SubscribeSubscribe to this blog's feed
156 posts categorized "SNAP"
Voices of SNAP is a regular feature in which people who have received assistance from the federal program give a first-person account of the experience.
By Dawn Phipps
Many people think those of us who need food assistance are nothing but deadbeats and leeches; if we would just put down the bon-bons, get off the couch and get a job, life would be splendid. Ah, there’s a nice fantasy. The truth is that most of us are not deadbeats and leeches. We have jobs. We have families who need to eat. We have children who are wondering when dinner will be ready.
I had children who were wondering when dinner would be ready. One time, instead of telling my daughters I had nothing in the house to make for dinner, I called my ex-husband and made up some excuse about needing him to watch the kids. That way I could take them to his house and they would get dinner.
I eventually went to a food pantry. I was ashamed that I had to ask for help, but I felt welcomed and not judged. They gave me a big box of food. Healthy food. I was ecstatic that I could put something in the cupboard and fix something for my kids to eat. I am a single mom who has always worked full time, who rarely receives child support, and whose extended family has needs of their own, so I have been the sole means of support for my son and myself for quite some time.
When the recession hit a few years ago, I was laid off by my employer, who was a bankruptcy attorney. Three weeks later, I began to receive unemployment. It was helpful, but certainly did not replace what I was making. And all the while I was looking for a job.
I started to apply for every job that I could. Eventually I found myself applying at McDonald's. They told me I was over-qualified. I was feeling desperate and defeated. I realized that if I was going to adequately take care of my son, I was going to have to ask for help. For me, this was like admitting defeat.
Everything went well at the Health & Welfare office, where I applied for benefits, including SNAP. What I was not prepared for was how society would treat me. The first time I received my food stamps, I went shopping for the whole month. It seemed like the smartest way to plan. When people at the grocery store saw my cart, they were not pleased. I had purchased meat, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. I didn’t know buying healthy food was frowned upon. There were rude comments, eye rolling, whispering, people pointing at my cart—even some hostility from the cashier. I started shopping late at night so I might avoid all those judging people.
I even considered shopping in another town where no one would know me.
In January 2011, I finally found a full-time job with the state and in May of that year I received my last disbursement of food stamps. While my son and I were standing in line to purchase the last groceries I would have to use food stamps for, a woman in front of me in line started to chat with me. She said, “I should have known better than to come to the store on the first of the month with these losers and their food stamps. Don’t you feel the same?”
Knowing exactly how I am when it comes to judgmental people, my son told me not to say anything to her: “Please Mom, don’t!” I told my son, “I have to!” I had always made sure that my son had no idea that I was receiving food assistance so I quietly told her I received food stamps so she must think I’m quite a loser as well. I said “I’m sorry you feel this way when you don’t even know me.” I was not going to stand in the same check-out with this person. As I moved my cart to another lane she called out, “Well, you don’t LOOK like you’re on food stamps!”
Dawn Phipps is a nurse and hunger activist living in Boise, Idaho.
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.
Your members of Congress are writing the farm bill right now and they need to hear from you! SNAP (formerly food stamps) and international food aid are critical programs governed by the farm bill. Both are at risk of devastating cuts.
Raise your voice and urge your members of Congress to ensure a place at the table for all God’s people. Tell them to:
- Protect and strengthen SNAP. SNAP effectively and efficiently helps 47 million low-income Americans put food on the table. As unemployment and poverty have remained high, the number of families at risk of hunger has not increased since 2008.
- Improve international food aid in ways that make the program more efficient while also targeting the nutritional needs of women and children in the 1,000-day window from pregnancy to age 2. The emergency food aid program, Food for Peace, reached over 53 million people last year.
Cuts to these programs will mean no food on the table for millions of our brothers and sisters. Call your senators and representative today at 1-800-326-4941 or send them an email.
Sterling Farms, the buzzed-about grocery store chain started by Wendell Pierce, the actor best known as "Bunk" from the HBO show The Wire, is now open for business.
