My Food Stamp Experience

by Andy Hough on June 11, 2008

Last month I read a post at Living Almost Large titled “Still Hungry with Food Stamps“. It was in response to this CNN article about a woman who found it difficult to feed her and her baby on $280 a month in food stamps. LivingAlmostLarge thought that it shouldn’t be a problem to eat on that amount a month but some of the commenters disagreed with her. Since I’ve been on food stamps myself I wanted to do my own post on the subject and I’ve finally gotten around to it.

I was on food stamps in Texas for three months in 2003. I was employed at the time but not getting many hours and therefore not making much money. I was making just enough money to pay my bills but certainly wasn’t going hungry. Since I worked at a pizza restaurant I had access to free food several times a week. I debated whether to apply for food stamps but decided I should go ahead and take advantage of the program.

It was pretty easy to apply for the food stamps. I just filled out an application and dropped it off at the office. I was called about a week later and after a short interview I was declared eligible for $160 a month in food stamps. I don’t remember the exact details of documentation but I remember being surprised at how easy the process was. I was also surprised at the amount, $160 seemed like a lot to me for one person.

The food stamps were actually in the form of an EBT card which worked like a debit card. The first month I used my entire allotted amount. Some of this was due to buying food for a friend that visited and building up a supply of basic staples. The second month I didn’t come close to using all of my allotted amount. This amount rolled over to the next month resulting in me having much more than $160 to spend on groceries for the month. The third month I got a new job and canceled my food stamps. However, I was still able to use the amount remaining on my EBT card and used it to buy my groceries for the next couple months.

Overall, I would say my experience with food stamps was a positive one. I found a $160 a month to be plenty of money for groceries and I actually bought more expensive foods than I normally would have. I did occasionally get dirty looks when using the card but for the most part no one seemed to care that I was using them.

If I were in the same position again though I wouldn’t apply for food stamps. I was eligible for them so it was legal for me to do so but since I could have easily got by without them I don’t think it was ethical to do so. So far this year I’ve been averaging $100-$150 on food including restaurant food so I’d have to be pretty poor to not be able to afford food without food stamps.

{ 99 comments… read them below or add one }

Dom November 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm

First, I would like to state that yes, there are those who abuse the system. Probably a high percentage. BUT, that does NOT mean for some of these rude and ignorant folks on here to bash those who are getting it. @Kristinitis……you are so ignorant and might I say stupid? Some people who are homeless had computers and such BEFORE they were homeless. Also, why the heck should people that need food stamps be ashamed? I most certainly will not be ashamed of the 367 that me and my husband are getting because we needed them! And another thing, I DON’T HAVE TO GROW FOOD IF I DON’T WANT TO. I worked and paid taxes and if I need food stamps then that’s what I need! And I’ll buy what the heck I want since I put into the system! You’re so ignorant to say that there are truly no poor in America. Um, there are MILLIONS without homes, shoes, and food in America. There are lots of people getting laid off and losing EVERYTHING they have. I so happen to be one of those people who’s job closed without notice and lost my apartment. I was HOMELESS!!! And yes, I have a laptop……thank God for free wifi at McDonalds. I looked for a job for over a year and just literally started working. I have to wait for a least three good paychecks to move into an apartment……and on top of that, it might take longer being I have to pay for a monthly bus pass, hotel.stay (cause I’M still homeless, and ALL shelters are full), and shoes for work. So thank GOD for my foodstamps and the job he JUST blessed me with. You haven’t been through anything yet or you wouldnt be so judgemental!

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Judi November 7, 2012 at 10:42 pm

@ Joanny Cime Lately… Use your head a little more here. No offense intended but you are not quite with your game. While you or I would think of shopping on a weekly basis you made no sense by telling the homeless guy to shop for the week. Whats he suppose to do ? Cart around his week supply of food ? I was homeless for sometime. I understand the point of you have to buy things that do not need to be cooked, something to be eaten right away…. and none of that is cheap.

