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. Yana says:

    Jimmy, I think your anger is misdirected. It is not YOUR tax money once it has been paid. It WAS yours before the government collected it. If you don’t like how the government uses the money it collects, your beef ought to be with that government. As far as people who qualify for assistance “stealing”, that is a horrible misuse of the word and an insult. I personally hope that assistance programs help reduce theft by desperate people, just as I would hope that medical care for all will help my household be free of diseases spread by people who cannot get treatment. These people still live among the rest of us, you know. And instead of being obnoxious and hateful addressing these “thieves”, you might save it for actual criminals that you might find yourself confronted with.

  2. Juno says:

    Welllll- Since I last posted I got a job! There was a new Red Robin opening in our town, there were over 8,000 applicants in 2 weeks (seriously, the line went down 4 blocks) and he hired a total of 112 people. I had an excellent job as a server, making over $200 a shift. Off food stamps, finally taking care of my family. Then, he laid off 1/2 of us because hardly anyone is eating out. So, I was out of work again. With a disabled husband and a small child I had to go back on TANF. I had no other choice except for homelessness. That was in September. I have been assigned to full time job search ever since, and every morning at 8 am I have to bring in a log with the details of a 7 hour job search the day before. I applied at every restaurant within a 45 mile raduis. No one was hiring. I tried to get a job doing almost anything, including the state requiring me to apply at a XXX shop. 3 times. Now the state is telling me that if we still want to get help ($529 cash and about the same in food), I will need to do full time community service. My rent is twice the amount of cash we receive, which is the maximum amount of cash they give a family of 3. So now they are being counter-productive by first REQUIRING I search full time for jobs, but now they say I need to stop looking for work and spend 8 hours a day plus travel time working without a wage! How is this benefitting my family? See, welfare works for those who work the system, the ones that got the housing programs, and pay less than $100 a month. Then they can afford to say they have “this or that” reason not to have to participate in the job search program so they can stay home with the kids. I saw people every day that I knew were working under the table and still showing up to turn their fake job logs in. But what do people like us do when we are using TANF because it is a last resort, until I get work? It doesn’t help us enough to prevent homelessness. I would rather receive 4 or 5 months of enough help to live than 2 years of partial help. I have paid my taxes for 16 years, and so did my husband so I don’t feel bad using it when I need to. But I tell you, I get crappy looks if I buy a healthy yellow bell pepper, a roast, or even fresh fish. That food is too good for people on welfare. So if I buy a case of Coke, some Twinkies and a frozen pizza I am abusing the system. There is no way to tell people in America what they can and can not eat. The cultural differences are too vast. And, can you imagine the lines at the grocery store when the carts are full and the clerk has to seperate out all the “non-covered” foods. Foods that have been defrosting or getting smashed in a cart for an hour and then put back on the shelf? Just look at it, as, each family gets a certain amount of food benefits for the number of people in thier family, what difference does it make if they buy powdered milk, lentils and rice or a can of caviar? When the money is gone for the month, it is gone! It is all about learning to stretch that food out for a month. The ones that buy expensive crap learn the hard way when they run out the second week of each month.

  3. Ryan says:

    What really ticks me off is the fact that we are going out of our way to help haiti..sure they deserve some extra leeway and help, but we are in a recession..keep in mind we have problems of our own. We have people like me: a college student who is financially struggling for even a place to live and im now considering food stamps, yet we are spending millions of dollars to help people who will never return the favor or give back to our economy..i will.

  4. Yana says:

    Ryan, you sound cold-hearted, acknowledging that America is in dire straits. The first thing I saw about Haiti relief was the “give $10 with your cell phone”. Of course the people deserve help, and they should get it, but I can’t help but think that people do those fun things with their cell phones to make themselves feel better about this very real tragedy. In the end, the people in Haiti will remain in dire straits, because after all, all these charitable people would not actually want them to thrive. They should evacuate and escape the apparent curse that exists there. People love to help, or do simple things that involve throwing away money, only as long as the recipients are worse off than they are. No, we can’t afford to respond in the way we are being encouraged to, and this encouragement is frankly disturbing. Because it is telling us that we should forget financial realities and throw money at the problem. The people in Haiti need what money can buy, not money. So let’s give it to them – the help they need. Want to be charitable? Do what is needed when you are able to do it. I gave to Haiti relief without effort, since businesses I engage with donated to the cause. I don’t feel any better about the human suffering because of it. I don’t feel I did any good, either.

    Our economy is sick. Capitalism is sick, and the sickest of all is the medical monster which will destroy this country. I don’t care if needy people can return the favor or contribute to our illusional economy. My belief is that we should concern ourselves with human needs, dignity and compassion. Without everyone doing at least well enough, we are impoverished indeed.

