I Got Food Stamps and So Can You!

My recent excursion into the welfare system has left me scratching my head.  Prior to writing and researching this project, my only impression of food stamps and similar welfare programs was that the credit only worked for certain items at certain stores and that an individual had to be in a particularly dire financial situation to receive such aid.  I was wrong.

An EBT card works and looks like a debit card, but instead of the user withdrawing money from a checking account, the government prepays an amount of money it deems necessary for the user’s food expenditures.  Several of my classmates recently implemented the use of an EBT card for their groceries, and their involvement in the program immediately piqued my interest.  To be honest, my first thought was: “I wonder if I qualify for free grocery money.”  My immediate second thought was: “How do they qualify for free grocery money?”  These students come from similar financial backgrounds to mine, live in similar accomodations, and take the same amount of college credit hours that I do. Thus, my investigation began with a food stamp application, an interview request, and a trip to a place no one really wants to visit: the Department of Human Services.

I was informed by a very kind woman from the DHS that I would have to complete an interview to be considered for the program.  The next morning, I was surprised to see the long line of people that trailed outside.  When I reached the front of the line, I was informed that all of the interview spots were filled for the morning and that I’d have to call back later and complete my interview over the phone, which I did later that day.  To be considered, I needed to submit my last four paychecks, one rent receipt, one utility bill from the previous month, and verification that I was a student worker on campus.

I received a notice in the mail that the Department of Human Services had not received my employment verification and therefore could not review my case until I produced another pay receipt (which I could not produce, due to the fact that I’d only worked three weeks at my new job).  I had essentially given up at this point.  I didn’t need an EBT card; my investigation was merely an exercise in civic welfare accountability and efficiency.

Approximately one month after I had received the first letter, another letter found its way to my mailbox from the Department of Human Services.  I opened it up to find an EBT card with my name on it, instructions on how to activate and use the card, and the amount I could access on it per month — 200 dollars.  Nothing followed-up my interview, other than the evidently pointless letter I received during the previous month.   No one ever asked for a copy of my birth certificate or Social Security card, nor for my student identification card.  I answered all of their questions truthfully, but how were they to know that I was who I said I was?  Is it really this simple to obtain welfare benefits here in the United States?

It’s not hard to qualify for the program as a student and some universities even publicize food stamps to their students. For example, in Oregon, if you fall into any of the following categories, you automatically qualify for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) program: full-time student who works at least 20 hours per week, full-time single student who is caring for children younger than the age of 12, full-time married student who is caring for children younger than the age of 6, or at least a half-time student who is actively working any hours in a work-study program (institutional or federal) can receive a certain amount of money per month from the government.  While some of these requirements are certainly understandable, the last one leaves the door open for massive amounts of unnecessary welfare spending and fraud.

Welfare in America was intended to provide a temporary means of survival for those at rock bottom.  However, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people using food stamps over the past 40 years, and it would be hard to argue that they are all that destitute.  Over that same time period, an estimated $753 million per year has been spent fraudulently by welfare recipients.  Moreover, the government’s own accounting has cost taxpayers billions of dollars per year as food stamp programs routinely overpay their recipients; last year, that figure alone totaled $2.5 billion.

That being said, the students I know who use food stamps are hard-working, productive individuals whose parents won’t compensate them for the costs of college.  Mine generally don’t either, so I get that.  By using the program, students are able to save hundreds of dollars on food so they can pay for school instead of taking out an extra loan.  I’m not discrediting that logic; I totally sympathize.

But when government starts to act as the hand that feeds its people and makes personal decisions for them, citizens lose their identities and freedoms.  Not only is the innovative, hardworking, passionate American lost because the government promotes the idea that individuals can’t do it themselves, but the individuals come to expect the handouts and riot when they are revoked.

Given my own personal experience, it is clear that food stamps are too easy to obtain, student or not.  I realize that the food stamp program is different in all states, and some are more thorough with background checks than others, but much greater reform is needed.  It concerns me that 15% of the population, or 46 million people, rely on others’ tax dollars to pay for their food.  That doesn’t sound like freedom to me.

Yes, I apparently qualify for and possess an EBT card in the state of Tennessee, but I will not activate it.  Participating in a government welfare program simply because I can would amount to an endorsement of the growing entitlement society in America.  We should always advocate smaller government.  The decision to use food stamps for my food supply would directly contradict that principle, and our government’s purpose as it was described in the Federalist Papers and U.S. Constitution would be further distorted.

