Six Million Americans With No Income But Food Stamps

I somehow missed this Times article in January that documents the rising number of Americans living on nothing but Food Stamps. If you missed it too, you have to read it.

This is the American equivalent of living on $2 per day.


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I can't get enough food stamps to cover my food expenses because I make too much on unemployment. I can't make enough on unemployment to keep paying all my bills forever. I'm ahead now, but it's slipping. And my odds of getting a job that will pay more than the unemployment wage any time soon seem very goddamn slim.
I caucused for Kucinich in 2004 and Obama in 2008. I'm back to NeverGonnaWinIdealist Kucinich in 2012, methinks, assuming they even bother with the formality of holding primaries. Centrism and corporate handouts were not the solution when Obama took office and continue to not be the solution. Fuck that shit!
I hope all the fuckos with all the money really do manage to buy their way out of the ecological extinction the rest of us face (as is clearly their hope), so they have no choice but to labor for themselves. Wash your own dishes, Rockefeller. Kiss my dead ass.

By CS Shelton (not verified) on 05 Feb 2010 #permalink

Geez, Sharon, I'm wounded! I covered this, and had some great commentary, over on the Little Blog... snif snif. I still owe everybody there a followup...

I saw that NYT article and marveled that there weren't more suicides, robberies and riots in the US. It's just not HUMANE to let so many people live as nobodies, looked down upon or ignored, with no purpose other than finding the next dollar to pay for basics like shelter and power. Politicians should wake up to the fact that more and more people are barely surviving and that even middle class salaries do not provide a calm existence. Yet we still hear about corporate shitheads who award themselves millions of dollars in bonuses! In Australia we do have a halfway decent unemployment benefit system but I'm finding that being a dependent of a middle-income earner, having high medication expenses, no job, a large mortgage on a very small house, an ancient, smoking car and a huge frustration at being unable to find meaningful employment is just a travesty of how life was 20 years ago. Will politicians wake up and see that living standards have fallen horribly for the majority? I really can see in a few years time that we could have huge protests and civil disruption because the dissatisfied will become the numerical majority. This is in what everyone chooses to see as prosperous Western nations, but I really do mean in the UK, France, the USA and Australia for starters- and who knows who would will follow?

Being on SSI in California I'm not eligible for food stamps. However, California supplements the Federal payment, so I get another $200 a month to pay for food.

For those who can get food stamps I think the actual stipend is more like 4 dollars a day. Which is still not all that much, since food is a tad pricey these days.

Where poverty is concerned, there are a number of causes. One is the lack of opportunity. A lack caused often by poor education. But then you have those people who are simple not all that diligent in improving their lot. Our social services industry is aimed at, and designed for, maintaining dependency. Dedicated to keeping the poor downtrodden in order to justify the agencies' continued existence.

Just yesterday, on 1580 Big Talker out of Washington DC (iTunes radio) I heard a rep from a social services agency say that the original welfare reform measure did more to get people out of poverty than anything done before or since. But then we went back to punishing people for being poor, instead of helping them stop being poor.

Why we have the poor depends on the individual in question. Some want to be poor, some don't know how to get out of poverty, others are discouraged from trying. We really want to help those in poverty we need first to be honest about our motivations, and honest about what we intend to do. Educational reform, as well as legal and tax reform would help a whole bunch.

That's my thinking on the subject.

"Some want to be poor, some don't know how to get out of poverty, others are discouraged from trying."

And some people are poor because the federal and state governments have not devised programs to sustain and promote their existence at the expense of others. Seriously, the nerve of people bitching about welfare and section-8 while gobbling down, like meth ingesting pigs, tax credits for their home mortgage interest, their children, and other subsidies is appalling.

I don't know about the "justify the agency's continuing existence" angle. The way these things are run varies from minute to minute with the political appointees in charge of them. For example, one post-election they try to be helpful and not turn people away, the next they use horrible restrictions (five forms of ID and samples of blood and urine!) to disenfranchise as many as possible and save a few bucks.
Are these agencies encouraging dependency? I find that extremely hard to believe, given the shit they put people through. It sounds like a Libertarian talking point, frankly.
Some poor people are NEVER getting out of that situation, and will always be dependent on some sort of services, as long as we aren't engaging in some serious and unreserved social engineering, on a scale not possible in a conservative country like the US. I know because I live with them.
Hell even if you cure generational alcoholism / drug addiction, abuse cycles, and the deep-rooted cultural despair that inspires violence, apathy and poverty, you'll still have people too poor for health reasons. Because anything else would be Communism, don't you know?
I'm probably gonna shake out to lower middle class in five to ten years, but my neighbors sure as hell aren't, regardless of how the programs are structured.

By CS Shelton (not verified) on 06 Feb 2010 #permalink

good luck on getting food stamps in Texas. It is said to be better now, but waits up to six months have been common.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 06 Feb 2010 #permalink


History Punk,

From my experience as a client in the social services I find this to be oh so distressingly true; you can't help people who don't want to be helped. No matter what your motivations are, the other person must want to get out of his current situation, and be able to get out of his current situation with help. If the answer to either question is "no", then you are going to fail.


CS Shelton,

In the long run the effect has been to encourage dependency. Once there was a focus on getting the poor the skills they needed to get off public assistance, and it worked. We seem to have swung away from that to a more, "they're hopeless, why should we bother?" mode. The former may have cost more in the short run, but it got people off of welfare and into the workforce.

Here's something for people to consider...

