It’s no secret: the working poor don’t have things easy. The Food Stamp Program, which has existed since the 1930’s, was enacted nationwide in the 1974 to supplement the diets of America’s poor. So, who gets food stamps:
The Food Stamp Program is targeted toward those most in need. Of all food stamp households in FY 2003 (the year for which the most recent detailed USDA data are available), 55 percent contain children; households with children receive 79.3 percent of all food stamp benefits. Roughly 18 percent of food stamp households contain an elderly person and 23 percent containa disabled person. Approximately 88 percent of food stamp households have gross incomes below the poverty line ($18,100 for a family of four in 2002). Approximately 38.4 percent of food stamp households have gross incomes at or below half of the poverty line.
The food stamp benefit translates to about 3 bucks a day, or 21 bucks a week. Though the program was meant only to supplement their nutrition needs, these days food stamps recipients are more likely to rely entirely on the program. As inflation eats away at the buying power of the minimum wage, the working poor are earning less. Things have to change.
Some in Congress are trying to bring light to this problem:
Today, four members of Congress conclude the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge, in which lawmakers chose to live “on three dollars of food per day, the same amount an average participant in the Food Stamp Program receives.”
One of the participants, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), “stuck to the challenge” even as he traveled to speak at his alma mater’s commencement exercises, bringing along his “pasta and sauce, as well as the last of my jelly, peanut butter, and bread.”
But when Ryan had to go through airport security, things got dicey:
When I arrived I decided just to carry my bag on so I ran over to the security gate with my carry on. I step up to the metal detector, take my shoes off, place my bag through the scanner and come out the other side to the most dreaded words in travel, “Bag Check!”
As the agent sifted though my bag, I tried to recount what could possibly be in there that was threatening…my mouthwash? Toothpaste? Yeah, it was those two, but it was also my peanut butter and jelly.
He politely put the peanut butter and jelly to the side, closed my bag and gave it back to me. I was too astonished to talk. I took my bag and walked towards the gate thinking about the 4 or maybe 5 meals that she had taken from me. What am I going to do now? It’s not like I can just go to Safeway and grab another jar. I have .33 cents and a bag of cornmeal to last today and tomorrow.
A few congressfolks and the Governor of Oregon took the Food Stamp Challenge. Then again, millions of Americans take that challenge every day. Unlike these pols, it doesn’t end with a flank steak, red skin potatos, and a bottle of pinot noir.
Many families do things like buy in bulk to keep costs down. This is impossible for most poor folks on a tight budget. Bulk is cheaper per person, but the upfront costs at the cash register make bulk buying impossible. Also, poor folks can get more food if they buy lower quality, hence the fatty ground beef versus the more expensive leaner beef. No wonder obesity is an epidemic for poor kids.