Monday, September 16, 2013

Let Them Eat...Dust!

Trey Smith

The fiscal conservatives are at it again! As they seem to do several times per year, they are making another push to cut the budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (what is commonly called Food Stamps). Yes, despite the fact that income inequality is at historic levels and far too many Americans are struggling to make ends meet, fiscal conservatives want to take food out of their mouths.

Andy Fitzgerald, a recently hired intern at the Guardian, wrote a nice piece on how he found himself on Food Stamps, even though he is a recent graduate of "a top liberal arts college." Despite his clean, new diploma, Andy had troubled finding a good paying job -- imagine that! -- and Food Stamps kept him from starving.
The point is that any individual who qualifies for SNAP should use it regardless of race, background, education, gender identity, or misplaced sense of pride. The more this view is socially accepted, the more we can have an honest conversation about the safety net without prejudice and stereotypes.

Were I given the opportunity to speak to Eric Cantor, Newt Gingrich, or other critics perpetuating myths about SNAP, I would share my personal story. Food stamps kept me from going hungry, and gave me the support necessary to eventually secure an internship at the Guardian.

People on food stamps are people; with friends and family, difficulties and aspirations. People also have pride. When we perpetuate myths about social assistance, we discourage those who are eligible from enrolling. America shouldn't let people go hungry. Assistance programs should be about giving people a hand up, not about putting them down.
Della and I currently are on the Food Stamps program. When we first went on the program back when I was in grad school, I was embarrassed. I grew up in a middle class family and I understood the stigma that went along with it. I would do our weekly shopping late in the evening, just a few minutes before the store closed. I chose this time in the hopes that none of my classmates would see me. What would they think if they knew that I was so financially poor that I needed government assistance?

Once I finished grad school, we didn't need that kind of assistance for nearly 15 years. We were never rich during that time, but we earned just enough to keep our heads above water (plus I had available money from a small trust fund set up upon my mother's death). However, in the early part of this century, the symptoms of my mental health issues began to get worse and, in time, I ceased to work and went on disability. Della kept working, but since she rarely made slightly above the minimum wage, we soon found ourselves back on the Food Stamps program.

Now that Della is disabled too (chronic respiratory failure), our financial future is bleak. With the exception of Congress-approved [possible] cost of living raises, our monthly income is capped at less than $1100. If not for the Food Stamp program, we would be faced with impossible choices like food versus rent or food versus utilities.

Hey Eric Cantor, what do you have against people like us?

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