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May 21, 2007

Comments

I think the risk of shattered peanut butter jars is low nowadays, at least if you're buying inexpensive stuff. Glass containers have been replaced by plastic for lots of things in the past few decades.

Not that that actually affects your point.

This story highlights the main reason I hoped WebVan would have succeeded. Getting reasonably priced food delivered was always going to be a great alternative for inner city shoppers without transportation. I haven't tried Safeway or any of the other online grocers, but the Feds could do a lot worse than making food stamps easy to use online.

Given a choice between allowing people to use food stamps online (when many don't have computer access, much less internet) or improving public transportation, I'd rather take the fiscal hit and spend the money on public transportation.

And Hilzoy--the stuff you said about Phoenix's public transportation applies to south Florida's as well, only you're likely to get caught in a rainstorm here, and it's more expensive to use it than drive. I looked into using the Tri-Rail system this summer to commute to work, and it would have cost me double what I spend on gas, even with gas a $3.30 a gallon. It gets worse when I factor in carpooling.

I was shopping with someone who had four small kids. I honestly could not imagine how she managed on her own. (She had just left an abusive relationship, so help from the kids' father was not an option.) How do you carry the bags and hold your kids' hands? What do you do if one of them gets mischievous and runs off? Honestly: I have no clue what the answers to these questions were.

Um. Well, I've been shopping with four kids under 10. (None of them were mine: I was looking after them for a pittance per hour. Their mom was being paid something like four times a pittance per hour.)

There were better shops if I could have taken the bus, but that was not an option - three out of the four children were old enough that they couldn't travel free on the bus, and the bus fares would have been half the food money. The expensive supermarket that was within walking distance had a limited range, but only involved crossing one main road.

You put the youngest child next to you, with instructions to hang on to your hand or her sister's hand. You put the oldest child at the other end of the line. The two middle girls go in the middle. All children are instructed to watch out for each other (the three oldest girls are in the habit of looking out for their baby sister, which luckily tends to make them hyper-responsible when they're out with her, if not when they're on their own).

You shepherd them all round the supermarket, tying the most-mischievious one to your side by having her push the trolley. (This works, because the trolley is heavy once it has shopping in it, and her preference for treating it as a speedcar is thereby curtailed.) The youngest girl hangs on to your hand. The other two get sent on brief errands to pick up this and that, which works because they feel helpful and responsible.

To requests for chocolate, toys, or other out-of-budget treats, you respond with a brief "Tough." (After a while, this repeated refrain gets funny to everyone except the kid requesting the treat at the time, and even she giggles a bit through her disappointment.)

You sort the groceries into five bags. The heaviest go into the bag I carry in my free hand: one very light bag is for the youngest girl so she doesn't feel left out: the other three sisters each get a bag with a few groceries in it scaled to their size. Walk home, unpack, make drinks all round, thank children for being helpful, collapse with large mug of tea.

It worked for me, partly because I was the childminder with a habit of iron discipline and mainly because all four kids were basically good responsible kids who responded well to high expectations, and because at the time that was my job. It's always easier to do difficult things like an expedition to the supermarket with four kids and no car when you're being paid to do it, and not when it's a basic thing you have to do every time you need groceries.

(Shepherding four kids on and off a bus is an added level of difficulty but not insuperable. I have visited Phoenix, and agree that if I had to undertake a march to a supermarket with four kids, that would be one of the cities I would choose never to do it in.)

Jes: thanks. (When I was helping out, it was with a woman who had only recently moved from our shelter, where we provided food -- yummy yellow surplus cheese! -- to her own apartment, and was trying to figure out how the bus lines worked, etc. So since she hadn't worked out the answers herself yet, I couldn't ask her.)

Hilzoy, the first time I had to take all four kids to the supermarket with me, I was absolutely bloody paranoid - the only thing that would have made me more paranoid was leaving them behind at home. So I began with iron discipline, and had found already (they really were good kids) that they responded very well for short periods of time to clearly stated high expectations, especially when it involved looking after their youngest sister. And beginning with that kind of thing is way easier when you're a childminder coming into a given situation - I consider it much easier for a childminder to get kids to be on their best behavior than a parent, because with a childminder there isn't the emotional entanglement (and if one of the kids was angry enough that I thought she might do something stupid, I usually had the option of waiting an hour for her to cool down).

But it is logistically possible. If all four kids are able-bodied and, within reasonable expectations, good kids. I have looked after children with disabilities that made them a handful even in the house, that would have been ten times more difficult in the supermarket.

For seven days, I’ll be living on three dollars of food per day, the same amount an average participant in the Food Stamp Program receives.

This is just incorrect however. The average household using food stamps received $209 per month (PDF) or about $7 per day. 31% received the maximum benefit of $499. Beyond that the entire premise is incorrect as the program is meant to supplement the food purchasing budget – there was never any expectation that a family would subsist solely on food stamps.

