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.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 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.

2 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

3 KMW December 14, 2013 at 5:27 pm

I know these are old comments are old, but I had to comment to correct Emily’s statement. People are not using food stamps as “cash” the EBT cards are also used for cash assistance that some people may get. In this case the cash is put onto the card and able to be used as any other debit/credit card. Ahh to be young again… at 18, you have all the answers to ALL the problems. Hopefully, at some point, you grow up and realize you have no idea “why” or “what” a person is going through. As a cashier at a store you can’t possible have any idea what your customers life is like, so maybe you should withhold judgement.

4 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.

5 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.

6 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.

7 Anne in Canada January 17, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Hi everyone;
Where I live there are no food stamps; however, there are food banks where people can get a week’s worth of food for free – a small bag of food, and hardly any vegetable or fruit, but enough to survive on (bread, pasta, peanut butter, etc.). If the person has any sort of income (even such as welfare, unemployment, etc.) and the food bank is used to supplement, there is enough.

re: others on food stamps and not having enough.
It really must be awful to basically have to make a choice between food and heating the apartment. However, from the few comments that I’m seeing, there ARE other solutions.
For example, Mary G could find another, cheaper place to live (and pay the lease-breaking penalty which she will probably save within 2 months with her cheaper rent), sublet a bedroom in her place (even HER bedroom – and sleep in the living room), find a new job, resale the car and use public transportation, etc.

For people with good jobs, it’s not enough to enjoy our jobs; it’s our duty to save an emergency fund so that if we are laid off, we have something to live on while we look for another job (I realize that it’s very hard if our budget is very tight even with our job); we also need to plan about kids – if we can’t afford to raise and feed 4-5 kids, maybe we need to either figure out how to make more money before we have more kids, or have fewer kids. Unfortunately, having kids is a financial exercise as much as an exercise in parenting. Finally, Kanzaki, nobody NEEDS to take your order at McDonald’s – you do not NEED to eat at McDonald’s. And yes, kids who are poor are suffering from being poor – not getting coke and chips; but is that really what having money is about? I’m more worried about poor kids not playing sports, not traveling, not spending quality time with a parent because the parents are working-poor and spend all their time working, not getting books to read, but being glued to the TV 24/7. So if they have to skip the chips and 7-up, I don’t really care.

8 LAC January 26, 2015 at 12:54 pm

I know people on food stamps who still don’t have enough to eat. When I see what they are eating I can understand why. Too many are buying processed foods instead of foods that they can cook themselves. Yes it takes longer but in the end it saves money. Where I live a 10 pound bag of chicken legs goes for about $7.00 yet the person I know buys the already cooked and then frozen chicken legs in the plastic bags for $6.00 for 5 lbs. Mac and cheeses at about .69 cents a box that feeds maybe two people where the person can make their own and feed more cheaper. Spaghetti and meatballs goes a long way if you make it from scratch and you can also serve spaghetti and lentils in a tomato sauce if you can’t afford the hamburger. Lentils can make all kinds of dishes from salads to veggie burgers which are healthy and delicious. I also see people at the store buying tons of soda and junk food on their food stamps which is another reason why they run out of food before the month is up. Also they can use coupons and thus save money on their stamps.

9 C May 22, 2015 at 11:18 am

I think it depends on where you live and what you eat. If you want any fresh produce $160 isn’t going to cut it in New Mexico. The same $160 though would easily cover produce in California.

10 exhuasted June 4, 2015 at 4:07 am

For way too long now I’ve been more than ashamed that I’ve had to depend on government help. I’ve worked since the age of 14. Unfortunately circumstances have forced me into a situation where no matter how hard I’ve tried not to need food stamps I just haven’t been able to provide for my family on my own. I can’t sleep because I don’t know where my next meal will come from or how I will pay my next bill. You got $160 for yourself only. Guess what. I receive $140 for a family of 4. Go figure? Should I really be ashamed when I have worked practically all my life? I don’t know but I do know I want to get completely out of the system. If there is some help for me to work while my children are at school or help paying for child care I definitely would get completely off the system. It’s not like I don’t appreciate the help either because if I’d ever make enough I would like to give back. No one knows what desperate needs have brought many of us to ask for help. Just today I saw a musician outside of sprout’s playing for money trying to feed his 2 children. It’s not like he was just sitting there bumming money from people. There are many situations that put us in unfortunate situations. I’m not about to spill mine out here. All I know it’s about high time people stop being so judgmental.

