Frugal Living 

Your Take: Could You Live Off Food Stamps?

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Sean Callebs will try and he’s documenting the whole experience on CNN. This is a little more realistic than the $1 a day meal experiment, which was more about publicity than reality. What I find most interesting about Callebs’ reports is the insight it gives him and his readers. “… it stinks being hungry when you go to sleep.” (Feb 13th) How many people go to sleep hungry? I probably have only a handful of times in my life and it was mostly because of scheduling, not because I couldn’t afford it. I think that unless you have lived it, you can’t faithfully criticize.

Much like when I talked about living on minimum wage, it’s difficult to understand the lifestyle until you try to live it. For some, the thought of food stamps invokes the image of someone on welfare spending it on cigarettes and alcohol. For others, it’s seeing a bright light when you’re lost in the woods at midnight. Regardless of how you feel about food stamps, the majority of people who get food stamps need them. They’re not living the good life financially, sipping a Mai-tai on the beach; they’re struggling.

I find myself struggling with the idea of handouts because I believe, especially in America, you can, through hard work and determination, succeed regardless of where you start. Food stamps and welfare, while necessary, will give some a reason not to work as hard and I recognize that; but I think you have to accept those who will take advantage of the system if you want to help those who just need a little bit extra to get them over the hump.

What are your thoughts on food stamps and other welfare programs?

(Photo: pengrin)

{ 91 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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91 Responses to “Your Take: Could You Live Off Food Stamps?”

  1. Daniel says:

    We’ve had to use food stamps before, and for about a year that was the only thing that kept us afloat. We had no health insurance and no place to live. We had to move in with my wife’s parents for a while. In a society as wealth as ours (even during a recession) we do surprisingly little to help our own poor.

  2. Food stamps have never been a part of my diet plan. I hope they never will be either.

    I have however observed many people who are on food stamps, having lived and worked in areas where they were more widely used.

    Though I hate to say it, especially after Daniel’s comment, I see food stamps abused more often then used as needed.

    In Wal-Mart, I’ve watched a couple try and buy a bunch of name-brand cereals with foodstamps. When the cashier said they couldn’t, they pulled out a wad of $100 bills and just paid cash. This isn’t an isolated incident, I saw something like this dozens of times. I’ve even seen someone try to buy beer with food stamps.

    This isn’t saying this is all they are used for, but the abuse leaves me bitter.

    • Rap Music says:

      Of course there will be abuse with any kind of social welfare distribution… there’s no denying that. However, I think for the most part, food stamps serve a very important purpose for those that utilize them. You can’t really judge a program by one of its users. I mean, it sounds like that person was taking in income from illegitimate sources and not reporting the income due to legal circumstances, which does piss me off as well. However, you can’t use that to pass judgment on everyone that uses food stamps because there are those that really do need them.

    • Dawn says:

      Just because they pull out a wad of hundreds doesn’t mean they are abusing the program.
      Many who use food stamps also do not have bank accounts or checking accounts. They simply go to Wal-mart, get their paycheck cashed (minus the $3) and use the hundreds for their expenses.

    • Side-top says:

      It’s not only the poor that abuse these programs. I know a woman who cleans homes for a living, she told me that she sells her food stamps 50 cents on the dollar to the woman she works for that lives in a 2 millon dollar house. There was a case years ago of a Doctor who was caught in South Central L.A. His main office was in the burbs but he came to his office in the hood only once a month, when the people recieved their welfare vouchers to buy prescription meds from him cheap so they could sell it on the streets.

    • me says:

      If they qualified for it, which is a very hard thing to do, then they are entitled to the benefits plain and simple.

    • Momo says:

      Um…. FYI, you can indeed buy brand-name cereal on food stamps. I tend to buy store brand myself on most anything, but that isn’t the point here. The point is, either you’re confused as to what it was they were buying or you’re a complete lyer. Besides, with the right coupon, the name brand cereals can be CHEAPER. Plus, when I get paid I sometimes get $100 bills, although I usually tuck them away and reserve for my rent, and use smaller bills to buy non-food items… but once or twice I have used a large bill… Don’t be so quick to judge. I hate it when people give me dirty looks in the store. In fact, I have two jobs and even then it is hard to get by. I only get $96 in food stamps, but they are a great help for me as a single mom.

      • Momo says:

        Although this is way off topic, I was just thinking that the bigger issue here is wage. One of my jobs is as a CNA at a nursing home… and I only get paid about a dollar over min. wage (they pay me $8.50 an hour, and won’t give me more than 30 hours… but nowadays that is a lot of places cause they don’t wanna pay overtime or provide benefits). How about a world were we can all start making what we’re worth?! I’d take that over food stamps anyday!

