web sites. The last one here is a very useful post by a blogger. And the three in between from “news” sources? Oy! I clicked on “11 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Buy With Food Stamps” thinking, oh-so-foolishly, that I’d find some helpful tips. Instead, what I found was an insulting, arrogant, judgmental article about the horrible things people like me buy with food stamps. “5 Surprising Things You Can Buy With Food Stamps” was more of the same. So were several other articles I clicked on. Apparently, it’s everyone else’s business what I buy and what I eat.

I want to pause for a moment to note that “10 Things You Can’t Buy With Food Stamps” is wonderful. It points out that, yes, SNAP benefits are meant for food, but things like toilet paper and toothpaste are necessities that aren’t covered. Take a look when you’re done reading this.

Now, I know that people feel they have a right to say what “their” tax dollars are used for. But that’s not how society works. I don’t get to choose whether “my” tax dollars are used to pay for a war, local schools that I don’t use, or road maintenance that I don’t particularly care about (actually, I do care, but that’s another story.) The idea is that society supports society, and then everyone benefits. So yes, my tax dollars support local schools even though I don’t have children, and that’s ok because one day the children who are educated in those schools will be our police, scientists, doctors, and teachers. You see how that works? Again, we all support each other, and then everyone benefits.

Unless someone is on food stamps or getting social security or receiving some other “benefit,” at which point they’re demonized by society. By you.

Apparently writers like you feel justified in calling out someone who buys a bag of chips or a pastry with their food stamps. Oh the horror! They aren’t being healthy enough! And the “N” in SNAP stands for “Nutrition” so this can’t be allowed! You get that this is sarcasm, right?

So who defines what’s nutritious? Is that sugary cereal you feed your child nutritious? Do you know how much sugar is in a glass of milk? Is there too much salt in a frozen dinner? What about a freshly cooked rotisserie chicken? Oh wait, that chicken isn’t covered by food stamps. Ok, well what about that carton of ice cream you like to dig into after dinner on a hot summer night? Oh, it’s ok when you eat junk food because you pay for it with your hard-earned money, but I can’t eat it because I’m on food stamps? Really? What if you’re a government employee and my taxes pay your salary? Then do I get a say?

And again, who decides which foods are nutritious? Maybe you have hypertension and need to stay off salt, so a mildly salted food is bad for you. But I have hypotension and multiple doctors have told me to increase my salt intake, so for me those foods are better. Then again, sugar is a problem for me, so I need to avoid that, while a small amount of sugar might be ok for you. They say red wine has health benefits, but it’s not covered by food stamps. Maybe that should change. And dark chocolate is good for you so does that mean food stamps should cover chocolate bars? What about chocolate cake? Who draws that line? Should it be you, cocky “news writer”? A doctor? A medical board?

Or, I don’t know, maybe me, the person who is eating this food?

And by the way, what happens when, after years of gorging on unhealthy foods with your hard-earned money and righteous attitude, you get sick? Who will pay for your medical care? Who will support you if you can’t work? And how will you buy food if you can’t work? You better come up with a plan that doesn’t involve any government support or “benefits” because you’ve made it quite clear how you feel about those!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have some homemade chicken with apricots, rice, and steamed green beans. Followed by a bag of Cheetos. Because I want them and it’s my choice, not yours.


Yay for food stamps! Well, sort of….

October 14, 2014

Me: “Great news! I got food stamps!”

*pause*

Me: “Isn’t that great?”

Her: “Um, sure?”

A few years ago I wouldn’t have been excited for food stamps. But things change. They change and we have to go with the flow, and the flow leads me to be thrilled about getting food stamps!

My family and friends are trying to be supportive, but they see this as a bad thing. Let’s face it, there’s a certain stigma that goes along with food stamp benefits. My mother immediately said, “You aren’t posting this on Facebook, are you? Because people can be funny about these things.” That was her nice way of saying, “People can be assholes about someone getting the benefits they need.” She didn’t want me to get attacked online. Many friends have been unsure how to react. Except for my friends in my chronic pain support group, that is. Many of them also have financial difficulties due to their health, so they appreciate how much of a difference this can make. But the others just don’t feel right saying “Congratulations!” for this.

Last month I wrote about missing out on thousands of dollars in benefits because I didn’t know to apply for them. I immediately signed up for Section 8 and am now on the very long (3-4 years) waiting list. I applied for fuel assistance and will find out about that in 2 more weeks. And I applied for SNAP, formerly called food stamps. I gathered papers just 2 days after my grandfather’s funeral because I had already applied and the paperwork deadline was fast approaching. I didn’t want to miss out. When I had looked into SNAP a couple years ago, when my finances first took a dive after I realized I wasn’t going to be able to return to my job, I wasn’t eligible. They had an asset limit of $2000. I had saved up more than that when I worked, so I wasn’t eligible.

Last month, when my friend told me about benefits, she mentioned SNAP. I figured it couldn’t hurt to look it up and, low and behold, they’d changed the requirements! My assets no longer counted against me! I could use those assets to pay my rent, and still apply for SNAP because of my low income. What a surprise! I wondered when that change occurred. Could I have applied a year ago? Two years ago? Wondering didn’t help, but applying would, so I filled out the application and went through the process. And then I waited.

After not leaving my apartment for a few days last week due to feeling like crap, I finally went downstairs and checked the mail. And there it was: a letter stating that I’d been approved and was now receiving benefits! I went to the grocery store the next day and used my new card – and it worked! I got a receipt that included my balance. It was all there.

I keep my grocery costs low, thankfully, and this will just about cover my monthly food bills. They back-dated the benefit to 30 days before my application, so I have that money too. I’ll use it to buy things like toilet paper and toothpaste, if those are allowed.

Can I afford all of my expenses now? No. Not even close. I’m still using my savings to pay for quite a bit. But every dollar helps. And I’m incredible thankful for these dollars. So as much as I wish I didn’t need SNAP/food stamps, as much as I wish I didn’t come close to the eligibility requirements, the truth is that I do need it, so I’m thrilled that I have it!

Do you get benefits? How do you feel about it? How to people react when/if you tell them?

Update: Do as it turns out, I can’t use my benefits for toilet paper and toothpaste. But I’m sure I’ll use them on groceries over time.


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