Jesurgislac:
So I began with iron discipline, and had found already (they really were good kids) that they responded very well for short periods of time to clearly stated high expectations

You touch on what I've come to see as a very valuable and simple lesson in dealing with children, start as you would go on. For parents this often means being concious of what you are starting at a very young age.
Grocery stores are a good illustration. The number one problem for parents of young children in the store are the demands (that can escalate to the max quickly if not met) for candy, chocolate or whatever. But if the children have never been bought one of these things in the grocery store it will not occur to them to ask, or they know that a request will not even be treated as an option.
So simple, but not easy.

This is just incorrect however. The average household using food stamps received $209 per month (PDF) or about $7 per day.

The average household receiving food stamps (same resource) is 2.3 people. That would be $90.86 per person per month, or $20.96 per person per week. You're right, OCSteve - they've rounded up the amount the average person receiving foodstamps could expect by 4c - this is just incorrect.

Sarcasm aside, the same resource you linked to says that foodstamps are on average a quarter of the total financial resources of a household. Given that a household has other needs besides food - rent, clothing, etc - I don't think it's in the least unreasonable to assume that foodstamps are the only resource available to spend on food.

Re: food stamps!=whole food budget--how's this for a deal: I will agree with this statement, as soon as we institute a realistic modern poverty line.

I haven't actually tried this (being far too curse associated with chickens), but I've heard that jars of peanut butter are useful for concealing things with aromas that professional sniffers seek. So there may be legitimate cause to be wary of such, asinine TSA rules aside.

Jes: Fair enough, and maybe that is how they got to that number. But it still isn’t that representative when a third of the households get $499 (family of 4). I would personally be quite comfortable feeding 4 on $499 per month. I feed 2 for around $300 a month now.

Anecdote: I was on welfare and food stamps once, for a very short time (around four months). I had a newborn baby and a wife that was in no condition to work; I had no salable skills and no real resume to speak of, and had just lost my job. We had no car and I didn't know how to drive. The only thing we had was a studio apartment, and the good fortune to live fairly close to the shopping district of a somewhat low-COL area of Seattle.

We didn't eat much for those four months. The baby was taken care of; WA State had a decent program for supplying baby needs to low-income families. For ourselves, not so much. The welfare only barely paid the rent and utilities, which didn't include the ability to have a phone.

It was a death trap, and the only way I was able to get out of it was by taking a minimum wage job. The irony was that by taking that job, and working 35 hours a week, I was disqualified from financial assistance and food stamps were cut back dramatically. We weren't really much better off with a minimum wage job than with no job at all.

It took me several years to pull myself out of that pit--and I was lucky enough to live in a good area with good public transportation and nearby family, lucky to be good enough with computers on a hobby level that a friend got me a job in tech support. For most people without those resources, they're essentially trapped.

So whenever I hear people harp on about how lazy people on welfare are, or how they're mooching off the state, or how they have more than enough to get by and if they bothered to look for a job they'd be able to get off welfare--I want to beat the soulless bastards with a baseball bat until there's nothing left. They haven't the faintest clue what they're talking about, and their lack of empathy causes real harm to real people.

Catsy:

If you could afford a baseball bat, then you were receiving too many food stamps. What were you doing buying sporting goods while living off the taxpayer? Obviously, the soulless bastards miscalculated your benefits. Now, if you went out and purchased a handgun, the soulless bastards would be O.K. with that, because if you were eating cake --- and we all know that you and your family were doing exactly that, buster --- you need a weapon to protect your cake.

You could have purchased a 20 pound bag of lentils instead of cake and handguns and baseball bats, thereby killing three birds with one stone. One, lentils are high in nutrients and low in fat, and two, who needs a baseball bat and a handgun when you can swat a soulless bastard upside the head with a 20-pound bag of lentils?

What's this? Do I see an extra bird under your coat? Sorry, you'll have to turn in the lentils. And, where did you get the stone? Bob, confiscate Mr. Catsy's stone, would you please, and run a check on it.

I'll bet if I was standing behind Rep. Ryan in the checkout line, I'd catch him buying six sirloins, beer, and a National Enquirer with the foodstamps. I know what's going on, I'm here to tell ya.

The other day I saw a dusky-looking large female leave Costco carrying 12 kids, an iguana, a high-definition wide-screen TV, the 144-oz jar of imported capers, the extra-large package of red licorice sticks, a barrel of Tide, a mesh sack of 30 live lobsters, a croquet set for 40 players with extra mallets, and the 24-pack of canned cream of fire hydrant soup.

She walked home, stopping at the library to pick up nine books, subsidized by none other than yours truly, so don't tell me it can't be done.

Don't knock large bags of lentils. I once lived for a month and a half on a 5 kilo bag. At first I had lentils, yogurt, and a little tomato; as the month and a half wore on, the tomato went, and then the yogurt, until it was lentils, lentils, lentils. It took me years to voluntarily make lentils again.

Sure was cheap, though.

lentils, lentils, lentils

a.k.a. "a mess of pottage". did you know anyone named Esau?

Given that a household has other needs besides food - rent, clothing, etc - I don't think it's in the least unreasonable to assume that foodstamps are the only resource available to spend on food.

Aren't you assuming, though, that if government assistance were to suddenly become unavaialble, these families would suddenly have $0 per week for food, and wouldn't even be able to afford their next meal? My guess is that they would find the money somehow.

