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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353 Responses

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  1. Jealy
    Apr 04, 2016 - 03:30 PM

    Getting a card doesn’t guarantee a balance. The card had your name on it, but no money to your name until you jump through the rest of the hoops.

  2. Elisabeth
    Mar 31, 2016 - 02:31 PM

    You have no idea what it means to run a household and feed a family on minimum wage. You are clueless! I am a college student earning a bachelor degree in nursing and I cannot afford to work full time because I am in school full time. I make barely enough to pay my utility bills and my mortgage, I tried to apply for food stamps to get me through college but I did not qualify because I earn 50 dollars over what is allowed. I am a divorced woman with one child, trying to advance myself in life but it seems impossible when you hardly have any food in the refrigerator. after I make my mortgage payment (I am also a responsible homeowner) and my utility bills, I have about 100.00 dollars left to buy food which is barely enough for a week. Please think about the different kind of people who are on food stamps, not everyone is a leach eating off of you because of laziness, you should not judge! I also have learned that many Americans are quick at stereotyping when it comes to food stamps. There are many white people who point the finger at black people for being on food stamps, they forget that there are many whites that use them as well. I am not black, but I could not help but notice how many people I know point the finger at minorities on this issue. I have many friends of different ethnic background who are not on food stamps and are in school trying to better themselves, and some who do qualify for it but who are trying to get some kind of degree or certificate. Remember that if the wages big corporate America pays, were higher, less food stamps would be given. Most people who receive food stamps, are working people who do not make enough to feed their family. This is from the SNAP web site “more than half of SNAP recipients are children or the elderly. For the remaining working-age individuals, many of them are currently employed. At least forty percent of all SNAP beneficiaries live in a household with earnings. In fact, the majority of SNAP households do not receive cash welfare benefits (around 10% receive cash welfare), with increasing numbers of SNAP beneficiaries obtaining their primary source of income from employment.”

  3. Jake
    Mar 28, 2016 - 04:23 AM

    Providing vital necessities like water, vegetables, and lean proteins would eliminate the need for food stamps. All other food could be bought with your own money. It would eliminate people buying lavish steaks and sugary items with their tax funded grocery money. Also providing the basic nutrients to survive will give everyone the best chance they can have to become a healthy member of society. Pair that with workforce training being either college or a trade job and America might become the prosperous land for the many and not just the few.

  4. Lisa
    Mar 01, 2016 - 07:59 AM

    I think you should post proof of all of this. I don’t believe that they gave you food stamps without some kind of proof of identity. I’ve been working with welfare system for years, and there’s a Checklist of stuff they need, starting with identification.

    I call BS.

  5. T Phillips
    Feb 27, 2016 - 07:36 AM

    Almost all of us have some misguided, short-sided and uneducated ideals when we’re young. The analysis is fine enough, but the conclusion and judgement is off. Look at the cost for a single fighter jet (which is not unnecessary) and that will put into perspective some of the spending our government does.
    The food assistance program done by the US is one of the best egalitarian programs in our society. Do you believe in helping your fellow man, or only yourself? That is the basis on how to judge a people.

    I have a daughter “Sydney” and was kind of disappointed when I came across this after searching for her name.

    • lina
      Mar 31, 2016 - 01:57 PM

      I applaud you!!!You are an awesome parent!!

  6. Kim
    Feb 23, 2016 - 10:03 AM

    If you’re that concerned about taxes going to offset low income families, why don’t you advocate for a higher minimum wage? Instead of companies paying people enough to survive, they pay them a pittance, avoid taxes, and rely on citizens to pay enough taxes to actually supply food, shelter, and utilities for all of the underpaid workforce in america. Maybe you haven’t considered it, but is it possible these multi- million and billion dollar companies should bump pay up to a living wage so these “entitlements” (like being entitled to not starve to death or become homeless, I suppose) could drop dramatically.

  7. Darren
    Feb 06, 2016 - 10:31 AM

    Work full time at walmart. Two questions:
    How is it that my paycheck is not enough to pay rent plus utilities for a shit shack and some groceries?
    Why is the gov subsidizing low wages while big corporations rake in huge profits, mostly tax free?
    Anyone working full time should be paid an honest wage.
    Someone earning an honest wage should not need assistance from the government to buy groceries. Just my 2 cents worth

  8. Amber
    Feb 04, 2016 - 04:25 PM

    Activate the card and donate the food to the food pantry. And don’t pretend there’s some kind of “nobility” in struggling when help is alvailable. People not worried about putting food on the table can focus on solving larger problems and taking more innovative risks.

  9. Trent
    Dec 31, 2015 - 12:50 AM

    Wow look at all the people on welfare pissed off. Shit up. Damn she has a good point with it all . EBT IS WAY TOO EASY TO OBTAIN. I wouldnt have a major problem with it if I didn’t already pay my 15% of my damn check to welfare . Fuck you freeloaders.