Pierce, along with his business partners, has been working to place markets and convenience stores in food deserts in his native New Orleans. Sterling Farms is not just putting nutritious, fresh food where there was none before—the people behind the business are working to figure out how to tackle the problem of food access from many different angles. One perk the stores offer is especially great—the chain gives free rides to those who spend more than $50.
When I first saw the clip below, I was watching TV with a good friend who once received SNAP, and she thought the ride program was a brilliant idea. She told me that when she received benefits, trying to find a way to get to the store was a monthly source of stress.
She lived near an upscale supermarket, but the prices were high—her money stretched further if she could get to Shoppers Food Warehouse, Aldi, Bottom Dollar, or one of the other bargain grocery store chains in Virginia. Unfortunately, those stores weren't easily reached by bus. Besides, a bus ride meant her food purchases were determined by what she could carry, rather than personal taste, nutritional value, or cost. Every month she had to find a ride to the store, come up with a few bucks of gas money to offer the driver, and then worry if the person would actually come through for her.
Lack of transportation can be an insurmountable barrier to food: Bread for the World has explored how the suspension of school bus service during the summer affects the effectiveness of school lunch programs during those months, and the ways in which cutting city bus service can hinder the ability of people to get to food.
As we work to ensure that everyone has a place at the table by petitioning the president and writing to Congress, it's nice to know that businesses are thinking about how they too can tear down the obstacles that stand between hungry people and affordable, nutritious food.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.
Marie Crise is able to use her SNAP benefits to purchase fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables at the Abingdon Farmers Market in Abingdon, Va. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)
By Nina Keehan
Food stamps, you might be surprised to learn, were originally intended to be used to buy fresh produce and other staples at farm stands. It was only after the 1984 introduction of the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system, which gave participants debit cards to make purchases, that food stamps were shunned at farmers' markets. Vendors could not afford the technology necessary to authorize payments.
Luckily, over the past few years, farmers' markets have returned to the days when food stamps were readily accepted, and some even offer a special benefit for those making purchases with SNAP (formerly food stamps) dollars.
Some farmers' markets have started to double SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits, meaning if you buy $10 worth of produce at a participating farmers' market, you get another $10 free! This sort of incentive is vitally important, since fresh fruits, vegetables, and local products are so much more expensive than the processed foods sold at convenience and grocery stores.
Last month, I visited a Washington, D.C., FreshFarm Market to see if doubling programs are effective. The Penn Quarter farmers' market has been doubling benefits through its Matching Dollars Program since 2009--it's one of several FreshFarm markets that doubles benefits up to $15.
While not all of the markets can afford to double benefits, FreshFarm decides which ones will support the incentive based on neighborhood data and past response to the program.
Bernie Prince, co-executive director and founder of FreshFarm Markets, said that offering double benefits for SNAP, WIC (Women, Infants and Children), and SFMNP (Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program) coupon holders has drawn a lot of new customers to the market, many of whom become frequent and loyal visitors. Last year, FreshFarm gave over $47,000 in benefits to shoppers.
The Matching Dollars Program is not just beneficial for the customers—the farmers and other vendors at the market are seeing increased sales without having to pay for the transaction technology themselves. FreshFarm handles all SNAP transactions from a table at the market and charges a $2 fee for shoppers using a credit card--that money is immediately folded back into the Matching Dollars Program, which allows the $15 benefit to be self-sustaining.
Programs that double benefits often require a lot of outreach because many communities don’t realize the programs exist, so FreshFarm goes directly to the source, by promoting in benefit agencies and senior centers. It is also expanding to reach more people: In 2013, FreshFarm will make its Matching Dollars Program available at several additional D.C.-area markets.
Doubling programs have an enthusiastic, but limited market following. While more than 1,150 farmers' markets accept EBT cards, only a fraction of them do any form of SNAP matching. But data from Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP) has indicated it is one of the most effective ways to draw in SNAP customers, with participating farmers indicating a “300 percent increase in SNAP and WIC use at farmers markets with the introduction of double voucher incentive programs.”