I'm not at all trying to minimize the difficulties faced by people in poverty, or to suggest that they have extra cash just lying around. But if I'm a government bureaucrat trying to design a food stamp program from scratch, I assume I would look at the budget of a typical family in poverty and say: okay, these people have X per month to spend on rent, Y to spend on food, Z to spend on clothing, and so forth. And how much extra food money do we need to give them so that the kids have adequate nutrition, etc. And when the amount that was previously getting spent on food just kind of vanishes from the equation, leaving food stamps to be the sole source of food money for the family, we're not really addressing the way the system was designed to work in the first place.

I lived on about $20 a week in food for 2 years by purchasing peanut butter, jelly, milk, bread and bulk chili. That might be more problematic nowadays since the Milk Compact appears to have made milk prices rather high. I would sometimes buy tomatoes to put in the chili.

OCSteve: Jes: Fair enough, and maybe that is how they got to that number.

Hah. I think you're just jealous of my superior arithmetical skills. ;-p

But it still isn’t that representative when a third of the households get $499 (family of 4). I would personally be quite comfortable feeding 4 on $499 per month.

Er: I think (having some experience in reading between the lines in welfare documents) you may be misunderstanding how they're doing it. They may only calculate food stamps up to the amount they figure is required to feed a family of four: but it's evident from the source you linked to that some of the families claiming food stamps are larger than four. "Households with children were relatively large,
averaging 3.3 members." So, if you have an above-average size family, you don't get more food stamps: you get the amount you need to feed a family of... four.

Still happy?

I think that going for the arithmetical average was the fairest test.

Steve: Aren't you assuming, though, that if government assistance were to suddenly become unavaialble, these families would suddenly have $0 per week for food, and wouldn't even be able to afford their next meal? My guess is that they would find the money somehow.

My guess is they would, too. Of course, you might end up supplying them by a less painless route than by your taxes. Or they might shoplift. That's a good traditional way of getting food for hungry families.

John and Yoko used to have their chauffer transport them via Rolls Royce to hunger strikes, leave an hour later, and then eat an entire plate of sashimi.

Which just goes to show if you give a man a gift fish, he'll look into its mouth and feel guilty about selling his songs to Dick James.

The other problem that most people have not discussed thus far is that the food that is available in most areas is not good food. Because grocery stores are difficult to find in poor communities, often families have the choice of shopping at a convenience store or trying to take several transfers on their bus route to get food from a grocery store.

This also leaves the problem that the inequality in health between the poor and the wealthy is, at least in part, due to the fact that we subsidize corn to an extraordinary level (thereby making corn syrup, corn oil, corn chips and all kinds of other corn products) much less expensive than nutritional fruits and vegetables. Regardless of whether one can feed oneself on $21/week or $31.25/week ($500/4 weeks/4 people), it is very difficult to eat a healthy diet on that amount.

Finally, it was nice to see Rep. Ryan acknowledge the structural inequalities that exist between poor neighborhoods and wealthy ones - it will be interesting to see if he proposes anything to alleviate that difference or just propose a higher allowance for food stamps. I could go on about this, but rathe than take up comment space here, I posted on my blog.

Or they might shoplift. That's a good traditional way of getting food for hungry families.
In English speaking countries an offense that could be punished by death (or deportation for life) not that long ago.
In states with a 3-strikes rule that could still sent you to jail for life today.
Given that some think of "starvation threat as ideal incentive" we might join the non-violent drug offenders in prison with starving food thieves, creating more profits in privatized prison building and running in the not so far future.

creating more profits in privatized prison building and running in the not so far future.

Well, they can more easily buy things in bulk, making it win-win...

I lived on about $20 a week in food for 2 years

Sincere questions: Were you healthy for those 2 years? Did you catch a lot of colds & bugs? Did you feel fatigued all the time? And were you, as I suspect, in your early 20's?

Could you do that now?

In Seattle, PB runs $2-3 per pound jar. Jelly's another, oh, say $1.50. Cheap bread is about $3 per loaf. Milk is $3 per half-gallon. There's half the week's budget right there.

No juice, no fresh fruit or vegetables, no eggs. No coffee or tea. No fish, chicken, or beef. No snacks.

If you have food allergies (esp. to peanuts), diabetes, or lactose intolerance, you're screwed. You have a medical condition that requires a change of diet, maybe more protein, iron, or vegetables? Too bad.

If you're working, you better brown bag every day - one lunch out will blow the budget for the whole week. You can't work late unexpectedly, unless your employer pays to bring food in. You can't eat out, ever, with coworkers or friends. You can't chip in at work for soda or pizza. (Pizza? You kind of remember what that tastes like...)

For a student, or a kid freshly out of school, this is do-able for a while. (I remember having to live on popcorn and spaghetti the last few days of the quarter, more than once. I invented flavored popcorn before flavored popcorn was cool.)

For an adult in the workplace, esp. one with kids, it's just not feasible for any length of time. You lose energy fast, you lose mental flexibility, your ability to deal with stress and solve problems goes downhill.