Sydney Phillips | Lee University | @sydphillips

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307 Responses

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  1. Beth
    Mar 25, 2015 - 12:42 PM


    Doing this research for what it sounds like was “fun” to you and not knowing the facts is discrceful! Yes the system isnt perfect but unless you plan on doing something positive to aid in fixing it please keep your extra time to do something less destructive…now we will have more people applying for something they can go work for (people without children!) I do not believe a college student should apply no matter how poor unless they have somene whom is dependant on them. I work hard with two children,pay taxes,volunteer services to vunerable adults,have a degree, own a home,garden for extra nutrition, and yes I am a SNAP recipient. That being said
    IT IS DISRESPECTFUL TO ALL OUT THERE HUNGRY WONDERING HOW THEY WILL EAT BECAUSE THEY WERE DENIED ……Go somewhere else with your inspirations and dont come back your approach was pitiful!!!

    I am sorry to all the other angry commenters I hear you keep your head up !! -Beth

  2. Darryl
    Mar 22, 2015 - 02:46 PM

    In my area, being black is qualification alone for getting the handouts. They are generally not required to prove anything at all, and often have multiple EBT cards under different names. They trade them for drugs, sex, and as payment for criminal activity. Other races are usually required to apply and qualify, but like most other areas of American life, blacks are not expected to do anything at all and are given a free pass because they are recognized as incapable of anything productive or good at all.

    • joan Seale
      Mar 25, 2015 - 09:46 AM

      I am a 72 year old woman d who lived in the USA for almost 30 years I worked and save as best I could but my son was involved in an accident his fault and i have been taking care of him on whatever I receive from SS and my family. I receive snap for myself my son does not live in this country .Yes I receive snap because ever since my son was injured I have had a rough time physically and mentally. I am a black woman not African American I was screened severely produced everything that was required of me turned down and reapplied and was accepted .I am disappointed that a seemingly intelligent person would claim that the color of your skin makes you eligible for public assistance. In the early 1990s my wallet was stolen about six months later I received a letter from social services asking me to come on for my interview I had no idea what they were talking about I called the number and was asked to come to the office My SS card was being used to take care of a family of 4 Caucasians. I was working at a nursing home caring fro incontinent people (u know what that means) and someone else was using me. so please do your research before you speak like that it is very hurtful to BLACK non Americans

  3. Deb
    Mar 09, 2015 - 12:13 AM

    Okay so I agree with you that the abuse of food stamps is wrong… and I also mostly agree with your concluding thought ,

    ” Participating in a government welfare program simply because I can would amount to an endorsement of the growing entitlement society in America. We should always advocate smaller government. The decision to use food stamps for my food supply would directly contradict that principle, and our government’s purpose as it was described in the Federalist Papers and U.S. Constitution would be further distorted.”

    Keep in mind, my mother is an immigrant from the slums of India, she moved here and worked VERY hard to get an education and better her life, indirectly changing the course of my life as well. With that said, she went to a private college and through HARD WORK and motivation and the help of the government she did not pay for her education, please remember their are some people who do not have it as good as you do, Sydney. When used correctly such programs are not a bad thing. I am not here to hate on you I just thought id leave you with that thought :)

  4. JayWink
    Feb 25, 2015 - 02:28 AM

    You know what need stop happen is people need to vote to fund more public service workers who can go verify that these programs are being used for what they need to be used for and who they were designed to be used for. The amount of food stamps these poor families and people who deserve disability but have been denied, the amount is not enough to live on anyways. A really funny paper and I like that you think your a model, which are you a writer or a model?

  5. JayWink
    Feb 25, 2015 - 02:20 AM

    You are full of it, you needed it and wanted it. If you don’t know why welfare is available it’s for people who are trying to succeed and make something of their self. I know I have worked in any and every job in the world. The longer and more time you put into a fast food job or a low wage income job. The more they take advantage of you, treat you like garbage, and the more you fall behind in bill’s. Why even work, that is whats wrong with America you don’t respect people working fast food, which is the largest business in the world. People deserve to make and earn a living wage. I understand you are embarrassed about needing food stamps, and wrote this paper because you think better of yourself, and used it as an excuse plus a paper you find cool to down other people to make yourself feel better. I am in Computer Science, I’m no English major so pardon my writing. I seen my dad raise us on foods stamps and he made something of himself and he pays a lot more tax’s and payed all of his outrageous student loans back. If you have mommy or daddy paving your way you will never understand what you are talking about, I reject your hypocritical opinion with no apology. The stereo type of stories like this is why people feel embarrassed and kids get ridiculed by your sons and daughters at their elementary schools and high school’s. In closing fuck you all.