        Also, if I make just $40 dollars more than I have been lately in December, I will then make too much money to qualify… but did you know that daycare costs over $100 a week? That’s all my 2nd job is paying for! For anyone out there who gives me dirty looks when they see my card at the store, I just want to scream at them “I’m sorry my husband’s dead! And I’m sorry my mother won’t watch my son!” People who are entitled could never truly understand.

    • Anonymous says:

      First of all, you can buy name brand food items with food stamps. So maybe you saw them using wic or something elese. They don’t tell you which items to buy as long is it is food items.

      • Anonymous says:

        thank u, have them ppl make 7.25 a hour with all the bills and daycare we need food stamps. or the price of food go back down!

    • Amber says:

      you can buy any cereal there is with foodstamps you can only buy food with them

  3. It’s a tough philosophical question. I believe that people will only help themselves if they are forced to – but I don’t think you can just let people starve, either. I guess I would say that food stamp availability is a positive thing. I do believe that people that aren’t disabled should be working if at all possible though. Just my two cents. Good post.

  4. John says:

    I think food stamps have that stigma like you pointed out in your article, but for most families they really need them. When you have no money and are struggling to survive, it is nice to know there is help out there.

  5. T says:

    I know people who’ve been on food stamps and certainly wouldn’t knock it, but I was surprised by the CNN article – mostly because the maximum food budget for one in New Orleans is more than our food budget for two in Michigan. Half again more. And we entertain a fair amount.

    Granted, we do a lot of shopping at Aldi and have simple tastes, but I was shocked when my husband pointed out to me the difference between their numbers and ours.

  6. Dedicated says:

    This post pulls me back into the past, when I was a single mom, with 3 kids- working and doing the best I could and I was denied food stamps. I couldn’t afford to keep a roof over our heads, pay for daycare and feed us too – it was a terrifying time for me as a mother who loves her children.

    I remember pleading with those folks only to have the gal say – ‘you need to quit your job and then we can help you – with housing, daycare, food stamps and healthcare.’ It was a sobering moment. One that still scares me. I am not one to live off the system and I still believe it would have been better had they just given me some help for a brief time.

    I have no faith in the system or how the dollars are being used on the end, because it is set up to make people dead-beats.

    • busylif says:

      I absolutely understand what you went through, my neighbor and friend was in that exact situation and denied as well. It breaks my heart to see her try like you and struggle only to see my husbands ex, not try, not struggle and be handed food stamps and medi-cal because she was a single mom and eligable even though we pay $800 a month for 1 child and medical insurance that she doesn’t use because she’s got medi-cal that pays for the copays etc…We were told that the insurance and the child support have no influence in their decision to give her the benefits.

      We have no faith in the system because people like you and our friend are the one’s who need “help” yet only the people who want to be “supported” are the one’s who actually get anywhere.

    • harmony says:

      I know exactly how you feel. My hours got cut where I work and I couldnt afford to pay our Rent, which was 350.00 I also am the mother of three small children. All the agencies I went to said I didnt make ENOUGH money to qualify for assistance. I had to earn at least 2 and a half times my rent amount. I was like, if I still MADE that much, I wouldnt even be here, I too was told that if I quit my job, I would qualify for cash benefits. I never quit my job and moved with a friend for now. I swear, they WANT you to give up and live off the system. Theres no help for anyone who actually tries.

  7. Cap says:

    I can probably live off food stamp for awhile, but I certainly would have to take the time out to plan and select ahead of time to make sure there’s enough to last through each distribution…

    Would I be happy? Of course not. This isn’t a knock that food stamp makes a person a second class citizen or anything, more so that not being able to provide for yourself and your family, regardless of the reasons, is a difficult situation to be in.

    I remember long ago in elementary, where I’ll be in the lunch line and some people will have reduce lunch price or use the free lunch program… and after class, their parents will pick them up in their Mercedes. Fairly certain thats when I’ve learned that there are people who abused the system, and people who truly need it.

  8. Yana says:

    1. I don’t believe that everyone can succeed, regardless of where they start.

    2. If someone has the image of a person using food stamps to buy cigarettes and alcohol, it is pure imagination. As far as I know, only food can be bought with food stamps – not cigarettes, not alcohol and not even toilet paper.

    3. People who qualify for whatever aid exists are POOR. Very poor. I don’t resent the poor, and I don’t resent the rich, either.

