When I Used Food Stamps

English: Logo of the .
English: Logo of the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just in time for Thanksgiving come the huge additional cuts to Food Stamps being considered by the U.S. House-Senate Farm Bill Conference. Many of my colleagues are joining the “Food Stamp Challenge,” attempting to limit their spending on food to the current food stamp daily allotment for an individual (in my home state of Washington this is $4.20/day). Many of my health reporter colleagues on various list-servs and social media sites are debating how to cover the issue of food stamps and food security. There’s a dismaying amount of whining from the health reporters about how much junk food people buy with food stamps. As if people with food stamps should only be able to shop for kale and arugula at Whole Foods…

This is my food stamp story:

When I was twenty I worked for a home health agency in Boston.  I worked as a home health aide for minimum wage–$3 an hour at the time with no health benefits. I had dropped out of school and was living on uncooked Ramen noodles and peanut butter.

One of my clients was a 29-year-old African-American woman who was homeless, or rather had been homeless until she was hit by a car and ended up in the hospital. When I worked with her she was recovering from a broken leg and she stayed at her aunt’s small apartment in Roxbury. It was my first experience using food stamps. She would give me her food stamps and a grocery list and I’d go down to the small corner market and trade the scrip for food. People in the store looked at me funny and seemed to wonder why a clean-cut white girl in khaki pants and a polo shirt was using food stamps. Sometimes things were so turbulent in her apartment I couldn’t get in to see her.

Food security is not just a basic human need; it is also basic human dignity. If you have an elected official who is a conferee on the House-Senate Farm Bill Conference, please send them a strong nudge to not slash Food Stamps in favor of lining the pockets of large agribusinesses. Representative Suzan DelBene of Washington state ((Legislative District 1: Apple and tulip and grape (wine) grower and Microsoft country))–please protect Food Stamps.

See: Cut in Food Stamps Forces Hard Choices for Poor by Kim Severson and Winnie Hu (NYT 11-7-13).

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