What Does Your Safety Net Look Like?
DeEtte Peck uses her Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card in Portland, Ore., to purchase food. The card helps people with low incomes purchase food through SNAP. (Brian Duss for Bread for the World)
If you were to lose your job or source of income tomorrow, how would you get by? Would you rely on savings? Friends and family members? Government safety net programs?
Marketplace is asking these questions of its readers in a new feature called "Show Us Your Safety Net." The answers are interesting, and surprisingly similar. When it comes to federal safety net programs, it's not so much a question of whether people who fall on hard times will need them or not, but rather how soon they will need them.
Some of the people who responded to the Marketplace survey said they sought out benefits such as SNAP (formerly food stamps) right away. Others drained retirement funds, savings accounts, or the savings accounts of their loved ones before seeking out government assistance. Most people ended up needing a combination of unemployment benefits, federal food programs, and direct service help. Although the user-submitted stories are anecdotal, it doesn't seem that many Americans—regardless of income bracket—are able to scrape by on savings alone when faced with job loss, illness, or other major life events that affects income.
Here are just a few of the stories:
Used up savings, sold assets, got food stamps, got prescription assistance, applied for (but have not yet) received housing assistance.” —Deborah,Tigard, Oregon
I lost my 10-year job in March 2011. I was old enough to take social security but did not take that option right away. I have a child to support and a wife who was also jobless who had run out of unemployment benefits. What kept us going was my unemployment benefits and food stamps, although these did not come to enough to pay rent and COBRA premiums, let alone our food and utilities. So I tapped my savings.” —Geoff, Belmont, MassachusettsI was in a terrible car accident last December getting ready to start back at university after a 13-year gap. I lost both my jobs related to the accident, couldn't work due to a broken shoulder (still can't). I applied for every program I could as soon as I could. Was able to get free medical from the county. Qualified for food stamps and short-term disability, but went with no income for two months. Had some help from friends, relatives, and church. Not sure what's next, hopefully the disability extension is approved.” —Valerie, Canoga Park, California
Federal safety net programs work to keep hunger at bay even as unemployment and poverty remain high. More of us need help right now, and federal safety net programs are there to catch us when we fall.
Right now, Congress is writing the farm bill, and SNAP, one of our country's most important safety net programs, is at risk of cuts, as is international food aid. Your lawmakers need to hear from you. Tell your senators and representative that any farm bill must not increase hunger in the United States or around the world.
Call or email your members of Congress and tell them to ensure a place at the table for all people by protecting and strengthening the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and international food aid in the farm bill.
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