11 A. Salter June 4, 2015 at 1:57 pm

I totally agree that the judging needs to stop – we are here to help each other, not criticize!

Obviously, $140 per month is not enough for 4 people – no matter where you live in North America. I spent that much per week for 4 (and we eat mostly non-processed food).

Good luck – hang in there.

12 Tracy Tice August 5, 2015 at 7:41 pm

I am 51 yrs old. I am disabled (I have MS). I applied for food stamps almost a year ago and at first got $140mo, I was able to eat almost every day. Then about 7mo ago I received a letter telling me that my amount was dropped to $93mo. I go for days without anything to eat because $93 isn’t enough. I tried food banks but 2 boxes of jello, instant mashed potatoes when you don’t have milk, usually a can of peas or green beans which I have gotten desperate enough to eat. I get $980mo in Social Security (I worked all my life till about 12yrs ago), my mortgage is $700mo and my electric is $100 and my water is usually around $130. This does my whole check in like for instance this month I paid my bills and have .76cents lefts for the rest of the month. I’m not trying to whine but a few weeks ago I was diagnosed with ANL leukemia and started treatments and now I’m drowning in doctor bills and the money I have to give someone to take me for treatments is impossible. I live in Pennsylvania and I’m just wondering if anyone knows anything I can do? I can’t walk unassisted anymore and I’m at the end of my rope.

13 A. Salter August 6, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Hi Tracy;
I live in Canada, so I don’t know about Pennsylvania rules and resources. However, I’m wondering if you can take in a boarder – or share your lodging in some ways. Since housing is typically the highest expense for most people, cutting that (even by only 10%) is a huge chunk compared to reducing expenses on anything else. A shared house here would be at least $500 a month (with a private bedroom – not a private bath) so it would bring down your costs quite a bit.

Another way to reduce your spending would be to move. If you moved to an apartment, you may be able to get down to a lower amount that includes water and heat.

Around here, we have a couple of places that offer free meals once a day. Of course people have to get there, which isn’t easy for some. They are located in some neighbourhoods that have more needs, but it still doesn’t reach everyone.

Hang in there!
Anne

14 ingrid August 20, 2015 at 11:03 am

I submitted everything they asked me to, example, I had to make copies of my birth certificate 2x my social security 2x, bank statements 2x my social security 2x my pension 2x , I had a phone interview 4pm the scribe faxed everything 2x I went to the office my information was in the computer, I called a 1-800 number the lady said the clerk did not put my information on time hence the reason they rejected my case. I complied with everything they asked for. I am on a fixed income. Everywhere I went (2 different pharmacies) wanted to charge me 30.00, next one wanted to charge me 32.00. I had to get on a bus by the courthouse the next pharmacy charged me 11.00 . I worked for Medicaid for 19 years and this is the treatment I got!!!!!!

15 ingrid August 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

I worked for Medicaid for 19 years I did not want to retire but due to pressure on the job from the director. (she did not want to send me to training, I had transferred to the helpline. Everybody else had training. She called me in the office and asked me how long did I work, I informed I did not deal with clients. She told me that I should know how to answer clients when the calls came in. My co-workers had four months of training, I wanted to transfer out she called me in the office and she told I will not get any training and to put it in my head I will not be transferred out!!! My co-workers were shocked that she refused to let me go to training. I was very stressed out because I did not know how to answer the clients. My pressure went to 190/90 my sugar went to 300. All the supervisors including the director monitored the workers all day long they timed how long you were on the phone. I left my desk one day because one well-trained worker called me to her desk to show me what I did wrong, a supervisor came to the worker’s desk to let me know that I have been away from my desk for 10 minuets. Some days I would feel my left hand getting numb
With stinging pain on my left hand. I was getting scared that I would sit there and get a stroke so, I decided it was not worth the struggle!!! I applied for food stamps, submitted everything twice anthe same with scribe and was rejected!!!!!

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