Soapbox time again. Before I start though, I want to out it out there that our family has been on public assistance in the past and had to relay on food stamps to help feed our growing boys when they were very young. It was NOT something that I wanted to do and we got off them as soon as we could, even when we still qualified for them. Our caseworker said we were the first people she had ever met that actually came in to request to get off them even when we still qualified for them. We were finally at a point where we could afford to feed our family on our own by making deep cuts in other areas and we wanted those resources to go to another family that needed it.
Last weekend my hubby and I stopped at Winco to pick up a few groceries. My plan was to only use what cash I had on hand. We bought what little we needed, being very careful about prices. We did run across a deal on some hot cocoa mix that my hubby uses in his coffee each day so we bought 2 cans of that knowing that it would save us money in the long run and also knowing that meant that we would have to forgo buying something else that day. As we were loading up our groceries onto the conveyor belt, there were two young women in front of us doing 2 separate orders. They each had mostly high end "gourmet" type items along with IPA beer. Checkout was taking awhile and they had to swipe 2 different cards. That is when I noticed that they both had the EBT food stamp card along with their debit card. They were using the food stamp card to buy the groceries and then their debit card to buy the expensive IPA 6 packs of beer. Their food stamp cards were having some glitches with the computer, but they eventually went through. I will admit that this disturbed me.
This is not the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last that we have seen this happen. We have seen people using this programs to buy steaks, lobster tails, and lots of junk food and then whipping out cash to buy expensive wine, beer and cigarettes. We have seen people buying all kinds of junk food along with some healthier items, just to put the healthier items back when they have gone over the amount that was on their food stamp card. They will keep the cases of soda, the huge bags of chips, the sugar laden name brand cereals at $4.00 or more a box and leave behind the fresh fruit and veggies, milk and cheese. And then they too will whip out some money to buy that all important case of beer at $18 or more! These particular people had young children. Apparently beer and junk food are way more important to them than feeding their kids healthy foods.
I know far too many people who struggle to feed their families on very little and I certainly do not begrudge anyone getting a treat now and then, but to see such blatant abuse of the system, and yes, I call it abuse, well that is just shameful. If you can afford to be buying expensive alcohol and cigarettes with cash, then you can afford to be buying your own groceries. If these girls had been being careful with their budget and buying things that would have lasted them for awhile and were not gourmet items, then I don't think it would have bothered me, the checker and the people in line behind us so much either. The amount that they spent on the gourmet items that would last them maybe a week is what I spend in an entire month!
You know it breaks my heart to see young moms struggling to buy food to feed their families and having to put needed items back when they run short on funds while seeing other people like this who spend foolishly because it is not coming out of their personal budget. I've also seen people, who like we were when we were on public assistance, being so careful to find the best deals and healthiest foods they could to feed their families and only have a small amount monthly to do that with while I see other people with $400-$600 worth of mostly junk food piled high in their carts and then paying with the EBT card. It is honestly maddening! I remember it being a struggle just to come up with cash to buy toilet paper and feminine hygiene products. There was no buying beer, wine or gourmet food. It was a rare occasion and usually a birthday when we bought a single bag of chips, ice cream or a 2 liter bottle of soda and even then it meant that we would have to sacrifice something else to do that. I see the same people over and over again on the day that the EBT cards are funded at the store buying the same stuff over and over again, so it is not just an occasional junk food or gourmet food splurge. Something needs to change.
I really wish that there were more limits on what you could buy with the EBT card and I also wish they would allow you to buy needed things like toilet paper with it also. Things like chips, soda, prepackaged cookies could all be done away with in my opinion. If you want those and can afford to buy beer with cash, then you can afford to buy those things with your cash also. I wish there were more education programs that went along with getting EBT cards. I think mandatory classes on nutrition, basic cooking and budgeting would help many of these families. In my volunteer work I have heard way too many people saying they don't know how to cook dried beans or rice, cook fresh vegetables, or even cook fresh chicken, fish or other meats. Believe it or not we have people come in that are mad because we don't have frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, more junk food items. etc. They turn up their noses at the healthier food options we have like whole grain cereals, canned tuna, dried beans, rice, canned tomatoes and even some of the fresh produce when we get it. What they don't seem to understand is that all the food is donated and we are a volunteer run program. None of us gets paid to do this and we certainly don't get to go and shop for these items. It actually costs money for us to do all this between gas to go up to the Second Harvest Food bank in Spokane and bring back the food, the rental space to have our free food distributions monthly and gas for our volunteers who come and help there and also do the home deliveries to the shut ins. A lot of the people coming in are also on food stamps and have run out of money on them by the end of the month when we have our free free distribution. It maddens me when I hear people saying that they don't get enough in food stamps and that the $600 is too little an amount to feed them and their family of 4 for the month (this family also gets other forms of public assistance and none of the adults are working outside the home even though they are healthy and more than able to). Meanwhile I have a 75 year old man on a fixed income who is there getting food for him and his wife who has dementia who gets no help at all and had to make the painful choice between buying the medications that his wife needs (the ones that Medicaid and Medicare don't cover) or buying food. I know what choice he made and that he will make sure that his wife has what she needs and will skip meals himself to make sure that she still gets 3 meals a day. We try to make sure that he gets "extra" food because we know the situation and how hard he struggles with all that he is dealing with. There is also the single mom, working 2 jobs trying to support herself and her children, with the generous heart who is always there to try and help others, who is struggling to get by, who does not qualify for food assistance because she makes "too much" just going over the cut off by a few dollars. She knows if she just worked one job or didn't work at all that she would qualify for all kinds of help, but she wants to do better for her kids and set a good example for them. These are the people that I feel so badly for. These are the same people standing in line behind the woman complaining that $600 a month in food assistance is not enough. 😠
Please tell me I am not alone in my thinking that our food assistance and for that matter, other forms of public assistance need to be revamped? I really feel there needs to be more accountability in these programs. It makes me angry to see people who are really hurting and being caregivers to their ageing or ill spouses or children and families that are working hard and struggling to make ends meet not get help while others are clearly working the system and abusing it and sitting back doing nothing productive when they could be out working and just collecting their benefits. As one of those spouses who cannot hold a regular job and struggles at times just to function at all, I know all too well the pressure that is on my hubby to provide all the income we need to survive. Even when we were on public assistance, that man was working as hard as he could at any job he could and taking side jobs as well just to keep a roof over our heads. I would work when I could but I only made about $20 a day as a substitute teacher after figuring in daycare costs for 3 kids. Once they were in school I could work more and did and we got off the food assistance program. Once we brought them home to homeschool, we were again down to one income but did not receive public assistance other than medical which the state would not allow me to drop since my husband did not get health insurance through his job. Once he was able to get that, we paid for our insurance but the kids were still on the state's insurance because again, the state would not allow us to drop them from it. That honestly turned out to be a God send because we would still be paying off the medial bills from our twins after the surgeries and physical therapy they both had to have. As it is, we will be paying off my medical bills for surgeries for years to come.
So there it is, my little rant for the day. Sometimes things like this just build up and I have to get them off my chest. I have my volunteer work later today and will be taking our littlest grandson with me since I will be watching him while his mommy is at an interview for a job and his daddy is at work. I am praying that no one complains today about what we don't have and will just be thankful for what we do. The program may be shutting down soon for lack of volunteers and funding and I worry about people like that sweet elderly gentleman and the single mom working 2 jobs. I am praying that more younger people will rise to the challenge and volunteer for this program. Those of us doing it now are honestly not able to do all the heavy lifting involved anymore. I would hate to see it go.