After reading my hungry season post, my most frequent and most staunchly anonymous commenter (my mom, of course), asked how I was doing on food stamps.
The answer: just great.
But as I merrily swipe my EBT card for fruits, veggies, staples and the occasional indulgence (olives! cheese!), I'm more aware than ever that I'm pretty much the most ideally-situated food stamps recipient ever, and that my experience is worlds different from the average. Why?
I'm white, educated, and speak English. The worst I encountered at the food stamps office was ignorance and disorganization. I wish I could say the same for some of my clients at work, whose experiences have been so bad that no matter how dire their situation, they refuse to return. Also, when my case was originally declined I was able to follow up with my caseworker and get the decision changed. Most recipients consider a rejection notice final and don't ever contest it.
I have the time and skills to cook from scratch, and I enjoy it. Cooking from scratch is cheaper. It's also not an option for folks who are juggling multiple jobs and family obligations.
I'm single. I'm able to receive the maximum individual allotment of food stamps - $200 a month. If there was anyone else in my food stamps household, our per capita allotment would be decreased (for example, 2 people = $367)
I'm a vegetarian. Meat's expensive. Beans, lentils and eggs...not so much.
Most of my income doesn't count towards my food stamp eligibility. Due to a special legal provision, my stipend does not count towards my income. What I take home each month would make me completely ineligible for food stamps if it were all included. And did I mention neither the benefits allotments nor the qualification criteria have anything to do with where you live? So the fact that food is more expensive in NYC than most places and that it's impossible to rent a room for less than $500 a month here does nothing to change what people are entitled to.
I have farmer/vendor friends. Even though my market is closed until April, several of my farmer/vendor friends have moved to a year-round market in Brooklyn and still insist on giving me free bread and produce.
I'm a US citizen. Undocumented and over 18? No food stamps. Got your green card? Well, you're eligible, but only if you've had it for at least 5 years.
I live in NYC. Although the city is more expensive than most places, almost all the farmers markets take EBT. That's unheard of most other places.
And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Mentioning that I'm on food stamps gives me a bit of rapport with some of my clients when I'm recommending they apply, but in reality my situation couldn't be more different from theirs.