Hopefully, as successful programs such as FreshFarm and DVCP continue to thrive, more farmers' markets will participate and help make fresh fruits and vegetables a staple, once again, for low-income shoppers.
Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.
Barbie Izquierdo at the National Hunger Free Communities Summit. (Amanda Lucidon)
While in the middle of one of the scariest, most stressful days of her life, Barbie Izquierdo took her first step toward becoming an advocate.
The Philadelphia mother and her two children had been living in an unheated apartment, and the cold temperatures were exacerbating her infant son’s chronic eye problems. After months of doctors’ visits, Barbie was told her baby, then three months old, would need surgery to correct the problem, or risk losing his sight.
Each time Barbie took her son to the hospital for his eyes, she was encouraged to participate in a survey and answer questions about her life and living conditions—a woman from Drexel University asked whether she had heat in her house, a working stove, enough to eat. Barbie usually found the questions intrusive, but on the day she found out her baby needed surgery, she decided to open up.
“I was just so frustrated, so sad and overcome with the information the doctor gave me,” Barbie said, recounting her story during the Hunger Free Communities Summit in Washington, D.C., last month. “That day, I decided to answer her questions, and instead of just telling her that I didn’t have any gas in the home, I told her my whole life story.”
That researcher kept in touch with Barbie and eventually connected her with Dr. Mariana Chilton of the Drexel University Public School of Health, who asked Barbie to take photos documenting her life. “She explained to me she had done work with trying to fight hunger and people just weren’t understanding her because she didn’t have the story—but, she knew that I did.”
The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during
Lent. They blogged about their journey and shared their stories on the Bread Blog. The family's SNAP challenge has ended—Ivan Herman offers these final thoughts.
By Ivan Herman
87 cents. That’s how much we had left on our SNAP budget at the end of the month. 87 cents. Not much room for error, and not much of a cushion for frills and extras.
On Thursday we had run out of milk and fruit. We had $9.27 left in our budget.
I took my son to the grocery store in the afternoon.
$3.49 for milk
$1.95 for six bananas
$1.99 for a whole, fresh pineapple (score!)
I tallied it up in my head: about $7.50, and figured I could buy only
two Fuji apples on sale at $1.49 per pound (it came out to $.97). I
asked Robin to pick the two apples. He plunked two into the bag, then
grabbed for a third.
“Sorry, little dude, but we don’t have the money to buy a third apple.”
“But I like apples.”
“Yeah, me too.” (sigh)
$8.40 for milk and fruit.
$530 for 4 people over 40 days.
$1.10 per person, per meal.
Only $.87 left over.
We ate frugally, but were still able to eat a balanced diet. How easy it would be to miss the target!
On a day when we celebrated the institution of our Lord’s Supper, the feast at my own table looked a bit more meager. At the Maundy Thursday service, as the bread was broken, I hungered for it, both physically and spiritually. The fridge at home had only a half-loaf of homemade sourdough, and some leftover simple drop biscuits. But the bread, juice, and wine at the Lord’s Table held the promise of abundance.
Now Easter is upon us, and abundance is at hand. May our “Alleluias” in grateful praise bring glory to God as well as food for those who still hunger, for “Alleluias” are not just sung and spoken in devotion and worship, but also acted out in compassion and justice.
Ivan Herman is associate pastor at Carmichael Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif.
Photo by flickr user Dyanna Hyde.
The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog.
By Susan Herman
I’ve lost four pounds. It’s a good thing; I had them to lose.
Before I go any further I’ll assure you that the kids have not lost weight during our SNAP challenge. About the only thing they’re hurting for is Goldfish crackers. When I take one of them to the store and explain that I’m trying to get the best ratio of nutrients to dollars, thus skipping the snack aisle and the $7.49 carton of colored crackers, there’s usually a pause.
Followed by, “But we’re OUT. We need MORE.”