I lived on about $20 a week in food for 2 years

Seb,

In the spirit of sparticus' questions, I'd like to sincerely ask how long ago this happened and whether you had access to a car. Also, where you living in a city?

As you're no doubt aware, the wonders of inflation give $20 20 years ago significantly lower purchasing power than $20 today.

I would personally be quite comfortable feeding 4 on $499 per month. I feed 2 for around $300 a month now.

I'm sure you would. Just out of curiosity though:

Do you own a car or do you have to take public transportation?

Do you shop in the suburbs or in the inner city?

Do you shop at bulk retailers like Costco, BJs, Sams club, etc?

Do you have children? Do you a spouse who can watch the children while you're out going shopping?

I'm guessing that your answer to most of these questions will be yes. If that's so, I think we can all agree that your situation is quite different from your average welfare family's:

They pay more than you because inner city supermarkets charge more.

They have to take public transportation which is very time consuming and expensive.

If they're not married (and a lot of women who leave abusive relationships with their kids end up on welfare), they have to either pay for child care (very expensive) or find a way to bring the kids along (often, very difficult).


Again, if I thought your life was much like the average welfare family's life, then I might think your comparison was relevant.

But hey, I sure am glad we're not wasting money on poor women with kids. That frees up the cash for vitally useful things like the sea wolf submarine. Yeah! Now we can totally outclass the Soviet navy, AND, it is so very very useful against terrorists.

"Via Unfogged, I read that Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is taking the Food Stamp Challenge:"

A post I wrote about this, and some reaction, on May 16th.

"The average household using food stamps received $209 per month (PDF) or about $7 per day."

If you're an individual, while amounts vary somewhat according to state and local, when I was getting food stamp aid on and off in NYC in the early Nineties, I was getting $81/month.

That's about the same amount as the last time I had it in Colorado, except the last couple of times I had it in Colorado, they didn't have it for a waiting period of over 6-8 months. That's illegal, of course, but there's no remedy in law for it.

That's not an "average" experiece, though the delays in food stamps here in Colorado were; it was a state-wide problem.

Aside from personal testimony, here are some figures on food stamp benefits decay.

Crap. My comment was rejected, and when I tried reposting, it reverted to an earlier version.

My final version contained a link to this story [TEMPORARILY DELETED], with quotes:

Yvette Garcia trembled - more from worry than her grumbling stomach - as the clock ticked down the final minutes of her telemarketing shift Saturday.

She desperately needed the $10 bonus that came with logging a sale. It would mean she and her 22-year-old unemployed son wouldn't go hungry for a fifth night.

The 49-year-old Lakewood resident is one of 1,325 food- stamp recipients statewide whose benefits have been in limbo as county workers struggle to manage a re-approval backlog.

In some cases, such as Garcia's, recipients have been without food stamps for weeks. Federal guidelines say reapproval applications should be processed within 30 days.

County officials blame the delays on short staffing and increased caseloads or Colorado's difficult and complex computer benefits system - a $223 million investment that seems to get blamed for every shortcoming in the state's welfare system.

"We just don't have the staff to keep up with the work," said Lynnae Flora, project director in Jefferson County's Department of Human Services. "I've got great empathy for what the clients have to wade through."

[...]

Still, Garcia landed a sale with three minutes left in her Saturday shift, later "splurging" on a Subway sandwich with her bonus.

But four days later, she hadn't eaten since.

"Why have I been waiting so long?" she asked through tears.

In Jefferson County, where Garcia lives, some food-stamp clients have waited since February for their benefits to be recertified.

The county's human services department has 30 people to handle an average of 5,883 food- stamp cases a month, accounting for nearly $1.7 million in benefits. Just 16 of those employees work on recertifications, the bulk of the caseload, Flora said.

"With a 65 percent turnover rate and intense training necessary on a very complex system, you can see where the backlog can happen," she said.

This was much better than it's been the past three years.
[...] Statewide, the backlog is now much lower than the 29,000 cases that prompted a lawsuit after the new computer system was rolled out in 2004. Still, social service workers say the delays are a problem.

"There is nothing more basic than our clients' need for food," said Sue Cobb, spokeswoman for Denver's Department of Human Services.

"We're working hard to catch up," Cobb said.

Don Cassata, director of the Adams County Department of Social Services, agreed: "We take this very seriously, but we can't sustain it with (the funding) we have. People should not have to go hungry."

Arapahoe County's backlog is 568 cases - half of them from January.

The agency has just 20 employees to handle more than 9,300 food-stamp cases each month.

"Part of it is our small staff," spokeswoman Nichole Parmelly said of the delays. "And then there's the training and retraining."

That was me; for some reason, it kept telling me that "http://amygdalagf.blogspot.com invalid," even after I removed it, and all other links, from my comment.

The quotes were from here.

"Beyond that the entire premise is incorrect as the program is meant to supplement the food purchasing budget – there was never any expectation that a family would subsist solely on food stamps."

