A Box of Food Idea for SNAP

The gist of it is here.

RAndom thoughts in no particular order- right now it’s an idea only barely beyond brain-storming, from what I can tell.

The idea at this stage is that it will only be a replacement for part of their SNAP allotment. There will still be the SNAP debit card, just in smaller amounts, for purchasing other food.

No, the stuff in the box isn’t what I’d call healthy at this point. However, you’re naive if you imagine that the majority of what people purchase with their SNAP allotment is healthy. My husband worked for several years in the grocery industry, and people useing SNAP cards almost never were using them for fresh food and produce. They went for cokes, frozen pizzas, candy, chips, convenience foods and other junk. Yes, there are exceptions. If you’re reading here you are probably one of them because I’ve been told more than once people come here for the recipes as much as anything else (sorry I haven’t been posting those so much). I don’t know if somebody else has done the research, but if not, they should- before we argue about the quality of the food and nutrition in the proposed SNAP boxes, we should have a clear idea of where the money goes now.  I am positive it’s not really being used for nutritious food the vast majority of the time and I have considerable exposure to the use of food stamps in several counties, not just my own purchasing habits when I had to rely on government assistance.

I don’t know if this boxed food idea is a workable, useful idea or not, but I do know reforms are needed. I also know they aren’t going to happen without some major strong arming. This is because businesses and politics are too firmly intertwined. The companies who make cokes and easter baskets and frozen pizzas are not going to stand for being shut off from the government SNAP faucet, and the grocery stores won’t accept that, either.

I don’t think the government keeps track of these numbers but when my husband was managing a chain of groceries he checked, and food stamps/SNAP/EBT (different names for the same thing) accounted for half of the business of several of the grocery stores- more in one community, quite a bit less in another community, but about half by average. One week it might be 53%, another week 33%. They are not going to be happy to see that income reduced. They are now dependent on it. So of course, as it says in the article, grocery store owners are objecting to this plan. IT’s in their own personal best interest to object, and that has nothing to do with whether or not it’s good for the rest of us or the people actually on SNAP benefits.

I really don’t care if the food in the box is not to somebody’s personal taste. I know I’m hard nosed about this, but I am saying this as somebody who has used WIC and food stamps and has had family members use them as well, and it’s tough if you don’t like it, it’s not your money. It’s really not. It’s the money your neighbors and friends and and people you don’t even know in other states have worked hard for and had taken from them by the government to give to you. It’s grace. Be grateful and make the best of it instead of having an ugly sense of entitlement. You paid taxes so you deserve it?  Yeah, not really.   It’s highly unlikely you have actually paid out in taxes what you’re getting back (one of many reasons the gov’t is in debt).  Add up what you’ve gotten in governtment money and compare it to the federal taxes you’ve paid.  Be honest.  You need to be counting up what you’ve received not just through programs like SNAP, but also through child tax credits given to people who didn’t even pay federal income taxes, school lunch programs, college grants, and various other subsidies. If you’ have connections to the farm community, count farm subsidies, too.

Whenever this topic comes out somebody trots out the very tired and baseless assumption, “You can’t judge somebody on food stamps based on standing behind them in line for 30 seconds.” Mostly (not always, but mostly) true, and that’s not what I’m doing. I’m basing this on years of my husband and a couple other family members being at the cash register at the grocery store and watching what hundreds of customers buy and how they pay and hearing what they say when they do.

I’m basing this on some up close and personal and very first hand experience of spending time, lots of time, trying to help people living in subsidized apartments and hearing their complaints.

I have workd personally and quite closely with more than a few people on food stamps who not only do not feel grateful for them, they would feel astonished at the notion that anybody should feel feel grateful for something they think we all should be entitled to.
Rather than gratitude, there is more often grumbling, complaining, and resentment that the government isn’t doing *more.* I have watched a mother spend her food stamps on candy and junk food (including toys with candy in them- they qualify for food stamp purchases), eat out at McDonalds (NOT on the dollar menu), buy herself gourmet coffees and fifty dollar shoes, and then on the same day grumble loudly about having to pay a 3.00 co-pay for her child’s prescription, rudely demanding of the poor clerk, “Where is this supposed to come from? I guess it’s just coming out of my baby’s Pampers.”

I have listened to complaints from women living in government housing, where most of their rent and utlities are paid for courtesy of taxpayers, angry that when they let their boyfriends who are NOT on assisstance move in with them, the government expects the boyfriend to pitch in for the rent. They don’t think that’s fair. Their neighbors don’t think that’s fair. So they conspire to hide their boyfriends in their government subsidized apartments at taxpayer expense.  Incidentally, I’ve also been there when they throw away fod they purchased with taxpayer funds because, for a real example, they used their foodstamps to stock up on boxed and bottled comodities like salad dressing and now the dressing is one day past its expiration date- never mind that the ‘expiration’ date is a sell by date and not an ‘eat this one day later and you die’ date.

