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Most of us at some point in our lives have needed a helping hand, whether it be because of a layoff, sudden change of relationship status, illness, or just not bringing enough money in to make ends meet. That’s where food stamps can come in.
Struggling with finances can be extremely stressful and draining, especially when a major worry is how you’ll eat after the paying bills. Having no money for food is always a horrible gut-wrenching feeling and I don’t wish it on anybody. Been there, done that.
A helping hand could be anything from borrowing a $20 from a friend to taking out a payday loan, but those need to be paid back, unlike a few government programs that can offer help with no obligation to pay it back.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) aka food stamps is a government program that offers help to low-income individuals/families.
What are Food Stamps?
Food Stamps/SNAP are the government’s way of helping low-income people buy nutritional food during their time of need. All you have to do is fill out an application and submit documentation such as verifying your household income (think paycheck stubs, social security, etc.), identities, and bills that you’re household is responsible for paying.
How to apply for food stamps– Simply go into your local DSHS office or apply online with your state’s local directory. You can search for that here.
After you sign up for food stamps, you’ll be approved or denies based on your application. If denied you’ll be told why, so don’t worry.
But, once approved, the amount that you get will be based on income and household size and issued to a plastic card called an EBT SNAP card on a specific day of every month. EBT cards are accepted at most grocery stores, convenience stores, and even some farmers’ markets.
Of course, there are limitations to what you can and can’t buy with your food stamps card. Hot and ready foods are not approved for food stamps, while most others are. It’s vital to know what you can and can’t buy as to stretch your budget even further.
Food Stamps also aren’t to be confused with TANF/EBT CASH benefits as they are very different and serve different purposes. Both can be applied to the same card, but are cash benefits that serve different purposes, making them a little confusing at first.
Did you know?
Something you may not know is that food stamps do more than simply help out a low-income family. They are also good for the economy!
How Food Stamps are Good for the Economy
While food stamps have helped people climb out of poverty, that’s not the only thing that they have done.
Grocery stores and convenience stores from large chains down to small, locally owned, have also benefited from the swiping of food stamp cards.
Through EBT, jobs have been created, and even farmers benefit as their fresh produce and meats are sold to EBT consumers.
When the country faces a recession, the government makes it easier for more people to obtain food stamps so that spending can increase and boost the economy at the same time.
With that said, in times where the economy is flourishing or expanding they limit the number of people that are eligible to receive benefits to balance out the economic structure.
A common misconception about people using food stamps is that they are lazy and non-working freeloaders.
That is false as over half of the recipients of EBT SNAP (food stamps) are children, disabled, or elderly and most often have at least one member in the household that works to some extent either full or part-time.
Those that are able-bodied with no dependents have to work a certain number of hours each month to receive what benefits they get or guess what? They don’t get them.
So please, if you see someone using an EBT card, don’t automatically assume that they chose not to work and to live off of the government because I can assure you most of them are doing what they can to better their situations.
While some people may be on Food Stamps for a few years and others only for a few months, chances are high that the recipient is doing everything they can to make ends meet and just need this extra boost to help ensure a healthier diet than ramen noodles and peanut butter.
Being able to save a few hundred dollars a month on groceries means that the EBT card user can apply that money towards bills or afford a medical co-pay, or anything else they may need. Whatever the reason, it’s theirs alone, and shouldn’t be judged by spectators.
The Food Stamp Challenge
Back in 2007, a group of four members of Congress decided to spend a week on an average food stamp budget to try and get Congress to increase benefits for those using food stamps.
The act became known as the Food Stamp/SNAP Challenge.
This challenge started a trend where people who would typically face no budgeting problems decided to give the challenge a try, including politicians, celebrities, and more.
The challenge asks that you locate how much one person would be allotted a month for food stamps in your state because it varies and then breaking that down into daily and weekly values. For some, it was living off of $1.76 a day while others it was $4.15 a day.
Some found it impossible, quitting before the week was over, while others said it was possible if you bought the right foods and liked being socially isolated.
Gwyneth Paltrow has even advocated for a reform of the food stamp system as most healthier foods are higher in the price ranges and even more unobtainable on such a limited budget.
All in all, people learned how frugal people using food stamps have to be to provide for their families on a small budget.
It’s safe to say those expensive convenience items such as ready-made meals have no place on a food stamp shopping list, and with meats being higher in price, those are limited as well. Those using food stamps have to be frugal and resourceful to survive off of a few mere dollars a day.
This means cooking cheap meals from scratch, skipping luxury items such as caffeine, and budgeting for every meal they consume. They have to plan meals for an entire month to make the most of the food stamp benefits because cards are loaded once per month, and you have to make it stretch.
It’s no surprise that the food stamp challenge was an eye-opener for many that had never had to worry about the price tag on their meals.
That being said, many hard-working SNAP recipients do find the room to include caffeine or some convenience meals simply because their time and energy levels demand it.
After working several hours a day, putting kids in daycare and then needing to get sleep, clean the house, do chores, make food, etc. they may need that extra boost to keep sane and give more awake time to devote to their little ones.
I personally live in a high cost of living area where it takes 2.5 full time working adults making above minimum wage with almost no debts or extra bills to be able to afford a “nice” house, the insane taxes, and necessary childcare. Whereas the same income amount at a low cost of living state could have them living like kings.
If a little food stamp money helps them to know that food can be on the table tonight and a small $3 energy drink allows them to stay awake long enough to safely drive home, by all means, drink up.
Every area in this country is different, and every living situation is different as well.
It’s important that we remember not to judge someone in the checkout line if they’re swiping their EBT card. We don’t know their situation, their struggles, or how hard they’re working to hold it all together.
If we can remove some of the negative stigmas that come with the idea of welfare food stamps, we can help people to not feel ashamed or scared of applying. So many people hold off on applying for food stamps online because their scared of what someone else will think.
You wouldn’t make fun of a drowning person when someone throws them a floatation device, why make fun of somebody for getting help when they need it? Once they made it back to shore, they can be strong enough to toss out a few floaties to others in need, and so on.
Living on Food Stamps
While living on food stamps is not ideal, it does teach a great lesson on frugal living and budgeting. For those of us that have had to have this type of help at some point or another, we were happy to have some form of help in our situation.
Even though the benefits may not have been some high number, using food stamps gave us a reprieve no matter how small from our grocery bill and allowed us to be able to spend what money we had on things for our families such as bills, diapers, wipes, and household items.
To go from the financial mindset of feeling ashamed of needing help to one that accepts it as a social norm and fighting for a wider acceptance and understanding is one that should be welcomed by all.
If you are a recipient of food stamps, here are some extra benefits that may not have known were available to you and your family. These perks include free and discounted bills, services, and admissions to educational places.
Food stamps are such a great asset to your budget and your local economy that there is nothing to be ashamed of if you need them. If you qualify, use them. It’s what they are there for.
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