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Monday, January 11, 2016

6 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Food Stamps

Happy Sunday, dear readers! I hope your favorite football teams won their respective games today.

I will try and publish Day 7 and Day 8 tomorrow so that by Tuesday, I'll be all caught up and can finish the 21 day blogging challenge on time. That said, on to the show!

Chili and Encharitos, a meal made entirely of foods purchased on food stamps

For Day 6's challenge, I must preface this by saying my experience with food stamps is limited to Arizona. I am aware that other states have different rules/restrictions regarding food stamp use, but I hope my experience will enlighten you about this crucially beneficial subsidy program for the common individual.

1. Applying for them can be a pain in the ass.

Anyone who has ever applied for any sort of government benefit program like food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security, etc, knows the feeling of overwhelming dread that comes with having to dig up all your important papers and financial statements for a bureaucrat to scrutinize. It's like baring your soul to a bean counter. What makes this experience all the more nerve wracking is that if your income exceeds a certain level even by a few pennies, you will not be eligible to receive food stamps to feed yourself and your family. As part of President Bill Clinton's Welfare Reform regulations in 1996, the number of hoops applicants must jump through, whether it be verifying income levels or work requirements, as a condition of receiving benefits skyrocketed. I found this out the hard way the first time I tried applying for food stamps on my own. Having just returned to Arizona, I wanted to try and get food stamps until I could start working and building up my financial reserves. I was showing as eligible online when I applied, but when I went to the office for the interview, I brought all the documents I had with me and thought I would need, and the case worker STILL wanted more stuff to "verify". I wound up being denied benefits because I couldn't provide all the information the caseworker wanted. It was only when my husband and I got married and he added me to his account as a household member that I could get food stamps because he was already getting them.

2. You can use them to buy almost any kind of food.

Almost. As per regulations, food stamp recipients cannot use their allotment at restaurants (or at least ones that aren't authorized to do so), to buy hot foods at the grocery store, and for alcohol purchases. I used to wonder about the hot foods restriction, since I viewed it as poor shaming. However, my husband informed me that the hot foods prohibition was actually a safeguard put in place to keep impoverished recipients of SNAP (the formal name for food stamps) from being exploited by unscrupulous restaurateurs who might charge them more for a meal simply because they were using food stamps. Hot food also requires taxable fuel to keep warm, which means here in Arizona, it is taxed at a different rate than cold foods are. As for the alcohol prohibition, I'm not entirely sure of the reason for that ban. I tried doing some research to find the answer to that question, but I was unsuccessful at finding an answer. I believe it has to do with the Prohibition-era moral holdover stigma of alcohol being a devil's brew that made the the government not authorize it for purchase. Also, to my knowledge, I think you can buy certain live animals like lobster for eating, but not bunnies or chickens.

3. Your allotment is income and/or dependent based

This stands as a given, though if you have dependents like children or elderly/disabled relatives, this also factors into whether or not you get benefits. As such, when your income changes due to work or the arrival/departure of a household member, your benefit level adjusts as such. This can either be a huge source of stress or a huge relief.

4. It has some of the lowest fraud of any social safety net program in the country.

In spite of the undeniably racially-tinged rhetoric aimed at people who use food stamps and other government services, SNAP has been proven to be one of the least fraud-ridden government programs in America. Compared with the military contracts and the corporate welfare provided to CEOs of major companies which are so greased with nepotism the ooze floods the streets of DC, the fraud rate for SNAP consistently clocks in at less than 4% annually. The USDA, which issues food stamps, is pretty rigorous about making sure the benefits they issue are used appropriately. Of course, there are people out there who sell their food stamps for money and make illicit purchases with their funds, but the number of perpetrators has consistently been proven tiny compared to the vast number of recipients. Not bad for government work.

5. The food stamp allotment can be used nationwide.

Unlike its previous incarnation of actual stamp booklets, latter-day food stamps are issued electronically via state-issued debit cards, known as EBT. While the cards are issued by the state, the funds can be used nationwide due to SNAP being a federal program.

6. Your taxes pay for it.

This is obviously how food stamps are funded, but I wanted to include this point because I pay taxes on whatever measly income I make AND I benefit from the programs they subsidize! When I realized that correlation, it blew away any stigma I was indoctrinated with regarding food stamps. After all, as a taxpayer, I pay into this system. Why shouldn't I be taking advantage of these social programs? I honestly believe that if more people could see past the racial tainting of our piddly social safety net by the politicians who yell "ONLY *insert preferred brown Other here* use food stamps to buy lobster and steak!", they too would want to take advantage of it. After all, our humanity appeals to us to make resources available for impoverished people to get what they need to survive. At least I hope it does...

If there are any other facts I should know about food stamps, let me know in the comments.

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