The problem with food stamps

Strolling around the interweb today, I found a post on the Washington Post that got me thinking. Would it not save money on other benefits if food benefits were better?

Good FoodWhen you get food stamps, I would know, there is no possible way to stretch the amount you get to feed a family anything but junk. The healthy food is just too expensive. A healthy alternative to something is generally twice as much as the cheap technically-food crap cluttering the shelves at the grocery store. For example, why pay $3.50 for a jug of real juice for kids to drink when you can buy a bottle of soda for $1 or a Kool-Aid packet for a quarter? Why buy boneless skinless chicken breasts for $10 when you can buy everyone their own frozen pizza for $1 each or some hot pockets? One of the most expensive things you can get at a grocery store is produce, so why spend a whole lot of money to make a salad when it’s cheaper to just buy a bag of frozen fries as a side? And don’t even think about getting organic foods, you’re looking at paying 3-4 times the price!

Unhealthy overweight junk food Its no wonder why poor people are less healthy and tend to be more overweight. Either that or they splurge and get good real food and end up running out just a week into the month. They end up using even more medicaid/medicare money since they have more health problems due to their diet, not to mention social and psychological problems that can result from being unhealthy. If someone is depressed, out of shape, and self conscious, are they really going to do as well in the job market?

Forcing people to get by at bare minimums causes them to get stuck in the situation. I know what poverty is like, in great detail, so this is from a person who knows exactly what it’s like. How the weight of knowing that you and your family are just barely surviving and knowing that your kids are going without what many disregard and take for granted can be completely soul crushing. You end up in a seemingly impossible cycle of depression, barely able to make ends meet, and having no money left over to try to make things better. You might think it’d be easy to just find work and get out of the problem, but think about it more carefully. Do you know how much it costs for a decent outfit to go to an interview? The cost of gas to go out job hunting? What if you get a job, but don’t have gas to get there or money for your uniform? It isn’t hard to tell by looking at people much of the time if they are having a hard time financially. Possible employers aren’t going to be likely to hire someone who they can tell is poor, it’s a terrible form of discrimination but there’s no law against it.

So, say you overcome and find a job. You immediately have to report that job which results in medicaid and food benefits disappearing. That is scary, for anyone, and if you’ve been in that cycle you aren’t going to have money put back to help you through the transition. Most of the time you’re looking at 3 weeks until you get that first paycheck, and if you’re working at your typical minimum wage job it’s going to be around $225 before taxes (That’s $7.50 an hour for an average minimum wage work week of 30 hours). So, what happens to that job if you run out of gas, lose power and can’t wash your uniform, etc,? You lose the job. So now it’s going to be either another month before you get your benefits back or if you get another job immediately after around 3 more weeks before you see that first check. Are you beginning to see how much of a trap poverty can be?

I guess my main point is this- offering the bare minimum in assistance doesn’t help the situation or save money, it extends it so that it costs more in the long run. Perhaps if enough assistance was given to thrive on instead of merely survive, people would be able to get out of it more easily? Healthy food, money for gas and clothes, building self confidence and allowing them to stay in good spirits. These things would not only be more beneficial in a time of need, they would help overcome that time of need as well.

Giving more helps more, and as a nation: Isn’t every chain only as strong as it’s weakest link? I don’t generally like quoting the bible, but in this case it applies- “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (I threw that in for one main reason, most who vote to lower assistance and benefits happen to be republican, and most republicans happen to portray themselves as mega-christians.)