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kathryn February 1, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Kristinitis, what a great post !!!
So much of what you said, is spot on. Most people who are on FS are a snivelling bunch of people who think the world owes them a living. All they breed is another generation of “look what we got for free”.
When someone loses their job, they should go into extreme frugal mode. Actually, they should be doing it now. So anyone reading, what is your excuse for not stockpiling enough food supples to last you 6-12 months? Start prepaying utilities, or at the very least, start a savings account.
If your rent is eating up most of your income, find a cheaper place. get a pull out couch for the livingroom, if you need to downsize.
Take in a roommate. Offer to provide room and board (and a very small wage) to a single mom in exchange for babysitting duties, so you can still work. Start thinking !
You don’t deserve to smoke or drink if you are taking government benefits.
If we frugals are able to live on $25 per person a week for groceries, why can’t you? It’s not like you can’t do a google for everything. f you want to know something, jst ask. I’m sure most of us would be more than willing to share our knowledge with you.
But you won’t, because you have an attitude of entitlement. Welcome to it, because it will be with you your entire life, while others like me will be retired at 50 yrs, and be travelling.(frugally, of course)
There are plenty of ways to live cheaply, without being homeless.Lots of way of finding good cheap food.
Yes, be ashamed of pulling out that FS card, because we all know you don’t need to, you just aren’t willing to do anything for yourself.

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ME April 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm

GET A REAL LIFE N OPEN THEM EYES

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KMW December 14, 2013 at 6:19 pm

People like you crack me up!!! Stockpiling food? Prepaying utilities?? It’s obvious you are one of the young ones with all the answers. I don’t know you obviously, but it’s safe to assume you have never had it “rough”. Be careful, life is unpredictable, you never know what will happen. IT, LIFE… can happen to ANYONE, no matter how prepared you are, things can happen. So GET OVER YOURSELF and stop judging people. You, and others like you, have NO IDEA the circumstances which led to others needing assistance.

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Jenny February 15, 2013 at 8:42 pm

I hate food stamp, its so embrassing, no offense to anyone who have it. I am a college studen, i pay all my bills including rent and the basic. I have a daughter and the clinic that i take her think she is too advance for her age and because i can’t afford for all the test they want to do on her, they send me to singn up for medicade and the guy who did it apply for everything including food stamp. i got approve and i tell the rude ass guy who call to tell me i was approve for food stamp i told him i don’t want it and he was so disrespectful. I call and cancil it, so they can give it to someone who really needs it. I am a very hard working mother who provide for my kid, anyways the person said i have to use off the credit on the card but i don’t know anything about it.

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Cynthia March 28, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Nice to see you were able to get EBT when you needed it I guess it must be because you’re in Texas. Every time I’ve applied in Louisiana I’ve been denied, the majority of them are for asinine reasons.

1st) You’re a student. (Note: I was a non-traditional student no longer living with my parents with a lease in my name.)
2nd) You don’t make enough. (I’m not joking. I was working freelance and literally just needed help for a month.)
3rd) You’re not unemployed. (My main job laid me off, but because they own another company that offers me contract work, I’m not unemployed. Side note: I just had to defer my student loans to pay my rent.)

I just go out and play guinea pig, sell my blood or possessions, or find a side job because it’s easier than getting a “hand up” from the Louisiana State Government.

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Andy Hough March 28, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I was in Texas at that time, I haven’t lived there for quite a while. Judging from other people’s comments I must have got lucky with my caseworker. The process was pretty easy for me. That was the only time I ever applied for food stamps and I doubt I’ll ever qualify for them again so I don’t know what the process is like anywhere else.

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June Wright April 16, 2013 at 1:08 pm

@Kathryn: $25 a week for one person huh? Now does that $25 a week include things like toilet paper, body wash/bar soap, essentials that you need throughout the month to keep you and other things clean? Cause if it does then you better be living on a farm, slaughtering your own hogs, and growing your own fruit and vegetables. Try living on $40 a week for 3 people for groceries. This includes tp, etc etc. I got so tired of going to the store and spending 2 hours trying to buy food and putting half of it back because I couldn’t afford everything. I’m so glad I got expedited food stamps this week. Otherwise I wouldn’t be eating from Wednesday through Saturday of this week at all. This is only the third time in my 43 years that I’ve had to get food stamps. Much easier to get them than it is to find a church or food bank around here that will give you more than a sack of food and tell you to come back in 6 months. Seriously, the city owned food bank gives you a lb of rice, 1lb of beans, a few canned goods and a loaf of bread and says to come back in 6 months for more.

