Food Stamp Abuse Is Not The Problem - Cost Of Living Is The Problem
I see it constantly on every social media I am a part of, within my own extended family conversations, on news channels, on blogs, in churches, from the pulpit and even within some schools. People are every day blaming those who are on government assistance (i.e. Food Stamps (SNAP) or similar) for the problems we have economically. People are consistently saying those people just need to "get a damn job", or "get off their lazy ass". While I will never deny that there are many people out there who do abuse the system, I must insist that we look at the real issue at hand. The average employed person lives below poverty level. Many of those people are also working multiple jobs. While abuse is too prevalent for any persons standards, it is not the only issue at hand. The real issue is the fact that most people are struggling just to maintain a very basic existence without the help of government assistance or enormous credit card debt.
Let's look at facts first to explain why I feel this way. I am using local to me pricing (Central Arkansas) since there is such a high percentage of middle income to poverty level income in my area. I am going to lay out an example taken from a family in my community that I personally know. These are college educated and hard working people who in this community are still struggling and couldn't feed their children if they did not have assistance. If you suggest they should seek better jobs, let me tell you for fact that they have. There are no better jobs to be had in this area. Move you say? Sure, they would, but they are unable to find jobs outside this area that would pay enough for them to make the trek hundreds or thousands of miles away, uproot, pay deposits and/or buy a new home and keep their heads above water. To put it simply, they are stuck.
Family of 4. Mom works retail 40 hours per week. Dad works in the service industry 40 hours per week. They have 2 children ages 2 and 13. They live in a 3 bedroom 1 bath mobile home in a trailer park outside the city. It's a clean but fairly run down neighborhood. They currently rent because although they are not in debt, they do not have the means to buy a home. They currently are buying through a local used car lot a vehicle that is 6 years old. They also own another vehicle that is 10 years old and has routine mechanical issues. They live moderately, rarely eat out and don't go to movies, amusement parks or other costly forms of entertainment.
40 hours per week at $8.25 per hour =$330 per week before taxes
After taxes = $280 take home per week
40 hours per week at $9.25 per hour = $370.00 per week before taxes
After taxes and medical insurance deduction for himself & wife = $269 take home per week
Notice how Dad makes more per hour but due to the medical insurance copayment he brings home less? And yes, insurance through his employer was lower than the Affordable Care Act options available this year and is necessary to cover his pre-existing diabetes and her high blood pressure.
Monthly Income: $2196
Sounds like a decent amount right? Think again.
Monthly Bills OWED:
Electric: $150 (average over year and level billing)
Garbage Pickup: $17
Renters Insurance: $40
Car Payment: $300
Car Insurance: $140
Telephone: $60 (covers a cell phone for both adults using Straight Talk limited plans - no home phone)
Cable/Internet: $35 (used for school assignments for teen)
Child Care For 2 Year Old: $340
Gas For Vehicle: $125
Monthly Prescription Costs: $65
Life Insurance: $45 (for both parents)
Student Loan Repayments: $145
This brings their monthly expenses to:$2087
This leaves them with $109. But that total above doesn't include the following monthly needs that fluctuate
Household Supplies: $25 (toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies)
Toiletries: $40 (traditional toiletries plus diapers for 2 year old)
Vehicle Maintenance: $40 (budgeted at this but often much more due to older vehicle issues)
Food: $300 (mom menu plans and uses coupons)
Total Left After All Expenses: -$296
So you look over the expenses and you say, "Drop the life insurance, renters insurance, phones and cable/internet they aren't necessary", but aren't they?
I don't care who you are or how healthy you are, life insurance and medical insurance are not options in my book and they shouldn't be to anyone. If you can't afford to pay for medical expenses outright should an emergency happen, then you should have medical insurance and their costs are very low compared to most. Renters insurance protects their belongings should something happen to the home they are renting. Did you know that many rentals do not provide insurance to protect the renters belongings, but only provide structure replacement? One fire and they lose everything with no chance or replacement without this insurance. Cable and internet are privileges for sure, but their teen daughter is also in many advanced programs and since they don't live close to a wifi location or the library (about 20 miles away from "town") it is actually cheaper to pay for this than to drive her back and forth 2-3 times a week when she needs to use it for school.
They don't have credit cards. They don't spend frivolously. This true list of their current bills and expenses doesn't even include savings for a rainy day, clothing expenses or those little things like birthdays or holidays. While there are many people who are in far worse shape than they are, this is reality. This is what a family of 4 with parents who both work full time jobs and leave moderately looks like. This is the face of many people who as a last resort turn to government assistance to just feed their families. This is the face of 2 people who went to college, got degrees and still can't find job that pays better. Both of them got bachelors degrees in business thinking it would be flexible and allow them to get jobs in many fields. In fact it has ended up being worse than not having a degree at all in this area. They are deemed overqualified for many positions or their degree is not specific enough for others.
You could say, "get a second job" or "sell stuff to make ends meet", and you would be correct that those are great ways and means to make things work. The problem is, there are no jobs here. Oh, there are jobs, but to get one takes a miracle. Have you been in the job market lately? In our area the help wanted section of the newspaper may have 50 jobs listed for a community of over 35,000 people. Go to the local Department of Workforce Services or look online and you see maybe 100-150 more. A few odd ball random jobs pop up here and there and are heard about through the grapevine. So in a community with at somewhere in the range of 5,000 people at minimum out of work currently, how are at most 500 jobs going to be enough? Don't forget that at least half of those jobs are very specific to skill sets, degrees or special training.
Work online, do surveys, create a blog, sew or craft and sell things online are all great options too, but how does one do so when working a 40 hour a week job, caring for a family and trying to get at least 3-4 hours of sleep a night? Is it possible? Yes, but results are typically so minimal that the wear and tear on the individual ends up making it not worth it. Think about lack of sleep and family relations being destroyed to the point you end up losing either your spouse, your current job or your health in the process. Think I am being extreme? Think again. While there are thousands of ways to make extra money working online or from home, very few are truly successful and those that are have invested years to be so. Trust me, I have spent the last 4 years busting my ass to make ends meet working online. That meant working 16-18 hour days for years to get to a point where I can now set my schedule "normal" and still manage to pay my bills, and even then sometimes I end up working extra to cover added expenses.
What is the answer? We need better jobs, more jobs and higher paying jobs. We need child care available for everyone so mothers who wish to can get back into the work force without feeling they are paying for the privilege. Child Care Assistance is great but when there are so few slots per state available, it doesn't help the majority. We need to bring more jobs back home and export less jobs overseas. There is no set answer. There is no one stop solution to this problem. I have no special formula to fix what is wrong with our society. What I do have is sympathy and understanding and knowledge that many of the individuals who have EBT cards in their wallet right now have one because they are working as hard as they truly can and still cannot feed their families.
Don't contribute to the problem by perpetuating lies, slander and half truths. While there is a percentage of truth to the words used, there is a lot more exaggeration. While the words may have a grain of truth to them and we have all met more than our share of abusers of the system, Food Stamp Abuse Is Not The Problem - Cost Of Living Is The Problem. Until we change the minimum wage, create jobs that are needed and help get rid of things like debt from education (yes I believe basic college education should be free to anyone) this cycle is going to continue.
Stop complaining about the people that abuse the system and start doing something to show our government that we need better jobs, higher wages and more opportunities for growth in our communities.