  10. Logan
    Dec 16, 2015 - 08:33 PM

    oi vey ..women trying to understand the world

  11. Sy
    Dec 11, 2015 - 03:14 PM

    First….you are nothing more than a spoiled child, barely out of high school….who has been supported by your parents your entire life. You haven’t lived long enough, or worked long enough, to judge anyone, or anything!! And you haven’t paid in to society at all, so your not entitled to your spoiled brat, snotty opinion!!

    Second…..the whole problem with the “system”…. is people like you and your “Conservative” outlook on it. Your all so busy judging people and complaining….that you don’t see, or just don’t care, about the obvious positive!! Low income and single parent children, are actually trying to go to college and better themselves to become productive members of society!! So why the hell would you be so ignorant as to begrudge them getting the food stamps, that they legally qualify for, to help with food for the next 2-4 years while they’re getting a degree?

    It’s an investment in a better future for this country!! The longer they go to college, the better degree they’ll get and the higher their income will be. Then….they will pay back the small amt of $ that they got for food stamps, 10 fold in THEIR income taxes. Which will hopefully help other kids be able to eat and stay healthy, while they become productive members of society!!

    Here’s the alternative: You deny them the food stamps. Now they can’t do well in school, because they’re hungry and unhealthy….so they fail out, or drop out. They then get a minimum wage job and end up marrying a minimum wage earning partner….because a more well off partner wouldn’t want to be with someone “beneath” them right…..Now they have kids and the whole family ends up on food stamps….because “Conservatives” like yourself, don’t want to raise minimum wage to a “livable” wage!! Sooooo, all the people earning minimum wage, qualify for food stamps etc….because they don’t make enough to even pay for the basic needs of shelter, clothing and food!!

    You can most definitely tell by your ignorance at such a young age….that you were raised by ignorant “Conservative” parents, who like you…. complain about everything, but don’t ever want to do what’s right to fix the problem…..because then…..they’d have nothing to complain about!!! I truly hope that being amongst other people, from other walks of life at college….that are all heading in the same direction you are and may far surpass you….Will make you a better, more accepting and compassionate human being!!!

    • Ron B
      Dec 21, 2015 - 01:56 AM

      Excellent comment Sy. It’s amazing how they villify the food stamp recipients. Those food stamps not only help families, they actually help small businesses as well. She doesn’t realize that though.

      A local market in my neighborhood started taking EBT cards about 3 years ago. They did it because when the recession hit, they lost revenue from cash paying customers who were becoming a lot more frugal in their purchases.

      By accepting EBT cards, they were able to increase their revenue stream via lower income families buying their groceries with them, instead of traveling miles away to a large grocery store that accepted food stamps.

      The fact that 46 million are still on food stamps, is a disheartening number. But it’s also enabling those very people to spend money on other goods and services, besides food, that help bring back the economy.

      Conservatives need to simply “follow the money”.

    • Benno
      Apr 09, 2016 - 05:16 PM

      are u implying that all welfare recipients show proof of going to college and “bettering” themselves then? because many welfare recipients are on for life! i think it would be a great idea. they should only qualify when proving they will eventually pay it forward and be productive. and they should also be drug tested every month and pay for the testing without welfare money to prove another source of income. also its not minimum wage or honest living wage that needs to be looked at…everything is grossly overpriced and over taxed. if everywhere starts paying thier employees more the cost of goods would go up the same amount… we need to put limits on prices for necessities, start making our products in the u.s again and it will eventually get as cheap as when people grew up in the 50’s. also 0% taxes on those who make under a certain amount of money annually. lets say combined household of $75,000 or less pay no taxes ….right now those people pay 10% as do those making $249,000 per year.

  12. Porche Parnell
    Dec 07, 2015 - 02:34 PM

    I’m a college student and have been denied 3 times. Once because I worked to any hours one week during summer break and once because I was only able to work 15 hours a week during weeks when I attend class. I honestly don’t even know why I was denied the third time. They never requested proof of rent or utility payments, just flat out told me it didn’t matter how much it was because only child support, daycare fees, and a alimony payment were taken into consideration. I pay my own tuition and house, and have amassed a nice amount of debt doing so. I wish SNAP was as easy for me and other students in need to get as it was for you.

  13. no
    Dec 03, 2015 - 12:24 PM

    so…. you basically got foodstamps because you’re white…

  14. Charles
    Aug 31, 2015 - 06:39 PM

    My wife and I are college students and are thinking about using the snap program to supplement our groceries. Explain to me why that if I were to use the EBT to buy groceries throughout college and medical school and why it would be frown upon? I look at it like this… I will literally pay back 4x’s the amount of benefits I received in taxes in my first pay check as a physician. If anything college students should be more entitled to government benefits!! We’re all going to school to become contributing members of society. Can someone please explain to me why that’s not a logical way of thinking.

    • Jealy
      Apr 04, 2016 - 04:31 PM

      The only illogical thinking is feeling more entitled to benefits than others. I’m certain you’re a very hard worker. You do, however, have the benefit of sharing costs with your partner. You’re also privileged enough to have made it to med school. Not to discount your hard work at all, (because I know it wasn’t an easy journey) but not everyone has the opportunity to even try. Sometimes poverty limits potential regardless of hard work.



  1. Our welfare system is broken and inefficient – Mind Exposure

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