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Meghan May 1, 2013 at 10:01 am

I want to say up front that I don’t have a problem with food stamps whatsoever. But EVERY SINGLE PERSON I know who is on them, buys frivolous things. They did not have this stuff before they went on food stamps. I’ve seen people buy brand spanking new computers, Kindles, Playstation 3′s, etc. Every female I know on food stamps buys hair dye. Others get their nails done frequently. Males still buy cigarettes even though they are homeless with kids. They all go out to eat practically every single day for multiple meals. Food Stamps doesn’t pay for fast food. It’s just stupid. Sometimes people just need to learn to budget and do without the things they just want to have and don’t actually need.

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Gundy May 25, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Were you married at the time you were on food stamps? Your allowance seems higher than what my friends on foodstamps have reported ($80/month/person).

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Andy Hough May 27, 2013 at 3:08 pm

That was just for me. I think the amount of food stamps varies from state to state and possibly even by county.

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Kenzie June 7, 2013 at 8:25 am

I always love reading comments on posts like this because they are always filled with such hate for those who most need our help and kindness. I grew up in a upper middle class family who never needed FS or any kind of help. I think I may have in my teens, looked down on those who did. Now as a young mother I have seen just how hard it is to make a living. My husband has a “good job” around here that means two bucks above the min. I stay home because daycare for our two not yet school aged kids would be more than I would make a month working for min. We make enough to pay our bills most of the time but there is no buffer zone. We get 270 a month in FS. 270 for 4 people is 67.50 per person a month. It’s 16.88ish a week. We use all of it every month. We then use cash to buy the rest of the food we need. Maybe some of you out there can live on 17 dollars worth of food a week but we can’t. I think for all those out there “living off the government” there are two families using the help to get by.

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aaron bonney June 8, 2013 at 9:39 am

you are all jaded, jacked up, un-helpful assholes.

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Emma August 7, 2013 at 11:32 am

$80 a month per person does not seem like that much.

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C.j. October 18, 2013 at 10:04 am

I agree w/ meghan Most of those I see on foodstamps are wasteful. I’d say where I work I’ve only seen just 1% of the population using foodstamps the right way. The rest of the 99% of foodstampers are WASTEFUL. It’s hard going to work everyday to hear foodstamp whiners complain that the $1500 $1800 and yes even $3200 isn’t enough to feed their family of three when they are buying nothing but $200 in junkfood and candy since that’s all we sell at work and bread and milk. And I also hate the ones I see putting back food to buy cigarettes and beer w/ their welfare cards.
Personally, I’m glad foodstamps are being overhauled and cut back starting in Novemeber its about time! I’m all for the government helping people but my understanding of foodstamps is that its NOT supposed to be your sole source of food income according the brochure on my state’s website its supposed to be a help with some TEMPORARY food relief not make people learned helpless and government dependent–Look at Jason the Surfer

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Holly October 26, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I’m not sure what you eat or where you live, but I know that I could not make it on $160/month for all food. That’s like $40/week. I mean… I could make it if I was eating mostly junk and not good food, but not if I wanted things that were actually healthy and nutritious…

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lucy November 5, 2013 at 5:42 pm

I never heard of anyone buying hair color, computer, etc. with foodstamps. Foodstamps do not pay for anything but food, not even prepared food is eligible. It must be food that you buy to cook or vegetables, canned goods, desserts. The person who said people buy computers and hair color is lying. And I can’t imagine anyone living on $160 a month for one person unless you’re getting fed elsewhere and using their paper goods, soap to wash clothes, etc. Foodstamps do not pay for paper goods or detergent, soap, etc. Now, I think that folks who need help should not be embarrassed but when they start giving them to illegal immigrants, that’s when I get angry. Foodstamps are to help Americans, not folks who crept across the border and had a bunch of kids here and get benefits.

