Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Food Stamps Debate

Our local newspaper had an article yesterday about the use and abuse of the Food Stamps Program. It's an interesting read with an even more interesting debate going on in the comments section.

I spent probably close to a half an hour discussing the issue with a co-worker/friend at work. I really am of two minds when it comes to the issue.

I hate the idea of people actively abusing a system which is set in place to help them. I know that it is done...and it might be more common than we think it is. Of course there are people who use their food stamps money to buy only soda and chips and candy, etc. I am sure there are some people who sell their card to someone they can buy beer and cigarettes and maybe even crack.

However, I am not sure that because some abuse a system...and that they are using a system which is funded by the local tax payer...I am not sure that gives us, the local person, a right to judge or decide what should or should not be in their cart when they walk up to the checkout line.

They qualified for the program...which means they make little to no money. They are awarded an amount to be spent on food by the government which is related to their income. The less they make...the more food stamps they get. It can be used for anything that is classified as food. That's the system in place. It can be used for fresh fruits and veggies, but it can also be used for chips and soda.

Yes, it would be disheartening for me to see someone with a cart full of frozen pizzas, chips and soda. And not one fruit, veggie, etc. I would be disheartened no matter how that person was paying for their food. I will admit, I am constantly looking in people's carts...and seeing what they are buying. I am a food judger. I often hate to see lots of processed foods in people's carts. I am one of those believers that people should shop along the walls of the store, not the aisles...where the fresh food is.

However...that can be a complicated issue when you are on food stamps or on a restricted budget. Let's be generous and say you get $80 a week...that you need to shop for a family of 4. You could buy fresh milk, fruit, veggies, meats, etc. And if by don't get to using that food when you need to...and it goes bad. You end up having to throw it away. If you buy frozen dinners, mac n cheese, chips and any other kind of junk food. Even if you don't eat it until 2 years from me, that food is still going to be good. That's not a good thing, but it can be for a person on a budget. Plus, that food is easy to make, etc...and it usually is cheaper. A bag of baby carrots at Hannaford costs almost 4 dollars. You can get boxes of mac n' cheese for a month for that price.

The article and people commented also said that the program should model after WIC...where you can only get certain items. Ideally, I would support that. It would be great for the program to allow people to get more healthy and nutritious items regardless of the cost. However, it is much more difficult to manage. Have you ever been in line behind someone who is using WIC vouchers? It is a pain in the arse and takes FOREVER! If I see someone in line with WIC vouchers, I usually move myself into another line.

So, I understand the debate...but as the tree hugging social worker, I still end up on the side of the debate that just because someone is using a goverment program doesn't mean I should be able to say what they should or should not have in their cart. It's not my call...nor should it be. I can advocate that the system be changed, but it doesn't mean someone else's business is now my own.