And as it turns out, I broke down Saturday and bought a small package of the Pepperidge Farm goodies anyway, in honor of a glorious sunny day and family ramble in the Sierra foothills. So our kids are not deprived.
I’ve lost weight by abandoning my habit of drinking a glass (or two) of wine at 9:45 every night. You can’t use SNAP benefits to buy alcohol, and because our simulation has us using only our dedicated food stamp-like budget for all the food and drink we consume, the Two Buck Chuck had to go. I have taken to substituting water or iced tea in a wine glass so I can still go through the ritual of shaping my hand just so and swirling.
Someone asked me recently whether we felt our Lenten discipline was producing permanent change. I told her I hope to say a permanent goodbye to those four pounds, and maybe give them a few more neighbors in Lost Pounds heaven. But I hope for more than that.
Bread for the World
member Jeanette Mott Oxford is a former Missouri state representative who now
directs the Missouri Association for Social Welfare. Jeanette played a leading
role in Bread’s recent actions in Missouri.
She recently sat down with me to talk about her time as
an elected official and her years of faith-based advocacy.
Tell us about your faith journey. Were there any significant shifts or defining moments?
I grew up in the Christian fundamentalist tradition in rural southern Illinois. My parents were in a gospel quartet, and my uncle was a tent evangelist. As a child, I attended a lot of revivals! We were encouraged to personally witness to others, and I have carried with me the belief that there should be unity between what you say you believe and what your actions demonstrate.
I left the church for a while and then came back through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA]. Eventually, I settled on a United Church of Christ [UCC] congregation and have stayed with the denomination ever since. I found that these denominations had a focus on “corporate sin.” This was a significant shift for me, from a focus primarily on individual practices and a pious life to thinking about who we are as a part of systems and nations, and thinking corporately about questions like, “Are people being fed? How are we treating the least of these?”
How did you come to see advocacy as an important part of helping people in need?
Bread for the World played an integral role. When I first discovered Bread in the 1980s, I thought it was about sending money to care for someone in a famine-torn corner of the world. All I had known about responding to hunger was through charity-type actions. Then I started getting letters from Bread encouraging me to write to my members of Congress, and I quickly became an advocate and tried to learn as much as I could about how domestic and international policy affect hunger.
I also worked with Bread as an intern while studying at Eden Theological Seminary in the St. Louis metro area. At the time, Bread was working on a campaign to increase funding for WIC, and it was an eye-opening experience for me to learn that we could save four dollars in health costs with one dollar of healthy food!
By Sarah Godfrey
Marketplace has a great story today about a woman who once accessed the federal safety net, specifically SNAP, to stay afloat during a lean period and is now using a safety net of a different sort—she is a trapeze artist.
Mercedes Gallup, a public health nurse at a state college in Southern California, told her story to Marketplace as part of its "Show Us Your Safety Net" series. Gallup talked about using SNAP, then called food stamps, to feed her child, and the stigma attached to pulling them out at the grocery store.
“Back then you held up the line when you were using food stamps,” she remembers. “They had to check everything and they were paper — it was like a little book of Disneyland cards.
Sometimes, Gallup says she would feel judged. “But I had to feed my kid,” she says. “So I'll hold up the line all day. I was a single mom, I was in nursing school, and had a job. And it just was not enough to cover food.”
Gallup, who used food stamps for three years, said the assistance allowed her to realize her dream of becoming a nurse. Now, years later, after finishing school and securing a well-paying job, she spends some of her free time flying through the air with the greatest of ease. And, as the piece points out, there is always a net there to catch her, just as there was back when she was a struggling student.
We already know that federal nutrition programs allow people to lift themselves out of poverty and feed their families. Gallup's story may have a particularly cool twist, but it isn't uncommon: SNAP and other federal nutrition programs offer a lifeline—and a stepping stone—for millions of people.
Contact your member of Congress and tell them to ensure a place at the table for all people by providing adequate funding for programs that address hunger and help lift people out of poverty.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.