Today I as I stood in line for coffee at the deli counter of the bodega down the street, I noticed a helpful handwritten sign announcing "No EBT currently".
There's just one problem: there was nothing at the deli counter that one could legitimately use EBT for. Ever. Even when their cash register was working. One of the food stamps rules is that you can't use them to buy "hot, prepared foods". Thus I could buy a jug of cold apple cider, but not a cup of it warm, and the same sandwich which I could not (legally) buy warm would be no problem cold and wrapped in plastic. Bodega owners skirt this regulation by ringing up warm sandwiches or other prepared foods as produce.
The sign brought up some sticky questions that I've been rolling around for the last couple weeks, since my most recent classist-comment-from-a-foodie encounter. A well-off self-confessed "food movement" member, upon hearing about my work, asked me if I saw a lot of people trying to defraud the food stamps system. The short answer (and the one I gave her) is that I see far more clients who aren't receiving the full amount they're entitled to (never mind enough to feed their families), than I do people trying to use the system.
But is there stretching of the truth? Yes. Are household arrangements reported so as to receive the most food stamps? Sometimes.
Does that bother me? I'll be honest - not really. Why? Because for every person I know will be less than completely truthful about their situation in the social services offices, there are several whose honest circumstances would get them hundreds of $$ a month who refuse to go because of how they've been treated or because of the stigma attached, even in parts of this working class community, to receiving government benefits. Because I've seen very few people with the means to actually, adequately cover their needs get excited enough about a few extra $$ for food to even attempt the whole ordeal. And because I'm much more bothered by the fraud perpetrated by some of the world's wealthiest individuals across the East River than a hundred dollars here or there for groceries.
Is this entirely consistent? No, maybe not.