Cite? In any case, to qualify for food stamps, you have to meet the requirements. To point to the same link you gave, the very next paragraph is:

Food stamp households possessed few
resources. The average food stamp household possessed only about $137 in countable resources (including the non-excluded portion of vehicles and the entire value of checking and savings accounts and other savings). Over two-thirds (70 percent) had no countable resources.
Requirements:
In order to qualify for this benefit program, you must fall into one of two groups: (1) those with a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $2,001 who are responsible for a person or persons age 60 and under or (2) those with a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $3,001 who are responsible for a person or persons age 61 and over. Those in group (1) and group (2) qualifiers must also have an annual household income of less than $11,677 if one person lives in the household; $15,757 if two people live in the household; $19,849 if three people live in the household; $23,929 if four people live in the household; $28,009 if five people live in the household; $32,089 if six people live in the household; $36,169 if seven people live in the household; or $40,249 if more than seven people live in the household.
So, a single person has to have less than $2k in assets -- that includes, car, bank account, tv, everything -- and under $11,677/year income, out of which one has to pay rent and all other expenses. (You also have to meet workfare requirements.)

Colorado offers $0 general aid to single males who aren't disabled. Where's that other money for food supposed to come from if the applicant is unemployed, and not on employment?

Common Sense : I'm sure you would. Just out of curiosity though...

In my current situation car and good pubic transportation yes, 2 supermarkets within walking distance, no kids, no bulk retailers.

My confidence however has more to do with my mother having raised 4 children by herself, living in a very rural area (nearest supermarket 20+ miles). Her total income was based on what work she could get as a waitress in local restaurants and bars as well as public assistance of various kinds including food stamps and the School Lunch Program. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was a staple (IIRC, 20 cents a box at the time) as was anything else you could dream up with (WIC) cheese. Plenty of times dinner consisted of milk and sugar on bread or pancakes, but she came up with meat once or twice a week. In general we never went to bed hungry and none of us grew up with any nutrition related problems. So I am not totally unqualified to discuss the topic.

But hey, I sure am glad we're not wasting money on poor women with kids.

If this is truly a serious problem then I submit he should be crafting legislation to fix it rather than performing this political theatre. Democrats have the majority – don’t waste it as Republicans did. And you’ll get more Republicans voting with you to improve the lot of “poor women with kids” than you will for minimum wage increases and the like.

Gary: Cite?
Most anywhere on the main site I linked. Descriptions of the program include qualifiers such as “help”, “support”, “obtain a more nutritious diet”, etc. There is nothing I can see that indicates that the program’s intent is to fully provide all sustenance. In my personal experience it allowed us to buy meat and produce more often then we would have otherwise: we got to have Mac and Cheese with hot dogs cut up in it rather than plain. But between food stamps and free school lunches (and some years free breakfast at school) more than half of our food budget was taken care of, and that allowed us to eat not just more and not miss any meals, it allowed us to eat better, which is what I always understood the purpose of the program to be. For my family it was a successful program. Now that doesn’t mean that it has kept pace with inflation in the many years since - that I can’t tell you. But again if it needs to be adjusted then go for it. Ryan’s drama of pretending that the program is intended to provide full sustenance for $3/day is just not helpful IMO.

Common Sense said at 11:27 on 21 May 07
I lived on about $20 a week in food for 2 years

Seb,

"In the spirit of sparticus' questions, I'd like to sincerely ask how long ago this happened and whether you had access to a car. Also, where you living in a city?

As you're no doubt aware, the wonders of inflation give $20 20 years ago significantly lower purchasing power than $20 today."


Err, I think you mean inflation, but you are describing deflation, where the value of money increases over time. Inflation means that money is worth less. Due to inflation, $20 could purchase a lot more 20 years ago than it can today. For example, 20 years ago I could buy dinner for four with $20 at Friendly's, where I would be hard pressed to manage dinner for two today.

If you cut a Cheeto in half in February, you can eat one half for lunch and bury the other half in a pot on your windowsill and hope for the spring rains.

Jefferson County, Colorado? Two words: Tom Tancredo.

Two more words: Douglas Bruce, if you'll pardon the expression.

Colorado is a state in which Republican legislatures and a governor cut Department of Moter Vehicles funding, closing offices, and slashing personnel just to keep the population completely satisfied at the most visible point-of-sale that government sucks.

On preview:

OCSteve: Nobody loves you when you're down and out, except for your mother. If we could clone your mother and my mother, we'd be most of the way to solving society's mothering shortage. Of course, in my mother's case ;), we'd be kept busy and out of trouble by trying to answer the question: "What's that noise?"


OCSteve: And you’ll get more Republicans voting with you to improve the lot of “poor women with kids” than you will for minimum wage increases and the like.

Hm. Actually, IME (and I am absolutely prepared to believe that there are exceptions, and am sure you're one) Republicans tend to be virulently against the idea of helping poor women with kids. With minimum wage increases, with state help such as your mom got, with day care, with health care, with basically any kind of effective, state or federal help. In fact, IME, Republicans tend to be fundamentally against the idea of helping poor people, to be honest.

