There are a lot of negative stereotypes and misconceptions about people on the food stamp program. As someone who has received these benefits for a couple years now, I find quite a lot of them offensive and wanted to address some of them.
People who receive food stamps are lazy and don't want to work.
As the article I linked to above mentions, about a third of people who receive food benefits do work, but are still close to the poverty line. The economy is struggling and a lot of hard working families struggle with it. Our family is one of these working families that qualify for the program. My husband works 50-70 hours a week plus goes to college on-line trying to make a better future for our family. Yes, I stay home, but with three young children, by the time you factor in child care plus everything I do to save us money plus the expenses that would come with working outside of the home such as an additional reliable vehicle and associated costs such as gas and insurance, nicer clothes, etc., I would have to make roughly $60,000 a year to break even with staying home (it might be more now. I think I originally calculated that number when there were only 2 little ones that we'd have to have child care for), let alone make additional income to be able to spend on silly things like food. Unless this is your first visit to this blog, you know I'm not just sitting at home watching soaps all day, eating truffles, and collecting my government bennies. Not hardly! I'm so busy with the kids, the garden, trying to make money online, helping others learn how to save money, etc, that I almost never sit down! Anyone who has seen me at any sort of social gathering can attest to the fact that I seem lost when I have to sit, it is just too foreign to me. At Christmas dinner at my father-in-law's house this past year, my step-mother-in-law grabbed my by the arm and made me sit because my incessant motion was driving her nuts. Lazy I am not!
I know people who get food stamps but they have way nicer stuff than I do, fancier televisions, a better car, nicer clothes, etc.
And how do you know they bought these things? Just because the clothes are designer or nice, doesn't mean they didn't buy them second hand. The nicer television may have been a gift from a relative with money to burn. The great car could have been one they bought before they lost their job...and now they are stuck with it and the payments that go with it. Unless you know the intimate details of someone's life, you can't make that call of whether them having that stuff is "justified". Since you can only have a gross income of 130% of the federal poverty guidelines in order to qualify for food benefits, it is unlikely that people that spend their money on this stuff actually exist.
People on food stamps eat like kings. I see them buying lobster, steak, expensive this and that at the store. I can't afford to eat like that, so why should they?
-or-People on food stamps waste their benefits (and my tax dollars) on junk food. I see them buying pop and candy and chips at the gas station or when I'm behind them at the grocery store.
Even if a person was at the gas station buying chips, pop, etc., how do you know that that is a regular thing? Maybe it is a special treat because they can't afford to take the kids out for a treat or they were out doing errands or something and needed something to snack on right then, before they got home to their regular diet of fresh, homegrown organic food. I know there have been a few times that we've been out and about for much longer than I expected and I've had to make an emergency gas station run to get a snack to hold us over until we get home because my blood sugar is crashing and the kids are melting, but considering we get $171 a month in food stamps to feed a family of 6, just recently increased from $75 a month that I mentioned in the past, obviously, we can't make a habit of that. Most of the time, we eat food from my extensive garden or leftovers from my mom's garden and meat that my husband hunted, supplemented with food from the farmers market (one of the localish markets offers doubling on food stamps up to $20 a visit, so I shop there as much as possible!), bulk foods, and staples such as flour and pasta that I turn into meals that feed the whole family for $2-5. Yet, if someone saw me making that emergency snack stop, they might judge me for "wasting" my food stamps and their tax dollars...but I'd like to see them feed their family for $171 a month like I have to!
The person you see buying a high priced piece of meat may have saved their meager rations for months to be able to splurge like that or maybe they are making a special dinner for a spouse that was just diagnosed with cancer and given 3 months to live so could use a little cheering up or maybe they are trying to start a business so they can get off food stamps and other benefits and need to make a fancy dinner to impress a prospective investor or client. You just don't know.
Another reason a lot of people on food stamps "waste" their benefits on junk food is sometimes there is nothing else really available. A lot of poverty stricken areas are what is referred to as a "food desert", where there aren't healthy foods available within a certain distance. Depending on your definition of distance, I actually live in one myself (I don't know that my area would be considered "poverty stricken", but it doesn't seem unlikely since it is a trailer park), since there are no stores where you can buy healthy food nearby. When my husband is at work with our one reliable vehicle, if I need to buy food, I'm limited to a party store near the entrance of the trailer park that has very limited selections, including no low-fat milk, whole grain anything, or fresh produce. Even if I walked the 3 miles into "town", the local village, there still isn't anywhere other than another party store with even more limited selections, basically pure junk food! If I didn't have access to a vehicle to drive the 7 miles to the nearest full (overpriced; the reasonably priced ones are even further away) grocery store, I'd be completely out of luck. And sometimes I am completely out of luck, since we don't always have the gas money for me to drive that distance!
And not everyone that receives food stamps gets the same amount, so certainly not everyone can eat like kings. I've seen "averages" being listed as upwards of $100 a person in an eligible family, but not everyone gets that much. As I mentioned, my family of 6 gets $171 a month now for the whole family, not the $600+ that some people seem to think we would. I know people that get quite a bit more, and some of those people, not all, do in fact abuse the system, but my family, and others like us, certainly can't afford to buy pop and dump it out in the parking lot for the 10 cent cash deposit as some people claim "lots" of people on food stamps do. In fact, the only reason I have pop bottles to return is that my husband works for a manufacturer of a name brand of pop and they sell their nearly expired pop to employees almost for free (just a hair above the deposit). Most of the people I know that get a lot in food stamps still spend pretty frugally, so that they can save the additional benefits for someday down the road when they pass the income eligibility limit but are still struggling, to give themselves a future safety net, since the amount left on the card stays on the card until spent, rolling over from month to month (unlike WIC, which is a "use it or loose it" thing that expires on a certain day each month). In our family's case, the $171 we get works out to $6.33 per person per week. I don't know too many people that can eat like kings on that kind of budget...or eat at all on that kind of budget, for that matter! I'm pretty sure the government is spending far, far more to feed prison inmates than to feed our family that is doing the right things and working hard to get ahead in this world.
The point is you can't judge someone by a two-second snippet of their life. You have no idea what else is going on in their life to take them to the point you see them at. So what if you see someone on food stamps buying something you deem unacceptable? That person you see at the gas station may have a similar situation to the scenario I mentioned above. Someone might judge me badly for not having any fruits or veggies on the conveyor when I went shopping the other day, since I have a garden starting to teem with veggies, a freezer full of fruits I've already put up for the season I got at the farmers market, as well as a cooler full of blueberries I had just purchased in the car. You just don't know what is going on so STFU with the judgments.