  5. Dawn says:

    We are one of those families that are on foodstamps. My husband was diagnosed with Leukemia on Christmas Day 09 and he became unemployed and I also had to quit working a month later to become a full time caregiver. We both have college degrees and don’t believe in abusing the system but without foodstamps we couldn’t feed our four children. His business wasn’t doing well before all of this happened and we didn’t have enough saved for a rainy day because of that.

    I think that people on foodstamps should be educated on food preperation and budgeting. I have a friend who runs a mission and a food pantry and he said that people with foodstamps run out sometime during the third week. I have never had that problem because I am very careful and I use coupons and shop for sales. I would love to run a program someday to show people how to do this.

    You never know what type of situation someone is in and not everyone is a dead beat.

  6. I'm a Liberal says:

    As the name implies, I’m a big liberal. That being said:

    You’re doing this experiment wrong.

    It’s not your fault though, you’re doing it the way I would have done it if I didn’t know how to game the system. And I didn’t until I started working with people who’ve been on food stamps for a long time (that whole generational poverty thing we hear republicans talk about and then roll our eyes at, right). If you do the experiment the way that you’re doing it, you’re right, it IS difficult to live off of foodstamps.


    Consider this: A woman with a few kids (no legal father in the picture or the home) gets food stamps. The amount she gets is based on how many dependents she has, and the disposable income coming into the home. It may only be her income officially coming into the home because she’s the only one on the lease with real custody of the kids, but men that she dates either stay with her but are on a lease somewhere else (family, friends). Sometimes they have jobs or sometimes they get their own food stamps (note food stamps are only given to one person per household so if they both lived as lease holders in the same household, only one person could receive foodstamps for that address. See how that leads to illegitimate kids and less marriage!) So, you can have actually two incomes going into the household, only one being counted and get a lot more food stamps! I didn’t even mention getting paid under the table for work where you don’t have to report any income or signing up for TANF (cash payments) at the same time. Sadly though you can only get that for five years now because some jerk welfare reformers thought the system was being abused. Add all this together with unemployment and you my friend will have yourself a FAT stack o’ cash to play with. Now that is how you live off welfare and being a case manager in social service I see it happen every day of my life. Maybe not every element of it, but definitely a good mix of all these things. At first it was difficult to admit because I’ve been a hardcore liberal since I’ve been politically aware. But, the area that I work in is workforce development and with people knowing how to milk social programs like this, you can imagine how difficult it can be to make people see the incentives to work. Imagine, a few hundred dollars in food stamps, TANF, undocumented income (either being paid under the table or only one adult being counted as contributing to the household), and unemployment.

    Oh! I forgot about SSI or SSDI payments as well. Count those too. Sometimes a good $600 a month. Scramble some of these into your experiment and then maybe you’ll be making a better point though I’m not sure it’ll have the result you’re looking for.

    Also, whatever anyone says, food stamp fraud isn’t cleared up by link cards. What people do is just lend their card to someone and tell them their pin number in exchange for a rate for cash. Someone told me today 0.70 cents on the dollar. So, don’t think that money is all going to a good purpose.

    Also, don’t paint me as totally against food stamps or a safety net. I’m still a liberal in spite of all this. It’s just the wool has to come off your eyes sometime.

    End rant.

  7. briana says:

    it doesnt matter if your struggling. I could barely afford rent and utility bills when i was working, i applied for food stamps and because i did not have a dependent, i was denied. I recently lost my job and applied for food stamps just to help me eat until i find someone to hire me, i was denied, why? because i signed up for classes at the local community college. after hours and hours of trying to get through i talked to a customer service rep who told me straight up, if your a student even though your only enrolled in one class you have to work 20 hours a week or have a dependent in order to get food stamps. Conclusion? If you want help buying food, you have to either quit school, or get a job that provides income. so when i find a job, then they will help me. What idiot made this policy? Meanwhile i am in the process of being evicted i have had my vehicle repossessed my utilities were shut off so my doors and windows are open and there are bugs and flies everywhere, luckily my neighbor lets me use her shower from time to time but what am i gonna do when they kick me out of here? All because there are no jobs in this fricken town!! I walk to to local college hoping that when i get some kind of degree i can find a job that will hire me, but since i do that, they will not help me. You gotta have money to get food assistance? What the hello????????

  8. Char says:

    I have a friend in FLORIDA that is on Food Stamps and other government assistance. She needed phone service and found a company that helped her get discount phone service. Now she feels safer and more in control of her life and safety. Her kids feel safer because they have a phone to call mommy or 911 in case of an emergency. She lives in Florida and the only qualifications were that she is on government assistance and is in a Southern Bell (AT&T) region. I thought I’d pass this on via this website so that others can take advantage of these benefits. The name of the company is EASY Telephone and the toll free number is 888-871-6350. Their website is for those that have access. There’s no deposit, no credit check, and you get call waiting, caller ID, and some free long distance minutes. I hope this helps some of you out there.