  6. You Bitc
    Jan 26, 2015 - 01:07 AM

    I applied and qualified and the county qualified in Denied me due to Discrimination ADA Title VII – Illegally – I hope you rot in hel

  7. martha
    Jan 21, 2015 - 10:22 PM

    What a bunch of crybaby Americans…both sides of argument.

  8. Drew
    Jan 14, 2015 - 04:26 PM

    I think it’s very hypocritical of you to even apply for food stamps while contesting their virtue; I do not believe for a second that you went through the process of applying for SNAP, got an EBT card, and did not use it. Let me repeat myself: I do not believe your story for a second. Furthermore, I think America’s real problem these days is not one of entitled attitudes, but one where people with wealth and the ability to help those in need, are too greedy to give a d@mn. What makes a society good and even godly, if you are religious, is how it treats its most vulnerable people. Whether you believe that there are families and individuals who cannot adequately feed themselves without this program is irrelevant, because the fact is that there are. To use myself as an example, I have not been able to find steady work in the area I live for quite some time, and although I have not always been enrolled in the SNAP program since moving here, I have not been shy to take advantage of it when I’ve truly needed it. I think it’s a shame to base the notion of good governance on this selfish, anti-compassion attitude that “those without are probably just scammers.” Which is what I got from your article. Receiving foodstamps does not amount to government making decisions for you. It amounts to being so blessed as to live in a wealthy country where such welfare programs are even possible. It does not surprise me when people like you slam welfare programs, because it’s clear to me that you have not endured true financial struggle. Those who have, don’t need to question the virtue of such programs, because they already know that in 2015, in one of the most wealthy nations in the world, to not have such programs while there are millions who genuinely need it, is the true shame and farce. You wear a star of David around your neck, so I’m assuming you’re Jewish? If you are, why don’t you take the following instruction from God as found in the Ten Commandments and learn to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Because I already know for a fact that if you were faced with starvation and your only options were to receive food stamps or die, you would choose the former. How do I know? Because self-preservation is simply human nature, and it’s not something to be ashamed of.

    • Darryl
      Mar 22, 2015 - 02:49 PM

      Drew has repeatedly admitted to being a drug addict elsewhere in comments. It matters little what he “believes.”

  9. JB
    Nov 26, 2014 - 08:48 PM

    Here’s the thing: YOUR experience as a student ‘investigating’ how easy it was to get them and who might not really be in NEED for them, does NOT reflect how difficult it can be for someone who IS in need and how difficult some food stamp workers can make it for someone in need. From my experience as a someone with MULTIPLE disabilities and for whom does NOT collect either SSI or SSDI for them and who CAN’T work due to the disabilities, food stamp workers have put me through EMOTIONAL TORTURE in the process of re certifying for them each year and to the extent where they VIOLATE THE LAW governing what the agency should do.

    Here are some examples:
    1: It is LAW that if a person on medicaid is deemed by medicaid as having a disability, then the DTA (food stamp people) need to ACCEPT that. I’ve had case workers who refused to accept my disability status ‘because’ I did not get SSI or SSDI. It is in reckless DISREGARD as to what the LAW states. Why some refuse to acknowledge the disability could be due to their being either IGNORANT of what there job is to do or in RECKLESS DISREGARD of the law. It is also law that someone with a disability need not have a photo ID on the EBT card. I have had the same recklessly ignorant DTA workers threaten to close my benefits ‘because’ of no photo ID. Yet when I went to get the photo ID anyway, other DTA workers told me NONE was needed. Yet the same reckless ones CONTINUED TO DEMAND IT. The stress from all that landed me in a hospital.

    2: It is LAW that a self declaration as to where one lives needs to be accepted by the DTA. It is also LAW that utility bills sent to address are PROOF as are CANCELLED RENT CHECKS. I have had DTA workers (same ones refusing to accept my disability status) also REFUSE to accept cancelled rent checks and utility bills to said address as proof of my living there and instead DEMANDED to see a LEASE. As tenant at will who had not a copy of my lease at the time it was demanded (I had just moved and could not find my papers in time), my rights were VIOLATED by some recklessly ignorant DTA workers who refused to accept other documents and self declarations as proof of address where it was really THEIR JOB to accept those and not demand me to provide a document I did not have at the time.

    3: I send all requested documents, including bank statements and 1099 forms in addition to going to the bank to have the manager write a letter to explain what those are (for stupid DTA workers who can’t read a bank statement properly), only to find the DTA worker THROWS THEM AWAY or does not acknowledge receipt.

    4: To help PREVENT a stupid DTA worker or vicious one from claiming they did not get my documents, I send them via $10 priority mail with tracking where I have PROOF they got them. Yet I STILL get letters saying they lack the documents (which I sent them).