I have listened to resentful, indignant, complaints that their free housing requires that they pay a pet deposit out of their own pockets if they want a cat. They don’t think that’s fair.  They think taxpayers should cover that. Are there exceptions?  Of course there are.  The point is, I have seen pretty much an entire apartment complex of the ungrateful complainers, and the appreciative, still frugal with other people’s money are the people who try hard to get off the welfare train, and the ungrateful are those who are living in generational dependency and there are a lot more of them.

So, you see, I am not assuming that there are many people on government assistance who feel that it is their birthright, not something they should or do feel grateful for, I know this first hand. I witnessed it regularly.

Somebody else who worked as a manager for such an apartment told me her experience was the same:
“after being a apartment manager for government subsidized housing for many years. They often had the best and newest furniture, electronics (my favorite was the one with the almost wall sized flat screen who needed extra food vouchers every week), and newer cars, but then would come and want a payment arrangement because their rent was going to be late. One person even asked to pay their rent late because they “needed” to buy a bouncer for their kid’s birthday party. It’s sad.”

It’s sad, and it’s just part of a long laundry list of things wrong with us as a nation and I say us because I am not really immune, either. Oh, I may be immune to that specific example. But I’m sure there are others where I fail.  But other failings are not our topic today.  We’re talking about SNAP and possible reforms and solutions- I believe reforms are still desperately needed and people need to be rather firmly weaned from generational dependency.

So, anyway,  The SNAP box. I don’t think it’s a great idea, but I do think it’s an idea worth considering and most of the objections I’ve heard either are irrelevant or require more data before being considered relevant or not, or it’s just plain whining and a sense of entitlement.  The current system has a lot of problems that need fixing.  No solution will be perfect, but something should be changed.


I’ll add one more observation.  I was recently talking with a half Filipina half American teenager who spends about 2/3 of her time here in the PHilippines and a third in the U.S.  She’s told me one of the things she hates about going back to the U.S. is what whiny complainers Americans are.  They “complain about the food and not getting what they want, and they complain about how poor they are,  and they care more about animals than people,” she said, “But I  live in a third world country. It’s my real home.  And I see children picking garbage out of trash cans to eat all the time, and I just don’t have any patience with the whining.”

There are kids here who don’t get to go to school because they don’t have money for uniforms or supplies as basic as paper and a pencil.  Sometimes at night on my way home from church I see families with several young children rummaging through garbage bins.  I have been confronted by a family of beggars when I had no cash, but I did have a few pieces of fruit in my bag and when I gave them that, they immediately gathered on the corner of the road and sat down to share the slices of fruit together.  I’ve seen scorched rice brought to a potluck because that’s all somebody had to bring.  And I am never one who thinks we need to feel guilty about being American. I think it’s appropriate to feel blessed and thankful for that, not guilty.  But when I read objections to the SNAP box suggestion that go something as follows-  ‘… that stuff is gross. I don’t consider that food. We should be able to get whatever we want…’  my sympathy monitor flatlines.  Get whatever you want with your own money, not taxpayer dollars.   Send me your boxes and I can share them with people who actually know what real hunger is.  That sense of entitlement is disgusting.

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  1. Christine Shah
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I also worked in a grocery store as a young woman and witnessed much of what you say here…over and over and over. The lack of gratitude always struck me as bizarre. I was a teenager but raised to be distinctly conscious of what I did and did not deserve and how I might help others rather than expect help as my right. “Hard work is good for you” and “entitlement cripples you” was what I was taught by my parents and I saw it in action. It was and is troubling to see people diminished by their own dependency rather than strengthened by their determination to get out.

  2. Aimee
    Posted February 16, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    This is a parenthetical issue but I do wonder about food allergies. As a family with food allergies, I am thankful to live ina part of the U.S. that is very, very rarely affected by natural disasters because some of the food provided to victims of natural disasters would be unsafe for some of my children. Just a thought.

    • Headmistress
      Posted February 16, 2018 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      It is an important issue, but it is one I think could easily be addressed by having alternative supplies for families with allergies. I have grandkids who have lifethreatening allergies, too.

  3. Amanda
    Posted February 17, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I want to start with where I agree with you: we are in need of some sort of reform when it comes to gov’t benefits like SNAP. I also agree that, in general, people are broken and complain too much. Apparently, this has been a problem at least since the Israelites received the grace of manna directly from God. 🙂

    I’ve read your post through twice now, and a few sections I’ve read more than that. I wanted to be clear with what you were saying. If I misrepresent you in this summation, I’d truly like clarification. I hear you say that those who receive SNAP benefits should not complain about what benefits they receive. I hear you say that those who receive more in taxes/subsidies/etc. should not complain about what they receive from our government and the taxpayers who fund the programs.