    I do believe in social programs. I am dismayed that most of them are aimed at keeping the people poor (spend-down rules, etc). People should be rewarded for doing well and making wise decisions, not taught to spend until there is nothing left to “qualify”.

  9. Steve says:

    I agree with Jim’s assessment on the necessity of food stamps in our society, but…

    I used to be a grocery store clerk in a town where food stamp usage was not uncommon. The store had one of those club cards which were needed to get the weekly discounts. To obtain a club card, all you had to do was fill out a form with your name and address. Almost every single person had a club card. I found that many of those on food stamps couldn’t be bothered. I could see that they could save money that visit if they had one, and when I asked them if they would like to fill out an application, I got a quick and stern no. I could have punched in the store number to give the discount (and I did many times), but I eventually became jaded. If the customer couldn’t be bothered, why should I?

    Meanwhile, the ones in the store who purchased everything on sale, in bulk, and who had $40 in coupons, were almost never on food stamps.

    Another sad site was seeing a family with multiple generations come in together, and the entire family being on food stamps.

    Although I agree in the necessity of food stamps, I saw first hand that there was often little incentive to wean off of them.

  10. barryaran says:

    1. I also don’t believe that everyone can succeed, regardless of where they start. If nothing else, incompetents with money and connections crowd them out.

    2. Yana is correct: food stamps cannot be used for cigarettes, alcohol, toilet paper — nothing but food. In fact, they can’t even be used for hot prepared foods, for example the kind that many supermarket deli counters sell. If I recall correctly (it’s been a while since I was familiar with cash-register programming), they also aren’t good for “juices” with over a certain minimum amount of sugar, or for candy. And the change comes in more foodstamps, not cash (although most states now use electronic dbeit cards, I tihnk).

    There is a market in illegally-traded foodstamps — but they’re dependent on fraud on the part of the recipient, the grocer. So if anyone is profiting largely from foodstamp fraud, it’s the (presumably) middle-class retailers who get the gov’t reimbursement for accepting foodstamps.

    3. If you run the numbers on “dependency”, you’ll find that the vast majority of people who receive foodstamp or welfare assistance use it for relatively short periods of time.

    4. If you really think that aid programs encourage dependency, try the experiment yourself: limit your assets to what the government says you can have to qualify for assistance, and then try to live on those assets and the value of assistance. You’re in for a shock, chums.

    5. Finally, to the “free-lunch-and-Mercedes” commenter: if you even saw it (sure it was the free-lunch kid?), you still have no idea what the deal was. Maybe there was a death in the family, no insurance, and a leftover car from the good days. Maybe that was a rich uncle picking the kid up. Hell, maybe the car was stolen. Your unsupported anecdote is a pretty lousy basis for a personal belief system, much less public policy.

    • Rap Music says:

      barryaran, I couldn’t have said it better myself. You really provided a good break down as to the topic of food stamps and dependency, as well as a solid response to the Mercedes comment (to which I was going to respond as well)!

      I think for those that have never lived in such a situation where foodstamps is a necessity, its easy to pass judgment, and that’s what continues to spur this stigma that is forever associated with their usage.

    • jen says:

      I work in a Convenience store in a middle class suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I ring out several customers daily who use an EBT card. Most often, they are buying frozen dinners, soda (which IS allowed to be purchased), candy (also allowed) and chips. By the way, did you know ENERGY DRINKS can be bought with the food card??!! After their groceries are paid for they will bust out their cash to pay for their beer, cigarettes (brand name!!) and LOTTERY TICKETS! I am not kidding!! If these people are in such dire need of financial help to meet their nutrition needs than A) what are they doing grocery shopping at a convenience store…where everything costs twice what it does at a grocery store B) why are they buying crap and C) how can they afford to drink, gamble and smoke premium brand cigarettes?! 9 times out of ten they are dressed more expensively than me and driving a better vehicle than mine

      • Barb says:

        You are right Jen. My sis worked at a convenience store and witnessed the same thing. And although some items are not allowed, when my daughter worked at Walmart,if the customer raised a stink, the CSM allowed the purchase. She also saw women with $50 nails and weaves, use their EBT cards.

  11. Al says:

    A recent study I read on line said that there are about 36,000,000 of our fellow citizens who at some time have a food deficiency. Only a small % have access to food debit cards. Another 2 million depending upon charitable organizations but even if the charitable organization doubled their contributions it would only feed a total of 4 mil. If we can purchase Presidential helio’s for $800 mil each and subsidize corn ethanol at the tune of $.50 gal and allow tax deductions for second and third home taxes/mortgage interest we are morally ill as a group and a society.