    5: I get a letter from ‘out of the blue’ from a DTA worker claiming I ‘missed a telephone interview’ YET no message on my phone is left by the worker regarding it NOR any interview ever planned for me. Worker (and get this–the name is ‘Phuc Duc’ pronounced Fuck Duck’) does the ‘interview’ and then demands I go in there IN PERSON THE SAME DAY to get a photo on my card after I tell her I’m DISABLED with no transportation and can’t get there easily and ‘if not, my benefits will be cancelled’. I hire a CAB for $60 to get there ONLY TO FIND that the worker REFUSES TO MEET ME. So, you think it’s ‘easy’ do you? Well how easy does that sound: Getting some BOGUS notice of some ‘missed telephone interview’ NEVER PLANNED to be and with NO PHONE MESSAGE of that when she called and to have to drop what I ‘m doing to hire a cab to get there in person only to find the DTA worker REFUSES to meet with me and to also find from the SUPERVISOR that there WAS NO NEED for her to ever have any interview with me and NO NEED for me to have a photo ID BECAUSE I had a disability.

    That’s only the TIP of the iceburg as to the STRESS some DTA workers put me through; ALL of them recklessly disregarding the LAW to do so, people who are supposed to HELP someone such as myself and not go out of their way to HINDER and make someone with arthritis (who can’t walk) and who has a STRESS DISORDER WORSE.

    So, here you are, an able bodied college gal with no disabilities who is really NOT in need for help, yet it is EASY for you to get benefits with not much trouble at all and you pontificate and speculate for OTHERS as to how ‘easy’ it must be for ALL. It is NOT that way at all. PERHAPS it ‘s only easy for people committing fraud or for those really NOT in need. But from MY perspective of someone who IS in need (via disabilities that make me unemployable!) and NOT collecting for them and using my savings to support myself, it’s a NIGHT MARE of STRESS invoking problems with these workers who DISREGARD THE LAW they are supposed to be following. They disregard it to the extent that they demand documents that have already been sent to them or claim they did not get them or they don’t accept other documents that substitute as those they are requesting when it is law they do so. So that sort of situation is FRAUD on the part of those DTA workers even being EMPLOYED THERE. THey use their employment at DTA to engage in FRAUD as it is FRAUDULENT on their part to say such things as: ‘Only SSI or SSDI’ is considered for disability when the LAW says a doctor’s statement will suffice. It is FRAUD to refuse utility bills and cancelled checks for rent proof and demand a lease document instead and also FRAUD on their part to not accept a self declaration of address. It is FRAUD to insist a disabled person go to office for photo ID where the LAW says disabled persons don’t need to. So, I’m a victim of FRAUD by reckless DTA workers trying to jeopardize my benefits.

    So, why don’t you use your ‘investigative skills’ to explore the NIGHTMARE workers at DTA who DON’T do their job and/or who don’t follow the LAW stating what their job is and instead act like ‘mavericks’ trying to jeopardize benefits to the poor and disabled honest people. Your little article ditty was an AFFRONT to me to hear you SPECULATE on ‘how easy’ getting food stamps is where these workers have given me MULTIPLE NERVOUS BREAKDOWNS from the emotional torture they have inflicted. Again, it is NOT ‘easy’ for people who really need them. Just easy for little snots like you writing such blog articles.

  10. Nikelaus Lubard
    Oct 25, 2014 - 05:55 AM

    This quote in your article gives me pause: “But when government starts to act as the hand that feeds its people and makes personal decisions for them, citizens lose their identities and freedoms. Not only is the innovative, hardworking, passionate American lost because the government promotes the idea that individuals can’t do it themselves, but the individuals come to expect the handouts…”

    How does Supplemental Nutritional Assistance equate to making personal decisions? How does help feeding yourself when you’re down on your luck make you lose your identity or your freedom? Help from tax dollars you pay into the system when you are working (or just purchasing things) causes an otherwise innovative, hardworking, passionate American to become “lost” in what way?

    You have a lot of fluff in your piece that seems to be regurgitation of Ayn Rand pablum with no basis in fact. I wonder if you’ve developed your own opinions and can back them up since you wrote this article. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’ve matured a little, learned a few things about life it’s hard to learn in college (unless you, as I did, work full time all the way through and receive not a nickel of assistance from your family because they don’t have any money–on grows up quickly then, but I don’t get the impression from your glib tone that’s really your experience.), and that you might now see your article was more like an impromptu speech for the anti-welfare side of a debate rather than anything researched.

