Thursday, July 1, 2010

JUNE Food Stamp Challenge......Things I've Learned

*This post is part of the June Food Stamp Challenge which is located over HERE.*

My Final Thoughts on the JFSC.....

The past 30 days have been challenging.
Not so challenging personally in trying to stay within a $373.70 food budget for the month.
I keep myself on a rather tight food budget and lay my purchases out for inspection online and blog about being frugal throughout the year.

I did however, feel added pressure to stay within that arbitrary amount.  Since we don't depend on EBT to eat here(not that that couldn't change in a heartbeat tho!)staying within that budget wasn't a life or death situation.  If you really are on food stamps, there are real consequences to running out of benefits & not having enough to eat.
Imagine if when my allotted food budget money ran out it Really ran out!  That thought was in the back of my mind all month.

I realized that I am lucky in that I don't have a spouse or significant other torpedoing my efforts to live within a food budget.
1-I have a Hubs would loves to eat leftovers.
2-I have a Hubs who is more than happy to leave all the decisions about meal planning & food shopping to me.
Not everyone is this lucky.  Many have their spouse or SO or even their kids with their hands on the helm of this food ship too.  This can mean they are going out and spending precious food dollars on sodas or other junk foods or buying expensive meats or already-made convenience foods.  Or they are refusing to eat meals that get prepared and then place a call to Domino's for a 'cardboard w/sauce' pie at 4 times the cost of a homemade pizza.  Just 1 week of that kind of thing can lead any food budget commander spiraling down into a deep budgeting dispair!

I also am a "seasoned" cook who doesn't have to rely on pre-made, heat & eat or convenience foods to feed her family.  While I'm not a gourmet cook, I can make just about anything the family would care to eat.  Being able to cook-from-scratch a wide variety of dishes means for the most part, I can keep my costs down because I don't have to buy pricier convenience foods &  no one here gets bored with the offerings and resorts to buying take-out on a regular basis.

I am also blessed in that I have the extra storage space in my home to shop when food items are at a rock bottom price.  I can stockpile shelf stable items as well as those needing freezing temps. until the cows come home.  Not having to pay full retail price at the grocery store makes my food dollars stretch much further than someone who has little or no space to store food.

But I have learned some things along the way that I'd like to share with you all.

On the History....
The food stamp program did NOT begin as an altruistic crusade by your government to help it's was an idea to help food producers and manufacturers.
The forerunner of the food stamp program ran from 1939-1943 at the tail end of the Great Depression.  It was different in that people purchased stamps, so it was more of a discount program giving you 100% more purchasing power for your dollars and ANYONE could participate!  It was brought about in part to use up surplus supplies of certain foods during a time of economic need and ended when the surpluses and the unemployment stats dwindled.

Though the Eisenhower administration possessed the legislation for a food stamp program,  it never enacted it in the late 1950's.  The Kennedy administration did and began the pilot program to fulfill a campaign promise.  The having to purchase certain surplus foods component was dropped but participants still had to pay for the food stamps so it was still a discount program only.

The food stamp program didn't become permanent until 1964, under Lyndon Johnson.  Shortly after, the program began to focus more extending it's benefits to the neediest citizens.
The purchasing requirement went away in 1977, meaning that this is when food stamps truly became 'charity'.

There have been many changes to the system since the 1960's, both good and not-so good.  Today, calculating who is eligible and how much someone gets is convoluted and difficult to follow for someone who doesn't work in that system.  It was so hard just trying to make heads or tails of what I was reading that it frankly made my head hurt.  I do feel that there is a lot of bloat in the system and a simplified and streamlined program would go a long way to giving more equitable benefits to all who are in need as well as save a hefty amount of tax dollars in administering the program.

On Food Access....
Being on Food Stamps can limit your shopping options.

