Who Uses Food Stamps? It Could Be Your Family Someday

Today, just in time for the upcoming holidays, millions of parents are going to find themselves having to find a way to feed their kids on less than the little they already had. You’ve probably read the news yourself: Substantial cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, go into effect today.

Whatever impression you may have of food stamps and those who use them, think about this statistic: One in seven Americans currently uses food stamps. Most of those affected are seniors, people with disabilities—and families with children. As Parents reported in our story “The Hunger Crisis,” one in four American kids live in households that are “food insecure,” meaning on any given day, there’s uncertainty that there will be enough food to go around.

Critics of food stamps are quick to point out that they can be used to buy “fancy” food items. Take this quote that went viral on Facebook:

Food stamps cover lobster, filet mignon, ribeye, caviar, and other luxury foods for free….

Meanwhile, the middle class is suffering.

“Share” this if you think that is wrong.

Here’s a reality check: The average SNAP recipient gets $4.50 in benefits per day. I don’t know about where you live, but $4.50 a day doesn’t buy a lot of caviar near me. And if I’m working with a $4.50 budget per child, chances are I’m not buying “luxury foods,” or lattes at Starbucks. The truth is millions of families are already making very difficult compromises to barely get by, even before today’s cuts, or we wouldn’t be reading headlines like this one: “Parents Who Can’t Afford Diapers Are Reusing Dirty Ones.” (If you were wondering, food stamps don’t cover those.)

Who uses food stamps? My family did. When I was a child, my schoolteacher father got sick, lost his job, and our family’s financial situation quickly nosedived. So for awhile, my mother pulled food stamps out of her wallet at the supermarket checkout line, a necessary and helpful solution, one that nonetheless brought her great shame. The few times I’ve mentioned my childhood experience with food stamps, I’ve always learned about someone else I personally know who also relied on food stamps at one time or another. The friend getting through the financial fallout from her divorce. The professional couple who unexpectedly found themselves out of work for months. Food stamps are a part of more lives than many might think. (And I like to believe that many who hit the “share” button on posts like the viral message above don’t have all the facts, rather than that they’re completely lacking compassion. After all, someone on their own friends list has probably used food stamps, too.) Statistics show that roughly half of all U.S. children go on food stamps sometime during their childhood, and half of all adults are on them sometime between the ages of 18 and 65.

Food stamps are a good program. They’ve helped keep millions of Americans from hunger. So before focusing on abuses of the system, let’s keep in mind the people who will be fighting even harder to eat, and commend those—anyone—who does something to make a difference, rather than criticize people who are already feeling shaky and vulnerable. Last year, I attended a holiday party where in lieu of gifts, every guest brought a donation to the local food pantry, for instance.

Such gestures may make only a minor dent in struggling people’s lives. But a little kindness, at least, seems like a good place to start.

 

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