sydney_phillips

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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293 Responses

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  1. 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.

    Reply
  2. 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.

    -Kadie

    Reply
  3. 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 ?

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply

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