    On the one hand, this made me think about my grumbling against God for what I receive, and I appreciate that you called me out, sister. On the other hand, keeping quiet because you get more in subsidies than you give in taxes is decidedly not how America should work. I not only have the right but, in my view, the obligation to speak out against what I believe is wrong in how our government is run, regardless of whether I am paying more than I am receiving.

    Here are some thoughts I still have regarding the SNAP boxes and the thoughts in this article:

    1) What reform is most needed in SNAP? Nutritional change? Reduction in cost? Something else?

    The reform I’d like to see is for those who receive SNAP to have better access to healthy food of their choosing. I’d love to see food deserts addressed by gov’t, whether locally (like in my city of Louisville, or on larger levels. Also, the issue of produce and meat selection in neighborhoods that rely more heavily on programs like WIC and SNAP needs to be addressed. I’d like to see access to information about healthy eating (classes: both in person, print, and online) made easily accessible.

    The more I think about this issue, the more I feel like there is room for real discussion and reform. While I think your post was misguided and hurtful, it did get me to think about my attitude towards God for what I have, and it made me think harder about the SNAP program. I appreciate that. I do appreciate you and your writing, sister, and how you think about the world. We disagree on this issue, and I hope I was not disrespectful in this (long-winded) response.

    • Headmistress
      Posted February 17, 2018 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

      as I stated in the post, my post is based on observations of not a handful of SNAP families, but thousands going through the grocery stores where three members of my families worked and spending hours and hours with people living in subsidized apartments (caring for their children, for free). I also said there are exceptions, and that I, too have been on food stamps. No, I dn’t think your characterization of my remarks is accurate or fair at all. The complaints and lack of gratitidue or appreciation were not of the sort you are talking about-helpful criticism aimed toward improvement, but greed and a lack of personal responsibility. The mother who spent all her cash on fifty dollar shoes (we have a thrift shop in town, she didn’t like shopping there) and candy and then griped because she had to pay 3 dollars for a copay for her child’s medicine- and griped to the clerk, who had nothing to do with it anyway, is that really an example you could honestly phrase as me saying she has no right to speak out about her government? The women who are angry at the government ‘cheating’ them bcause they let people who aren’t qualified to receive government assistance live in their government subsidize apartments, is it really fair to characterize my objections to that as saying people on government assistance have no right to complain to their government about issues they think the government is wrong? The people who believe the government is cheating them by not paying for clean up fees and deposits for their pets, is that really an example of me saying you have no right to have objections over how the government does foodstamps?

      I, too, wish that there could be a better focus on healthy food. I’d love to see junk food not even permitted to be purchased with government assistance. It isn’t going to happen. The problem with the government being responsible for making sure citizens have healthy eating classes and resources is that the government is responsible for the really awful information we’ve been getting on salt, fats, and meats over the last fifty years. They promoted margarine over butter, carbs over proteins, sugar over fat and refused to recognize that there were any good fats. I also remember having to go to nutrition classes when I was on WIC, and often the information was incorrect.
      Given the government’s really poor track record on nutrition issues. I don’t trust them to do better now.

      • Christel
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Even healthy food restrictions is so difficult. Where are we comfortable with the govt drawing the line? Is boxed mac and cheese junk food? White bread? Banning something like soda seems obvious, but is soda really any less healthy than ramen noodles?

        • Headmistress
          Posted February 27, 2018 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          If the government (IE, your neighbors) are footing the bill, then they do get to call some shots. Why on earth should we be buying soda for people who are supposed to be getting help because they don’t have enough money for *food.*?

  4. Susan
    Posted February 18, 2018 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    When I was a teenager 20 years ago, working as a cashier at a local large grocery store, I had a woman come through my line who, along with her groceries, was buying multiple cases of the diet shake “Slimfast.” She paid with foodstamps (on a debit card), and after I ran it through I told her she had a remaining cash balance of about $40. When she demanded to know what hadn’t been covered by foodstamps and I told her (after checking the receipt) the Slimfast, she was absolutely irate. She insisted that it should be covered because it was food. After ranting and raving, she finally had me delete it from her order. As a 16 year-old who was distraught over seeing how much of my meager earnings were going to the government, I remember thinking, “Why should I pay taxes so that you can lose weight??”

  5. Posted February 21, 2018 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comments. They ran more or less with what I was thinking and gave me some useful information for talking about this.

  6. Christel
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure of my opinion on the food boxes yet, but I really don’t understand the conversation that centers around the logistics issues. It’s EXACTLY the same thing that the government does for American Indian Commodities. If you go to the distribution centers, you are given choices based on your household size, for example when we received them my family of 6 would get xxx oz of cereal per month. The options were cheerios, corn flakes, oats, farina, rice cereal, etc, and you could combine to reach your allotment. Same for canned fruit and vegetables, “fat” (choice between butter and oil), juices, etc. It works fine. There are even frozen fruit and produce options. I don’t know why it couldn’t work the same way.

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