    It’s interesting to me, in fact, that the most research you did (given that you really didn’t support any of the grand arguments quoted above) was to further burden the welfare system long enough to prove someone who didn’t need the help could get it. I suppose that frivolous game with taxpayer money is okay, though? Because hating on people who need a hand from The Welfare State is honorable while admitting you’re having trouble making ends meet is a one-way ticket to losing your passion and individuality and identity and freedom?

    Pardon my first impression, but this article seems to have wasted a lot of time, yours and the government’s–and money, such as that used to process the fraudulent (or at best insincere) application and put you in the system and print the little card and send it to you. I pray you don’t find yourself truly in need at some point in your life, shuddering to think how dismissive you were of something that helps a lot of people to survive long enough to become productive citizens again. (Ayn Rand, for example, spent her last years living off Social Security. I wonder if she felt shrugged off ol’ Atlas’s shoulders when that day came–oh right, she saw herself as Atlas, so I guess her shoulders gave out and her legs as well, at which point she must have been grateful for the entitlement programs upon which she came to rely. And I suspect she must have felt so lonely, having scoffed at others for so long, high on the pipe dream that being exceptional or intelligent or just plain passionately greedy entitles one to a life of extravagant and luxurious just desserts.)

    Like I say, though, I’m sure you’ve grown up a bit since writing this article. I adored Ayn Rand and her “philosophy” of greed and misanthropy in high school. And I grew out of it as soon as I started thinking for myself, which hopefully college has helped you to begin doing as well since this exercise in repeating red herrings about the loss of the passionate individual once she needs assistance and doesn’t have rich parents to turn to. No achievement is diminished by having had help along the way.

  11. Kadie
    Sep 28, 2014 - 11:41 AM

    So to start, I’m a non traditional student, I’ve been on my own since I was 18 and I’ve been married and divorced. Because I’m 23 I couldn’t qualify for fafsa without providing my parents income, which I refused to do seeing as I’ve not been provided for since then and they contribute absolutely nothing to my wellbeing. (Love them to pieces), but I’m very very very close to being homeless in a state that I’m not originally from, with no family help here or there, and like one or two friends. This being the case, I couldn’t attend school again until I turn 24 to be considered an independent student to receive all of the benefits towards my tuition that I am more than qualified to receive….I originally looked into food stamps my first semester at the university (full time student who had been working full time and then lost my job). Waiting for my unemployment I looked into food stamps and realized that the state of Tennessee requires the max of 20 hours of work a week while being a full time student in order to qualify. ( they wouldn’t take into consideration the fact that I had been a full time employee for 3 years who now couldn’t eat, pay rent, or pay bills). My question now is, that because I’m enrolled in the university but I’m not registered for classes because I couldn’t afford to attend, do I qualify!? I can’t find answers anywhere, and like the wonderful people they are, they can’t provide any answers. I’d love to hear what you have to say, I’d very much appreciate it.


  12. Linda Ball
    Aug 01, 2014 - 07:49 PM

    Lucky you….i have twin college students, but because my children are over 18, even if they are full-time students I qualified for a big $15 a month.
    They weren’t considered as part of my household, apparently the part-time McDonald’s job at 7.48 my daughter has is well over the limit. HA !

    My opinion you slipped through the cracks hun ! I got next to nothing and am living on Disability ! Which I worked for, paid into, to recieve if
    anything had happened to me, but is listed under an un-earned income. Oh well, I guess working for 17 years and paying for Medicare if it was
    ever necessary is considered un-earned.

    I have found zero programs to assist parents with full time college students. And I’m sure I know what most are thinking, your kid is 18, tell them
    to get a job. Both my kids have jobs and attend college full time. But regardless, they are not considered as part of my household, even though they
    live with me at home. I think I’m supposed to tell them to get out, find an apartment and fend for yourself making $510 a month….hmmmm yeah that should work.

    I’m sick of people thinking because your children are over 18, they are supposed to be able to pay rent, get jobs, work full time, school full time….WHERE ? There are barely enough jobs in Michigan for 30 year olds to find work , with DEGREES ! I’m all for my kids working and going to school, I had to do it, but damn, the amount of money they make doesn’t cover car insurance, food, rent, cell phone, daily needs…so it’s left on
    the parents, but we are not allowed to claim them, we can’t get assistance for them, what are we supposed to do ? Anyone got a clue on that ?

    • cc
      Aug 22, 2014 - 08:47 PM

      nys is much harder to get help than mass. or any where else. I agree as a parent with 2 kids and one ft in college her job and my unemployment and child support put me over. Nice job nys!



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