Ryan’s drama of pretending that the program is intended to provide full sustenance for $3/day is just not helpful IMO

You've written about your experience of the food stamps program 20? years ago, as a child who wasn't actually dealing with it directly. The resource you yourself linked to suggests that $3 a day for sustenance is all the program is currently intended to provide - and obviously that isn't full sustenance, but if (as the resource suggests) you won't get it at all unless you have pretty much nothing else, then there are people in the US right now who are doing their best to do what Congressman Ryan is doing - make $3 a day provide a day's sustenance for an adult. I can see why this isn't helpful if the goal is to pretend that Americans aren't going to bed hungry and suffering nutrition problems, but I can't see why it isn't helpful in providing a very direct outline of what the situation is for millions of Americans.

Jes: Republicans tend to be virulently against the idea of helping poor women with kids.

I think it would be tough to get most to agree with that in the abstract. It’s fair to say that Republicans tend to believe that this sort of thing is better handled by the private sector (local churches and charities) but “virulently against the idea of helping poor women with kids” takes it a bit far IMO.

Minimum wage and welfare programs give Republican’s too many legitimate arguments in opposition. If the Food Stamp Program is truly inadequate, then fix it up – in its own bill with no riders or pork or any other amendments that Republican’s can object to. Make them vote yea or nay on just that issue, or be the ones to add objectionable amendments. I seriously doubt you would see many nays, and there would be no camouflage for those few.

20? years ago, as a child who wasn't actually dealing with it directly

More like 30 but I’ll take that as a compliment ;)

Actually as the oldest I dealt with it very directly. I was the day care, and handled the bulk of the shopping as well as meal prep for years. I am well aware of what it takes to stretch the month’s worth of food stamps, to clip the coupons, and to comparison shop with the best of them.

To be clear: I think that this program is (or at least was) effective and a good thing. If it is broke I’d like to see it fixed. I don’t think that Ryan’s method is going to accomplish that.

OCSteve, this is Ryan's entry yesterday on his blog. It hits to your point about being a supplement, but also why taht doesn't really matter:

"I'm coming away from this experience with some hard lessons learned and a newfound understanding of this issue. First and foremost is that it is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to make due on this amount of money. I know many people have written in saying that Food Stamps are meant to be a supplement to other income. Well, yeah that is how the program was intended, but it has been 11 years since we've added ANY value to food stamps, 10 years since we've raised the minimum wage and in that time inflation has risen, the price of milk has risen, the price of produce has risen. NOW we find ourselves in a position where with gas well over $3.00 a gallon in many places those who earn the least among us use their food stamp benefit not as a supplement, but as their sole source of income for food."

"There is nothing I can see that indicates that the program’s intent is to fully provide all sustenance."

I really shouldn't have encouraged discussion of the "intent" of the program, because what I'm concerned about is the reality that as long as I've been familiar with it, it's the reality that lots of people on the program indeed are more or less fully dependent upon it, and that the amounts given are extremely low.

Similarly, at one time, for instance, I was briefly receiving general welfare in NYC, in the early Nineties (for the benefit of foreigners, I'll mention again that these programs are set state by state in terms of what benefits are and aren't available; in Colorado, there is no general aid for a single male who isn't disabled); along with that aforemention $81/month for food, I also received $129/every two weeks to meet all other needs, including rent.

There aren't a lot of rentals in NYC for $258, even assuming one had no other expenses at all.

But, of course, neither you nor I should generalize far from personal anecdote; the systems encompass a considerable variety of experiences, after all.

"It’s fair to say that Republicans tend to believe that this sort of thing is better handled by the private sector (local churches and charities) but 'virulently against the idea of helping poor women with kids' takes it a bit far IMO."

How about “virulently against the idea of government directly helping poor women, with kids”?

"If it is broke I’d like to see it fixed. I don’t think that Ryan’s method is going to accomplish that."

We're talking about it, aren't we? (Even if Hilzoy hasn't read my blog in a week, sniffle, sniffle, whimper, oh, the pain, the pain.)

john: Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll read the rest his posts before commenting further. As I said I have no idea how it may have fallen behind inflation since my bad old days, and I’m in favor of fixing it if it is that broken.

It’s fair to say that Republicans tend to believe that this sort of thing is better handled by the private sector (local churches and charities) but “virulently against the idea of helping poor women with kids” takes it a bit far IMO.

Will a thing, will its obvious consequences. Modern Republicans seem wilfully blind in general to the fact that most laws, and especially welfare laws, were passed to solve some problem, and not because some nitwit in a suit felt it would be fun to pass a bill. Specifically, welfare laws were enacted because too many people starved to death waiting for nice Republican families to donate enough to private charities to keep them alive. So, trying to dismantle welfare in favor of private charities IS trying to starve poor families to death, no matter how much denial the proponent may be in.

(Not to mention that private charities are not necessarily in the same place as all the poor people. And that the poor have to be able to FIND the right charity. And that some of the charity programs tack rather arbitrary conditions onto their gifts (e.g., you go find a church group that will help a poor woman get birth control)).