  12. My Life ROI says:

    I hate to see so many anecdotal comments with seemingly false or misinformed info…

    I definitely believe in the need for food stamps. In an economy where unemployment is an adjustable variable used to keep other things in line I just can’t let myself believe the mantra “Capitalism is king!”

    Someone being out of work is a function of the economy we live in, whether it is me or you. >>>>At equilibrium, unemployment is a guarantee.<<<<

    Everyone deserves to be fed in the richest country in the world, whether they work 80 hours a week or don’t have a job at all. The whole “its not that hard to…” may have been true for you, but respect the fact that your situation is different than another person’s situation.

  13. Christine says:

    I agree with Jim’s assessment that programs like food stamps (and welfare) will give some a reason not to work hard, but that you have to accept this abuse if you want to help those who are genuinely in need. I used to give $100 a month to a local food bank and then after losing my job, decided to volunteer there instead. I discovered one of the most frequent “customers” of emergency food banks (at least this one) was the elderly who can’t afford their medication and food. That convinced me to continue to give the money (and volunteer) every month at least until I no longer have any money left in savings to give. I don’t go to bed hungry and I don’t want anyone else to if I can help to prevent it.

  14. Kittyluv says:

    I have been disabled for four years and I am living on the limited SSDI that I earned while working professionally for many years. SSDI was not a simple thing to obtain, and the requirements for additional supplemental income are quite strict (none of which I qualified for as my SSDI is higher than the cut-off point)
    Would I have used food stamps if I had been eligible? You betcha!
    I am doing well living on a very tight budget and I shop for food at the 99cent store, which can be a very economical and nutritious way to supplement your diet if done correctly.
    I do not believe that people plan on being in situations that necessitate asking for assistance and, if it is provided, I believe the majority of recipients are grateful and do not abuse the system. There are always individuals who will try and outwit the system, but I doubt that would apply to many. Fraud and abuse exists everywhere. It includes physicians who falsely inflate their bills to Medicare hoping for the quick income. During this current recession, you should be able to identify many other people who tried to tweak the system to their advantage. I hope that anyone who feels that the use of food stamps is wrong does not find themselves in the situations that might cause them to wish they were available to meet their needs.

  15. Jadzia says:

    If food stamps were not available, I would have been a hungry child. (And even on food stamps, we didn’t eat all that well.) Did my parents make some bad decisions? You betcha. But it’s not like a toddler or younger kid can realistically go out and supplement the family income. I hate to be all “What about the CHILDREN?” — but at some point, our society should show some reasonable amount of compassion.

    (And no, there wasn’t a whole lot available in our community in the way of private/church-type assistance. It was a mining town, and every time the mine shut down most of the men were out of work.)

  16. Paige says:

    I live in Mississippi and I have a lot of bitterness regarding food stamps. The majority of the people here that are on food stamps are on them b/c they are too lazy to look for a job. And like someone else mentioned above, their parents are on them, as well as their grandparents. SO many people abuse the welfare system here. The people who do need it, like a single mom making $9 an hour, don’t qualify for it. Don’t get me started on Medicaid. . . I am glad programs like these are available for those truly in need, but they are abused more often than not.

    • Kelly says:



      • zulu says:

        I’m an eligibility worker for cash aid and food stamps and I can assure you, you cannot “live” off the system comfortably. You do have to work to get cash aid. You do have to work if you get food stamps, unless you have a child under the age of a year old and you’re the only adult in the home. And if you’re not the only adult, the other adult does have to work. You can only buy food products, not alcohol or household products like diapers, toilet paper, etc. Personally, I would much rather have my taxes go to food stamps than live in a country where hungry people are walking around begging for food. And what is that tax thing anyway? People who say things like that, they’re going to complain about taxes no matter where the money goes. And I can confirm that a single (or even married) person who just “doesn’t want to work” is NOT eligible for assistance. You generally have to have children or be disabled to even qualify. And quite frankly, I don’t care what kind of food a person on food stamps buys! I’d rather them buy frozen pizza’s and feed their kids that then have their kids be hungry. I wish people would stop being so judgemental and realize that the rug can be ripped out from under any one of us at any time no matter how hard working or honest or holier than thou we may be.

  17. Luke says:

    My mother and I lived with the help of foodstamps for the first 6 years of my life and am grateful that it was available. We were also able to live with family and receive support from our family. Unfortunately, the system seemed made to keep the recipient in the system. But for some Herculean effort and faith by my mother, our lives may have remained in that predicament.

    Now with the benefit of time, I can look back with a little bit more objectivity. Obviously free markets come with ups and downs, thus the need for some safety nets for those affected by them.