By providing cash instead of food stamps to SSI recipients the State of California is saving money on administrative costs, even though the cash stipend is more than what the food stamp allotment would be. This being so even when an EBT program is used instead of actual coupons.

Which raises a possibility; what if California were to supplement SSI with funds to be dedicated to basic medical care. You know, doctor visits, prescription medication, that sort of thing. Medicaid outlays to be reserved to catastrophic care. (Does your doctor have a discount for cash?)

Who has a doctor anyhow?
But seriously, how many people that got fucked by this crash are lacking in job skills? I am not. I have a Bachelor's Degree and have worked in a few different industries over the last 15 years. Here's another laugh: If I get a job, get off this UI money and then get jettisoned from that job in another economic bump (like every other week these days), my UI money goes down to less than the median rent in this state. I become homeless unless I move to a rusted-out trailer on someone's "back 40." Of course, even with extensions my UI money is running out eventually and the employment rate shows no REAL signs of budging.

By CS Shelton (not verified) on 06 Feb 2010 #permalink

I'm a substance abuse counselor in a tiny, remote northeastern Nevada town. The vast majority of my clients are on at least two forms of government assistance: subsidized housing and food stamps. Many are on Medicaid as well. I would say at least 90 percent of my clients are generational addicts and generational welfare recipients.

One thing that I have noticed is that my clients will go to great lengths to ensure that they don't lose their benefits. They will turn down raises, avoid applying for higher paying jobs, and flat out lie (especially to the housing manager about their income to keep their rents down.) Couples who have children together refuse to marry so that the mother can get a bigger tax return and can continue to get food stamps.

What has really surprised me though, was that this isn't a case of people who just don't know another way and who would embrace a 'better' lifestyle if they were offered it. These are people who have poverty and welfare so ingrained into them that talk about getting off of welfare some day is met with blank, uncomprehending stares.

Getting what they can get, and then bending over backwards to make sure they hold on to it, is as normal to them (and something to take pride in) as the opposite is to me. They take pride in it, to the point where they are surprised when I don't celebrate with them when they figure out how to keep their food stamps, even though they have to work in my program.

Breaking that mindset is as difficult as it would be for me to get to a place where I could take pride in arranging my life so that I only paid $50 rent in a government subsidized apartment. Judging and admonishing them doesn't help, anymore than it would make anyone change any behavior.

I know that not all welfare recipients are like this. But I just thought I'd add what I'd learned about my clients to the conversation.

I work full time, but I have a family of six. My income is below the requirements for food stamps; in fact I know others who make more money and get subsidies. But I can't because I own two houses. It makes no difference that the other house generates no income and has been for sale for a year with no prospective buyers. If I could sell it, the money would be gone in a flash to pay off debts.

I don't run out of groceries at the end of the month, but I do go further in debt each month paying for them.

It's pretty obvious to me the issue isn't the recipients. But then, I lived in the projects more than once growing up, so maybe I have a different perspective from you "teach 'em to fish" cats.
The USA has an endemic culture of "getting one over," to which your class is NO DAMN EXCEPTION. I've seen upper middle class people fuck others over HARD to save an extra thousand here, and extra thousand there. You got an unlicensed contractor working for you? Stiff 'em. Not like they can sue, right? That kind of shit.
And given how precarious life is for the very poor, and how much worse it is for the poor without benefits, how can you fault them for holding onto that for dear life? Minimum wage is NOT A LIVING WAGE in my state. You can't afford rent, you can't afford shit. I find it very easy to be prejudiced against druggy, thuggy, mostly black ghetto kids. I am, after all, white. But I understand the utter lack of hope that pushes them into that behavior.

By CS Shelton (not verified) on 07 Feb 2010 #permalink

One problem with getting people off welfare/subsidies/etc., is that there is such a huge gap between what they can earn which makes them ineligible and what they would have to earn to replace the lost services.

Pulling a figure somewhat out of thin air, I'd say the gap is $15,000 - $20,000 yr for a family of four. Job training and both parents working for more than minimum wage can't make up the difference.

Why the programs are set up in such a way, I can't begin to fathom, but it does seem to encourage generational poverty.

In China, when the factories closed, a lot of people traveled back to the farms.

And rural working class folks often borrow from neighbors, local church outreaches and extended families to keep going. The LDS have a good outreach program for their people that combines work and help, for example.

Extended families help a lot, but the emphasis on "do your own thing" and divorce, and relying in the government, have weakened family ties in the US.

"And rural working class folks often borrow from neighbors, local church outreaches and extended families to keep going. The LDS have a good outreach program for their people that combines work and help, for example.

Extended families help a lot, but the emphasis on "do your own thing" and divorce, and relying in the government, have weakened family ties in the US."

Of course, none of this worked during the Great Depression which is why the government started to become involved. See Lizabeth Cohen's Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990

I agree that there are too many that do not belong on welfare. Instead of the gov. helping people to go back to work they just keep handing out the checks and food stamps and all the other freebies there are. I was laid off almost 6 months ago,was not there long enough to collect unemployment because i was part time and not there long enough. Instead of asking for help, I got rid of cable, also got rid of my house phone, Put the heat down to 60 degrees, Instead of shopping at the big grocery store I started shopping at the stores that had good sales, dollar tree and other places where I can buy food cheap. I have been cleaning houses when I can and painting wherever anyone needed it. I do not refuse anything. I am not educated but very smart. I would like to know one thing about welfare, how much is enough. There are rising debts in this country and if we cannot get issues like this under control there is no doubt this country will go bankrupt, so to speak.That is my opinion.