I tend to think that it's not at all that, as Jes says, Republicans aren't in favor of helping the poor. Some Republicans are heartless people who would have failed the casting call for the Grinch because they were insufficiently sympathetic, I'm sure, just as I'm sure that some Democrats are fit their caricatures of us. But I think it's more a combination of things: an ideology that provides an account of why things that might seem to help, like food support, actually don't, that's plausible enough to make people who don't go too far into it feel OK; the idea that responsibility is zero-sum, and thus that if people themselves have some responsibility for figuring out how to feed themselves, then it's wrong to think that the government owes them anything; GOP think tanks who are very heavily invested in publicizing stories of welfare programs gone wrong, people who cheat the welfare system, etc. etc. etc.; the idea that charity is a potential replacement for government assistance (I think it's not, since there's no way to set it up so that it would get everyone, or even most of the people, who need(s) help); and so forth.

But there's also a sort of time lag factor involved: one's views get set in one era, and then it takes a while to notice that things have changed. When the view in question is "we should do X", where X is not something you do once and for all, this leads to X being done over and over and over, even after the need for X has vanished.

Consider cutting taxes, for example: I suspect that a lot of people got the view that taxes are too high (where this means not 'I hate paying taxes, any taxes', which I suspect is universal, but 'given that I have, alas, to pay some, this rate is excessive compared to what I need to be paying') got set when the tax burden was higher than it is now. We've been cutting taxes for a while now, and it will take a while for people to realize that now it's time to raise them again, especially given the very large costs of doing right by the Iraq vets.

Likewise, 'crime sentences are too short'. We will be drowning in prisoners before we figure out that raising sentences over and over and over again is not obviously the best strategy.

Likewise, 'poor people are coddled'. Probably never true, but a whole lot more plausible in the late 70s than now. But if you're looking to curry favor with voters by promising to cut their taxes again, you have to find the money somewhere -- well, OK, Bush doesn't, but state governments do -- and making the case for cutting benefits to the poor yet again can seem like a winner, if you're a politician, especially since the poor are disproportionately unlikely to vote.

Correction: it certainly (not probably) never was true that poor people were coddled. One could make an argument (with which I'd disagree) that benefits overall were generous in, oh, the 70s, and I think it's certainly true that there were people who abused the system. I would vehemently disagree with, oh, Reagan's way of dealing with this -- I favor differently structured programs, not a chainsaw, myself -- but at any rate there was a point then. That was what I meant to say.

OK – if nothing else I’ll applaud the Congressman for blogging about the experience. I see that many others point out the supplementary nature of the program.

Reading through the comments (which can’t be linked directly anyway so I’ll summarize):

Commenters almost uniformly support him doing this and applaud him all around – but many if not most then take him to task for his abysmal shopping skills and seeming lack of knowledge on how to get the most nutrition for his money. Several commenters offer specific plans for the week that are nutritious, well balanced, and plenty to eat. (All for his $21 allowance.) Many contend that he could eat just fine on his $21 if he knew what he was doing. And these are people who support what he is doing.

Several people voice the opinion that a lack of education on the topic and our schools are equally at fault (which I could have written).

One issue that I think was hit on here: the poverty rate which has not been adjusted in years.

To the Congressman’s credit, he acknowledges that he made bad choices and didn’t have a clue what he was doing. He also acknowledges the supplemental nature of the plan while making the valid point that it has not increased in 10 years. I’ll also take his point (made here) that people are now more dependent on FS due to increases in other critical areas.

I give him a lot of credit for this:

Finally, we need to emphasize personal responsibility. I want to give people the tools they need to make educated choices (unlike my choices) at the supermarket and I plan on asking for a pilot program to educate food stamp recipients on the sorts of foods they need to buy in order to create balanced meals. Food stamp recipients have just as much responsibility to make good choices for their children and families as the government has providing them the ability to afford basic foods.

I could have written that myself (except maybe the part about government having a responsibility to provide people the ability to afford basic foods).

I still find it more theatrics than useful exercise, but I’ll give him more credit than I initially did and if he sticks to his guns about the personal responsibility aspect I’ll even support him.

OCSteve: it is theatrics, but it's theatrics designed to get people to think about the details of living on food stamps. Which means: it's theatrics in a good cause, and moreover it's successful (at least, it has been on this blog.)

I dislike theatrics when they substitute for actual attempts to do something, and when they're dishonest. But theatrics as a means of getting people to think, when it's not, oh, disruptive or obnoxious or something, is fine, I think. Just so it's a supplement to legislating, not a replacement for it.

Re: theatrics. He is not the first politician to do this. The governor of Oregon also did it and encouraged legislators both national and state to do the same. The intent is to take people who generally are very removed from reality to have a taste of it themselves. So I don't think it is all that theatrical. And I also applaud him for his ability to respond to people in a positive way and for his statement about personal responsibility. A lot of Democrats could also have written those sentences.

I don't think "theatrics" is even the right word. Yes, he's publicizing it, but if he weren't, it would still be worth doing. Here in DC, IIRC, the new manager of the Metro claimed he spent his first few weeks on the job traveling back and forth in the system and trying all the escalators and exits personally. Bill Bratton, I think, walked a beat as incoming Police Commissioner. Abraham Lincoln toured the front lines, and John McCain visited the Green Zone. A government official should personally test-drive programs he's responsible for. And he should report on the results. So, why "theatrics"?