    The question is: Do these safety nets necessarily need to be provided by the Government? It has only been in the last 100 years that our Government got involved. Outside of sparsely populated areas and/or rural areas I could see communities coming together to provide some of these services through organizations like the United Way, The Salvation Army, etc.

    Just some of my thoughts.

  18. Jim says:

    Food stamps are a very important benefit. Theres 25-30 million Americans using them at any time. There is no reason that the richest country in the world should have people going hungry.

    Unfortunately food stamp fraud does exist, but its not nearly as widespread as some people seem to think. Overpayments from fraud are estimated at about 2%. But the solution to that is to crack down on the fraud and enforce the laws.

  19. Nick says:

    Talking about the poor going to bed hungry is ridiculous in a country where the poor’s biggest health risk is obesity.

    They may be only getting crap calories, or not getting proper nutrients, etc, but hunger is not the big issue facing our poor.

  20. Gerald says:

    I am a 65 year old retired in Florida. I get $52.00 a month Food Stamps. With the prices here in St Petersburg, this last for 8 days and I hardly can eat like a king. I don’t have any food or money the last week of the month. I go to the food banks for a meal every other day. Some life.

    • aj games says:

      We are close to the same age and I was denied food stamps because they said I dont qualify. For the life of me I do not understand this nutty system. I was a business manager and marketing director for years and I have a few brains left.HA Isold my house right before the bottom fell out but renting is a nightmare. My sister pointed out to me that they have a lot of nice looking affordable houses on the market provided you get section 8.I have pulled up hundreds of web sites and still not clear info. on section 8. By the way I was denied food stamps because my soc.sec. disab. ck. was to much.One big joke after joke.unfortunately I injured my back just a very few years before I reached early retirement age.Money sure went fast.We never have enough saved especially if you are a working stiff.I am still determined to be happy with a little help from prozac of course.

  21. I hope I’ll never need them but if I do, I’ll be grateful they are available to me.

  22. TStrump says:

    Unfortunately, poverty is a complex issue.
    I’m not crazy about handouts, but some people truly need help.
    I actually grew up on welfare so I know the pitfalls of such programs.
    What drives me nuts is welfare abuse which used to be a massive problem here in BC, Canada.
    You could apply and then get a cheque the next day.

  23. Sexysig40 says:

    With age come wisdom
    In high school i worked the cashregister and have some of the same stories as the the other comments, the kid going through my line with a 25 cent can of pop and a food stamp dollar until mommy had enough quorters for a pack of cigarettes. Or the Oppertunist that bought food stamps from a recepiant for thirty or fourty cents on the dollar and saved a bunch of money on his groceries.
    I became jaded over time. But now that I know more people and know more about how the world works and the system has somewhat improved with those little scan food stamp cards in my state. I feel that the system is neccesary. And is strick. Improvements I suggest are.
    1. Make it like a job with an annual review. If the person doesnt make steps to loose the need, like getting a job or improvement in lifestyle. Then limit benifit. Some recipients have low paying jobs or a medical need. Not who I am talking about.
    2. And the most likely solution is to take away the learned food stamp recipients. Most of the arguments aggainst food stamps fallows the line of thinking, by feeding the poor, you create more poor. Although some of you may argue this is unfair, keep in mind that there are those that think something for nothing is un fair. The long awaited solution is not all the children or dependents of food stamp recipients to be eligible for food stamps. Parents would then teach children how to fend for themselves instead of milk a system.
    3. Law enforcement. Punish those who abuse or misuse the system

  24. Rap Music says:

    I really feel that there are a number of excellent comments on this post ranging from those who clearly show that a stigma still exists in regard to food stamps, and from those who understand how food stamps can and are used.

    A good friend of mine has been unemployed now for about 2-3 months. Unfortunately, he ignored my advice of making sure he had an emergency fund to last him 6 months before he made his move away from home. His unemployment doesn’t cover his expenses (rent, internet, cell, food, car payment). While he’s considering selling his car because he has access to public transportation, I urged him to apply for food stamps as a temporary thing to get him through til he lands another job.

    He flat out rejected the idea and said that he would never disgrace his family by applying for food stamps. At first I didn’t understand his hostile attitude towards them, but then I remembered the comments that some of my old undergraduate college buddies would make about those who needed them. The comments always pissed me off, and my friend’s stigma against food stamps irked me as well.

    Anyhow, thanks for posting the link about Calleb’s quest. I hope it helps to erase the stigma’s associated.

  25. thomas says:

    gov’t assitance should be stepoing stone, not a crutch.

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