Let’s talk about food stamps! For starters, there are no “food stamps.” The term is old-people talk. In my day, we didn’t have any of those fancy-pants cards. We had funny money and we loved it.
Seriously, we loved food stamps. If you make too much money to be eligible for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is what the food stamp program is now called), here’s how it works now: You get benefits loaded onto an account that your state manages.
You access the account with an EBT card, which is like a debit card and used exactly the same way, except the card reader at the market won’t let you purchase anything but food covered by the program.
Why do they do it that way?
Well, it’s because of me. I abused the system back in the day. Here’s what I did. In 1987 I was almost flat broke. I didn’t want welfare, but I was mentally ill, unemployed and starving. So I applied for welfare and was accepted. But I had to do a “spend down” first.
I had waited to apply for welfare until after I was almost completely broke, because I thought that was how you do it. But it turned out they assumed you had $500 hidden away and made you wait for benefits long enough so that the $500 was spent. I don’t know why they thought it had to be $500 specifically. Why couldn’t it have been $10,000, if it could have been $500?
Well, anyway, I didn’t have $500. But they weren’t completely nuts. In recognition that it was possible I might really be broke, the state gave me $60 worth of food stamps. For the next three weeks that was all the “money” I had, while waiting for the first welfare check.
I abused the system in two ways. One way: In those days you could buy a 50-cent package of gum with a $1 food stamp, and get change. Not food stamp change — real coins. Do that three or four times and you’ve got too much gum plus change to buy something other than food that you might desperately want or need. Like toilet paper, or toothpaste, or shoelaces. OK, I admit it: I was also hooked on cigarettes at the time, so I bought loose tobacco and rolling papers every other day, too.
The other way I abused the system: I bought caviar. I know. That sounds awful. How dare I? In my defense, I only did it once. The day my welfare check arrived and I cashed it, I celebrated by buying one jar of salmon roe at the local Safeway.
My use of food stamps to get change to buy toothpaste and rolling tobacco angered legislators so much they switched to the EBT card system, which deducts the exact amount of a purchase from your account, to the penny, and doesn’t let you have any change.
Now the Trump administration wants to crack down on all those horrible poor people like me who, once every year or every five years, use their benefits to buy a jar of salmon roe, just to feel like high society for one half hour until it’s gone.
Mind that nobody buys caviar all the time with their EBT cards, or they would starve, so this form of abuse is a huge non-problem.
But the Trump administration is so concerned that people are not buying staples with their benefits that it’s prepared to undermine the SNAP program, one of the most efficient government assistant programs ever devised, by replacing the benefits with a clumsy system of food-box deliveries.
The food-box delivery program is cruel and stupid. The hidden beneficiaries of the SNAP system were always the farmers, whose food was bought. The food boxes will be assembled from food supplied by corporations that will get all those benefits. Who doubts that those companies will be operated by friends of Trump?
And in a world where the majority of all people of color are lactose intolerant, including almost all Asians and almost all Native Americans, it is racist to substitute a government allotment of milk for the power to purchase alternatives.
And, no fruits or vegetables? I guess I should have expected that from a man who lives on meatloaf.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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