  9. GC says:

    Everyone that is on Foodstamps is not trying to steal from the government. I am a college graduate and am working on my masters degree. My husband works two jobs and has recently started his own business as well. I lost my job almost two years ago and havent been able to find a job since. I have 3 children. One is in school and the other two are not yet old enough. So whatever job that I have must pay enough for two children to be placed in childcare, which is not cheap. We have a mortgage which continues to increase due to taxes, and we have other bills. the cost of living is extremely high. We do receive food assistance because we truly need it. With all the working that my husband does we still are struggling to keep everything paid for. We really do not want to receive assistance but some people need it. I pray that things change soon, because we do not want to take anything from the gov’t, but our tax dollars over the years were contributed and my husband’s taxes still contribute money to our gov’t, so we deserve to be helped when we need it.

  10. GC says:

    Plus everything is going up except for wages. My husband was also laid off for a while which really threw us behind. If it wasn’t for the food assistance we would not have eaten.

  11. hungry says:

    i have worked two to three jobs at a time everyday of my life since i was 15 years old except the 6 weeks that i was on maternity leave. I have been on food stamps before. I recently got cut off because i got a new job that pays better, but after taxes, insurance and day care we barely have enough money to pay the rent let alone buy healthy food for a growing boy (that is currently in a growth spurt and eating everything in sight) and a parent. The system is really messed up. There are people like myself that actually do need the help but it seems like the only way you can get it in my state is if you are not even trying to pay your own way. I have paid over 300,000 dollars in taxes, and social security in the past 13 years and if my son and i have no money to buy food we deserve to be helped. I know people who live rent free get 800 dollars a month in child support, 300 in TANF and still get 500 in food stamps. Those are the people who are really working the system. God forbid someone who actually tries to take care of themselves needs help. They wont be getting it in the great commonwealth of VA. We cant even get foodbank food because we dont qualify for that. hey, its a great diet though!

  12. Ashley says:

    The stories on this page are sad. Most everyone seems to be in the same boat. No money, No job, No food. I’m 25 and my husband and I have 2 young boys and we struggle to get by. I can’t remember a day that we haven’t struggled with something, but everytime things looked bad we somehow made it through it. That was back then. Today it is much harder to move on or get out from underneath a pile of debt and government assistance. My husband just lost his job on Friday. My job was paying the mortgage only, with a little left over, his check paid everything else. We talk like things are going to be fine. That we will pull through this just like we have in the past. We will be $771 short this month just to make monthly bills, not including gas and food. I hate using government assistance. its not because I feel like I’m too good, but its because I know somewhere out there someone has it worse then I do. I’m lucky enough to have a house to live in a car to drive and a family that loves me. I’m getting some books from the library today to teach myself how to grow a garden. I figure that if we can grow some of the food we eat ourselves then we just might save a little bit of money. The cost of food in the stores keeps going up and most of it is bad for you anyway. If anyone knows any secrets to growing your own food, pass them my way.

  13. firewall says:

    It’s easy to live off food stamps. I manage a supermarket and after my bills I eat 1 meal a day sometimes 2. I tried to get on food stamps but I make too much money and was denied. I’ts a shame because most days I go starving but I guess at least I’m not overweight. I noticed that almost everyone on food stamps is over weight especially those on wic too.

    • Anonymous says:

      Your comments about people on WIC & food stamps being over weight are really stupid. shame on you

  14. Rex says:

    I’ve seen plenty of overweight and downright obese americans on welfare or foodstamps. Infact one of my best friend’s is currently “milking” the system…

    And not only is it wrong, it puts a strain on relationships.

    I would like to tell her how wrong it is to collect $300+ off her SSDI and food stamps on top of that, while she is working FULL TIME paid cash under the table. Wrong wrong wrong.

    Get off your fat lazy asses America, lose weight, and get educated. Stop bitc*in and moaning and crying. Find a job or go make your own job. Use the internet for your job hunting like and look outside the most commonly available jobs…

    Economy grew 2% in 2011…It’s NOT that bad out there. Relocate to a better state. Each state and local city has a different population and demands. Some areas of this country have terrible unemployment… Pick up your shit and quit complaining, move. The north has plentiful jobs, great schools and healthcare.

    I was unemployed at one point in time and also owned my own business. Never have I EVER needed foodstamps.

  15. Chris says:

    Um firewall? Women that get wic are either pregnant of have just had a baby soooooooo as for them being over weight….. They’re either freaking pregnant or they JUST had a baby. I’m sure if I just had a baby ( well if I was a woman that is) I would be a bit heavy too. Would you really begrudge a pregnant woman some MILK and whatever else they get? Or formula for babies? I am totally against people abusing the system, but c’ mon now! Must nit be very bright there buddy

  16. ron says:

    I only worry about the elderly and disabled that have little or no opportunity for any kind of employment in order to put food on the table. no doubt there is abuse as in just about any instance legal or illegal. There are always exceptions to the rule.

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