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anonymous November 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I think you’ve misread Meghan’s comment. Meghan’s premise is food stamp receipients should be spending their cash income on food instead of getting food stamps and wasting their cash income (that would otherwise be spent on food) on non-essential items like hair dye and computers. She does not say those non-essential items were paid for with food stamps. You can choose to read that into Meghan’s post but she did not state that explicitly or does she imply that.

You are correct on what may or may not be legally bought with food stamps as described on this webpage http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/retailers/eligible.htm

Re. “when they start giving them to illegal immigrants, that’s when I get angry. Foodstamps are to help Americans, not folks who crept across the border and had a bunch of kids here and get benefits”, don’t get angry. Illegal immigrants and their dependents (siblings, kids, parents, whatever) are not eligible for Gov assistance (Fed, state, local) of any kind (grants, loans, welfare, disaster relief, whatever). This is a lie the Far Right spreads to smear our Gov with helping illegal immigrants to get their illegal votes. Ever wonder why people have to wait so long between applying for and receiving benefits? That’s because the Gov is checking everything on their applications to make sure they are who they say they are and they’re not lying to get benefits. This fact-checking exercise takes time and money that the Far Right then attacks as wasteful Gov inefficiency. See how this works? Now, food stamps are available to LEGAL immigrants on a limited basis but illegal immigrants don’t stand a dog’s chance. It’s discussed at the bottom of this webpage http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/applicant_recipients/eligibility.htm

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KMW December 14, 2013 at 6:53 pm

The link you provided even explains this info, NO ILLEGAL aliens cannot get assistance, BUT if they have American borne children, they can get assistance for them. The link you provided as well as many other informative sites regarding food stamps explains this and even states that applying for this assistance (FOR THEIR CHILDREN, OF COURSE) will not interfere with their “status” at all. They will not have to give any info about themselves. So see how this works? No essentially illegal immigrants can’t get assistance, but their children (borne here=american citizen) can. Seems to me the lie the government is telling us is quite the opposite of how you see it. This article explains how a family who is all citizens of the US may be denied for assistance due to income, but a household making the same amount, which has illegal immigrants included would be approved. How can that be? Well you see, the illegal’s income would not be factored in. http://cis.org/north/food-stamp-program-rewards-households-illegal-aliens
I don’t know about anybody else, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the “parent” who is NOT getting the assistance, is still benefiting from their children who are.

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anonymous December 30, 2013 at 10:44 am

The US-born children in lucy’s “Foodstamps are to help Americans, not folks who crept across the border and had a bunch of kids here and get benefits” are US citizens (“Americans”) by virtue of native birth and are eligible for food stamps. lucy appears to think that food stamps go to “folks who crept across the border” but they are actually going to their US-born children and not the illegal immigrants themselves. My post was to assure lucy that food stamps are not available to anyone illegal including illegal family members of illegal immigrants. If you’re illegal, the Gov will not give you food stamps. If you’re legal, the Gov will give you food stamps if you qualify (varies by state). What lie in “the lie the government is telling us is quite the opposite of how you see it” do you mean?
That illegal immigrants may benefit from their US-born children’s food stamps is secondary to the help the children will get from the aid. The situation is less than ideal but life is sometimes messy. A similar potential problem exists with child support payments in divorced families. There’s no guarantee that payments will be used solely for the children’s benefit but the children will certainly be worse off if payments are stopped.
http://watchdog.org/31494/shno-new-food-stamp-rules-draw-more-fire-in-kansas/ is the original story your link discusses. It appears the loophole has been closed in KS as of October 2012. I am guessing that this discrepancy in eligibility rules came about inadvertently and that illegal immigrants aren’t entering the US solely to take advantage of this loophole. If we find a problem, we should fix it. We don’t destroy the whole system just because we found something wrong with it. Feel free to lobby the Gov to close this loophole.

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