"Reading through the comments (which can’t be linked directly anyway so I’ll summarize)...."

Ah, wait, you were referring to comments on the Congressman's blog; apologies.

Hil, john, tril: You guys gotta learn to quit while you’re ahead ;)

Me:
…if nothing else I’ll applaud the Congressman for blogging about the experience…

To the Congressman’s credit…

I’ll also take his point…

I give him a lot of credit for this…

…but I’ll give him more credit than I initially did and if he sticks to his guns about the personal responsibility aspect I’ll even support him.

Ding ding ding. Round over – go to your respective corners ;)

OCSteve: I think it would be tough to get most to agree with that in the abstract.

Of course.

It’s fair to say that Republicans tend to believe that this sort of thing is better handled by the private sector (local churches and charities) but “virulently against the idea of helping poor women with kids” takes it a bit far IMO.

Nope. Republicans who believe that local churches and charities ought to handle the "problem" of women with kids not having enough to eat, or access to health care, or a safe place to stay, are supporting a system that can't help every woman with kids - doesn't, won't, can't. Those Republicans who virulently oppose the idea that there should be tax-funded support for all women with kids who will otherwise not have enough to eat, or access to health care, or a safe place to stay, are in fact virulently opposing helping poor women with kids. They may not like to think of it like that: but at some point, wilful ignorance of the plain fact that tax-funded state support can provide a better standard of living for everyone, while private charities funded by voluntary donation can help only a few, becomes bad faith. It's like the Republicans who argue that national health care just won't work, and come up with a mass of theoretical reasons why it can't, ignoring the fact that in every other developed country (and quite a few countries that otherwise qualify as undeveloped) it does, in fact, work... while in the US, thousands of people die each year because the private-profit system doesn't work.

Italics begone!

Bugger. I need more coffee.

The other day I saw a dusky-looking large female leave Costco carrying 12 kids,

Huh. I didn't know you could buy those at Costco. Cheaper by the dozen?

I am married. My husband is certified as a teacher and works as a substitute teacher until a fulltime position can be obtained. We have six children but if it makes some of you feel better I have only been pregnant 4 times. (One set of twins & an adoption of my late sister's daughter.) Four years ago My husband was working fultime so was I and we were both going to college. Then my sister passed away (car accident), then my father (heart attack), then my mother (cancer). Our entire support system for being successful died with them.
We are on foodstamps, for now. My husband just graduated college & has yet to receive his first full time paycheck. We have one car; it seats four. We live 15 miles outside of town. Our car is a '90 Bonniville & doesn't even get 10 miles to the gallon. There is no public transportation here at all. We plan grocery trips once a month for bulk and staple purchases and bi-weekly for perishables like milk, eggs, fresh veggies. I do splurge at the beginning of the month when we get our allotment. That splurge is usually fresh fruit, like grapes or oranges. If its oranges I get a bag of 5 and I wedge them so we all get some. We make that movie night (our local library lets you check out movies) If its a month with a birthday in it, we eat more meals like Oriental flavored Ramen noodles with ground beef mixed in & canned green beans on the side to afford cake mix, eggs for the cake mix, frosting in the can.

To the "Gentlman" who suggested that people on foodstamps would find the money somewhere if they were hungry enough... I have taken cans to the recycler, for diaper money and gas to my neighbor for the use of his truck to recycle those cans. My husband just last weekend helped prune another neighbor's peachtrees and got $20 total for 8 hours of hand blistering work. That money went into our gas tank so he could get to work today. If finding money was easy everybody would be doing it. That opinion is neither well thought out nor practical.

Our situation is getting better. We will not remain on public assistance. We plan every penny's placement. This is not a joking matter. I can't afford to involve my children in football and cheerleading and scouts anymore because we have to save the gas money for going to work, even though those are programs that wave fees for participation to poor families.

To the person who wrote: I want to give people the tools they need to make educated choices (unlike my choices) at the supermarket and I plan on asking for a pilot program to educate food stamp recipients on the sorts of foods they need to buy in order to create balanced meals.

Whatever happened to Home Economics in middle and highschool? Isn't that where the Govn'mt spoonfeedings are supposed to happen? Oh wait first you want to dumb us down then gripe because we don't have any financial education or knowledge of how to run a household efficiantly.

And to any of you who feels like there are alternatives to being on foodstamps; go to a food kitchen that requires you to donate time in the kitchen. That way you can see and maybe even get participate in the pairing of rotten fruit that was donated so that they can bake a mixed fruit cobbler for breakfast full of sugar and starch, then tell people to eat healthier.

Or just offer to pick up a load a bread from a bakery to be delivered to a food kitchen and notice how much of its moldy. they don't give out moldy bread they repackage it or make sandwiches out of the good slices. this is not a third world country this was in America, you know the richest country in the world.

I have to go make dinner now. Were having spaghetti noodles, sauce from a can, a pound of ground beef, I have canned biscuts I'll dip in garlic salt before baking. Everythings generic or from a sale. It shouldn't take long there's not much of it.

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