Editor’s note: A little more than 47 million Americans rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially known as food stamps, to help feed themselves or families every day. After the U.S. House voted in mid September to cut SNAP by $40 billion over a decade, Yahoo asked those who receive SNAP benefits to share their experience: what they buy, why they need assistance and what they think of the long-running food-assistance program in general. Here’s one perspective.
FIRST PERSON | Food stamps are for the poor. You’re either lazy or a moocher. That’s what everyone says.
I don’t know about “lazy,” and if it were up to me, I would not be taking this handout. Times were tough for me and I was diagnosed with an illness that is formidable even in its gentle state. I have bipolar disorder. I tend to get stressed or depressed and sometimes even go “insane.” Before SNAP, I was on the fast track to becoming a gas station manager.
As you might be able to tell, I’m now on Social Security disability. I make very little, about $900 a month, so I qualified for SNAP. $900 a month is basically below minimum wage. I don’t make enough to qualify for tax season.
I’m 31 and live with my mother. She is 55 and can’t get around very easily due to a bad back. She’s on disability as well. Obviously, it is not something that we wanted. For a long while, when my mother was able to work, I didn’t have to rely on SNAP at all, but with all of the health issues we’ve had to deal with, it is a necessary evil.
I work every day on what can only be considered a hobby by the IRS and that’s something that takes up a lot of time. I’m an artist and put a lot of pride in my work. I’ve studied at several schools for art and I am close to earning my degree. I worked hard, as hard as a disabled person can, but I had to leave school.
Some view artists as broke and poor already. To think that others might also consider me a strain on the system because I am on SNAP makes me even more stressed, which does affect my health. It’s not that I am lazy or that I don’t know how to paint. I just have a health problem that makes me stress more easily than I would like. My brain’s chemicals are not properly regulated by themselves and so I need medicines. This also adds to the stereotypes of “crazy artists” and “losers who take our money.” I don’t want to be thought of this way. If I were able to, and it was up to me, I would not be in the system at all.
SNAP is a help, but if it paid for more than about a week’s worth of food — I get $119 a month in benefits — I would be able to do so much more. I don’t want to have to rely on it, and I don’t want to complain too much. But, as times are, work for artists nearly impossible to come by.
In Philadelphia, we shop at stores like Save A Lot and ShopRite, but it is hard to get to the stores because we can’t afford a car. So when we can, we get food delivered or get a ride from my uncle. Most of our food comes in packages and boxes and are on the cheaper side.
Sometimes I will eat ramen or a homemade deli sandwich, but that gets old so I will usually eat a microwavable meal like Lean cuisine or Smart Ones. I like Amy’s meals and Healthy Choice Steamers. Microwave meals are quick and easy and take little effort to set up and get ready. During a good sale, with coupons, you can get a meal for one or two dollars. And ramen, well, less than a dollar. It’s not that we prefer these meals; it’s that it’s the cheapest way we know how to get food.
We use coupons extensively and most coupons are for food that has commercials. Unfortunately this type of food is not really known for its health benefits. I’m a health-conscious person, at least I would be. I love to eat vegetables and fruit. If given a choice, I go for organic foods. These are always more expensive, making it nearly impossible to get what I want when I want it.
I have been on food stamps for more than six years now, and every time I pull out that card to buy food and wait in line for the machine to process, I feel like I stand out as less than an equal. Less than I want to be. Like a failure and a loser.
SNAP is a stress, but it is necessary, at least for now.