Food Stamp Nation
As recently reported by The New York Times, food stamp use is “at a record high and surging by the day.” Six million Americans who receive food stamps reportedly have no other income whatsoever.
I wanted to learn more about this government-run safety net, which is officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The idea of giving people free money makes my reptile-chilled capitalist blood boil. That said, the thought of actually receiving free money makes me giddy. So I began to wonder: could I actually qualify for food stamps? How would I apply? Could I do it online?
The truth is that I don't qualify… but I’m cheap and if I did qualify, I would have absolutely no problem taking Uncle Sam’s money (I pay my taxes, after all).
I feel no stigma – none whatsoever.
Photo Credit: clementine gallot
Not So Fast
According to SNAP, the following states currently allow you to apply online for benefits: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Nebraska, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and of course Michigan (home to the profoundly depressed automobile manufacturing city that begins with a D and ends with etroit).
Sadly not on the list: New York. My cheapness is outweighed only by my laziness, so I don’t think I will visit the New York office to apply in person.
Besides, it’s unlikely I’d be eligible anyway, so why further burden an already busy government bureaucracy.
Photo Credit: lastquest
According to SNAP’s eligibility requirements, a Household of 1 (good name for a band, by the way, or possibly a novel) cannot receive more than $1,174 of gross monthly income and be eligible for food stamps.
A household of 4, by contrast, must bring in less than $2,389 gross monthly income to be potentially eligible.
How much do eligible individuals and families receive, though?
Photo Credit: daquellamanera
An individual household of 1 gets a “Maximum Monthly Allotment” of $200 in SNAP benefits, while a household of 4 can receive up to $668. A household of 8 gets up to $1,202 in food stamps monthly; each additional household member receives $150 per month maximum.
So how do these folks get paid? Is it literally a packet of food “stamps” or what?
Photo Credit: qmnonic
How do you get paid?
It started out as actual blue and orange stamps in the government’s First Food Stamp Program, or FSP, which operated from May 1939 to Spring 1943. The orange stamps could be used to buy any food, while the blue stamps could only be used on foods determined by the government to be in “surplus.”
This early food stamps program reached roughly 20,000,000 Americans total during its operation. The government ended this program since “unmarketable food surpluses and widespread unemployment” no longer existed in as severe magnitude.
Today, however, the food stamps are not actually stamps at all, but rather an electronic ATM card—these bureaucratically named Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards were first tested widely in the 1980s.
Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives
The modern program
Food stamp legislation has undergone many changes over the years, far too many to list here.
Among the most crucial of recent modifications, however, is a provision in the 2002 Farm Bill which restored “SNAP eligibility to most legal immigrants” so long as they have been in the country for at least five years. Also, all (legal) immigrant children are now eligible regardless of entry date into the United States.
What about illegal immigrants? According to MSNBC, "By law, illegal immigrants are ineligible for food stamps — unless there is at least one U.S. citizen in their household, which describes all U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants."
And how about able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs)? By the way, ABAWDs is perhaps the most bureaucratically-inspired acronym possible for “single workers.” Kudos on that one, government acronym fiends.
It used to be the case that “ABAWDS between 18 and 50 who do not have any dependent children can get SNAP benefits only for 3 months in a 36-month period if they do not work or participate in a workfare or employment and training program other than job search.” Needless to say, this is a pretty strict cut-off. Luckily for those ABAWDs without LCEITUS (legitimate current employment in the U.S.), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act eliminated these time limits for such individuals until September 30, 2010.
Photo Credit: cliff1066
Good or bad?
According to one analyst, “Almost half of all U.S. kids will be on food stamps at some time during childhood.”
Some, however, think that things aren’t quite so bad. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Robert Rector of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the analysis' findings are valid -- but the ‘hyperbole’ suggesting many families are in danger of dire outcomes is not.”
Uh, if watching your kid go hungry doesn’t at least suggest a dire outcome, I don’t know what does…
Photo Credit: Jeff Keen
Food stamps in large cities
New York has seen a huge upswing in the number of people on the program. As reported by the Daily News, “The number of New Yorkers on food stamps shot up 25% since the start of 2008, as the bad economy and new outreach policies pushed thousands more people to apply for the subsidy.”
Although it is never good for a city to have such impoverished citizenry, food stamp usage reportedly “helps the [city’s economy] when it gets spent at local stores” according to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Photo Credit: tonythemisfit
Speaking of food stamps in New York… Some are outraged that the city is one of only 4 locations in the U.S. that requires “finger imaging” for food stamp participants.
The idea is not to create a Big Brother nightmare, but rather to cut down on fraud. Finger prints are supposed to reduce the number of individuals abusing the food stamp program.
Photo Credit: Dave Bleasdale
According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, food stamps can create long-term dependence: “Although nearly all Food Stamp households contain working-age adults, few of these individuals are employed. Food Stamps foster patterns of long term dependence. Half of Food Stamp aid goes to individuals who have received aid 8.5 years or more.”
8.5 years would suggest that food stamps are not just a temporary safety net. For some, they are a way of life, paid for by the taxpayer.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Food stamp EBT cards can be used only to purchase food for the individual or household to consume. The following items are prohibited: beer, wine, tobacco products, “nonfood items” including pet foods and soap, vitamins, medicine, hot foods, or food that is eaten in-store (such as at a cafeteria).
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Are you eligible?
If you want to find out if you are eligible for SNAP benefits, try the government’s free SNAP Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool, which can be accessed here.
General information on the government’s nutrition assistance programs can be found here.
What do you think of food stamps? Let us know in the comments, or on our Facebook page.
Photo Credit: Getty Images