The first thing I became cognizant of in the past 30 days has been how finding sources from which to buy food using EBT can be difficult.  I generally utilize many resources available to me from which to purchase groceries.  I frequent not just grocery and drug stores, but bakery outlets, discount stores, in addition to farm stands, and farmer's markets in season.
While I don't use convenience stores, those are yet another source of groceries....albeit a higher priced(dare I say usury price?)option for purchasing food.
Not every food store source accepts EBT/Food Stamps.  Not only does a store have to qualify to participate in this federal program but the store has to feel that accepting EBT will be in their bottom line's best interest to jump through those government hoops.

Limited personal resources can limit your access to food.
I live in a small town outside of a major metro area in PA.  We have limited grocery purchasing sources in my small town.  There are a wider array of sources down in the city.  While public transportation is regular and available in the city, it's practically nonexistent here.  Someone on EBT in my town would have a rough time sourcing food stores locally unless they lived close enough to walk or bike and not at all the sources in the city if they relied on mass transit.  Unless you are disabled or elderly and qualify to use the county's aging dept. bus you would have to have access to a car(either your own or your friend's)to get to the store.  There are taxis but the cost would be out of most EBT users' league.
I am blessed in that I have access to a vehicle so I can go to wherever I need to for food.

On The Numbers...
Did you know that over half(61% as of this writing)of the population in the USA on Food Stamps are women and children?  Only 9% of the recipients are elderly.

The people who require the best and most nutritious food we can source--our children--are in large part not getting it because of financial reasons and require help from the federal government.  Isn't that sad....that the adults caring for and responsible for our nation's future generation are unable to feed them?!

I suspect that many of these households with children are headed by single parents who either are unable to work due to caring fulltime for these children or are disabled in some way.  And the ones who can/do work must pay childcare costs to another while they are at their jobs, which again, is an added expense along with the usual rent, utilities, other payments and groceries.  The food budget is usually the only area where a parent can exercise any kind of discretion over the spending once you are living a bare bones existence.  The landlord or mortgage company wants their FULL amount due so after that's paid you may have to buy the boxed mac and cheese for 30¢ instead of the organic pasta and real cheese for $1.50 to make your own.

Now I am NOT going to get into a political/social debate about having children you can't afford or having children while you are in an unstable marriage or unmarried.  I am sure there are numbers of people in these situations in that 61% figure.  But I am equally sure that there are moms & dads who weren't always single parents, as well as couples with children who work hard and also can't afford to feed themselves w/out the government's help due to financial setbacks, bad planning, poor education, or unexpected or catastrophic health issues.  The old saying, "There but for the grace of God, go I" should remind you that no matter what your economic, health or social status, YOUR circumstances could change in the blink of an eye.
So the next time you find yourself in line at the grocery store behind that person using a EBT card to pay for their food and you are looking down your nose at them, remember that YOU might end up standing in their shoes someday, no matter how fortunate your circumstance today.



  1. Good post, Sluggy. I agree completely that having a husband who loves leftovers, isn't a picky eater and is happy to leave all the food/meal decisions to me make a world of difference as to how tight we can keep our food budget. Kat is the only picky eater here, and we're working to change that.

    I also agree that a person just can't know for sure that they'll never have to turn to government assistance in order to keep themselves and their families fed.

  2. great post! i wanted to add this link-

    you can get a box of food from them for 30 dollars, and it feeds a family of 4 for a week. i used to do it back when i was a student, and it was pretty good. maybe you can add a box in for your next challenge.

  3. A friend of mine and her husband were both unemployed in the same year, for overlapping periods. They went through everything in the house before applying for food stamps. Somehow they just kept thinking things would get better.
    Guess what? They didn't! And they waited too long to apply; they didn't realize there was lag time between application and receipt. Fortunately, she spoke to a friend who knew someone at a food bank. They got a few bags of groceries to tide them over.
    There is no shame in unemployment. It can happen to anyone. So can serious illness or some other trauma. Please do not look down on those using an EBT card. You don't know his or her situation. And it could just as easily be *you* in that position. Each of us is just one pink slip, one hit-and-run accident, one high fever away from being unable to work. Imagine how it would feel to have total strangers deciding that you aren't deserving of help.
    As they say, "Make your words tender and sweet, because one day you may have to eat them."


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