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Not as far away as we might like to think.
(Photo: U.S. National Archive)
With four or more job seekers for every available job for more than two years (PDF), it's no wonder that when the Agriculture Department recently released information about people on the supplemental nutrition assistance program (AKA food stamps AKA SNAP) in 2010, it turned out that a high proportion of them had been unemployed for the entire year: Less than 30 percent had earnings for the year, though 41 percent were in households in which someone had earned.

But the most striking thing was this:

But some 20% of households had no cash income of any kind last year, up from 15% in 2007, the year the recession began, and up from 7% in 1990.

That’s partly because most household heads who were receiving food stamps were also out of work. Just 21.8% of them had jobs in 2010, while 19.8% were jobless and looking for work.

SNAP covered 18.6 million households including 40.3 million people in 2010, and 20 percent of those households—3.7 million—had no cash income. The average SNAP benefit, by the way, is $287 per month, maxing out at $668 for a family of four. And even those households with other income averaged just $731 of income per month.

A 2010 New York Times article looking at the same phenomenon explained that food stamps:

...have taken on a greater role in the safety net for several reasons. Since the benefit buys only food, it draws less suspicion of abuse than cash aid and more political support. And the federal government pays for the whole benefit, giving states reason to maximize enrollment. States typically share in other programs’ costs.

Yet even drawing less suspicion and covering more Americans than ever before, SNAP has come under various forms of attack from Paul Ryan and others among the usual suspect pool.

(h/t Susie Madrak)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 01:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, Progressive Hippie, and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Food Stamps alone don't do the job. FS don't buy (17+ / 0-)

    Toliet tissue, feminine products or diapers.  With only food stamps, you still are in a world of hurt.

    •  If there are children involved, they can get money (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RJDixon74135, drmah

      There is the TANF programs which provides money in one time or limited duration payments to parents and grandparents.

    •  Solve recession through food stamps (0+ / 0-)

      What I take away from this article is, the only way to save our economy is by taxing food stamps.  If the poorest among us have no income, they must sacrifice through calorie reduction. The job exporters, er, creators, need to have certainty that we are all in this together.
      The revenue raised can be used to assure the Too Big To Fail Banks that the FED will improve its chintzy program that lends them money at zero percent interest, in favor of a policy that pays them to borrow and hoard money.
         Liberals just don't understand,  that stuff about entreprenuerial risk is old-school, today's hip billionaires want the payoff right up front, so they can park the money in US bonds, and they must know with absolute certainty that "those people" will front the money, or they will simply refuse to be paid to take free money!  Because who wants to wait for interest on a 10-yr bond for 10 years? That stuff is for suckers!

  •  there are so many people going hungry right now (25+ / 0-)

    that it is frightening.  I worked with my sister's church at
    their food pantry Saturday morning and the people started
    lining up before 7:00 AM for food being handed out at 8:00 AM.  
    When all was said and done they gave over 900 people
    food and the people at the end of the line only got
    bread.  It was heartbreaking. There were people of
    all ages from all walks of life of all colors and ethnicity.  
    It was sobering.  There is a great need to help these
    people get food and not enough resources to do that.

    I guess this is the new American exceptionalism

    "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment." Ansel Adams........................................................ "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." Will Rogers

    by Statusquomustgo on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 01:36:12 PM PDT

    •  Revolution and food prices (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Statusquomustgo, terjeanderson

      I like to use humor, but I know how bad things are for many millions.  I am fortunate to have people who help me; they don't have to.  
      I saw a study a few weeks ago, I wish I had bookmarked it.
      From studying many revolutions around the world over many years, the researchers found the only common trait that can be teased out is food prices that threatened people with eminent starvation.  Monty Python said, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"
      Revolutions come suddenly, unpredictably. I went to a much-hated, global retailer tonight to buy eggs.  There were many brands, many egg sizes, packed in 6's, 12's, and 18's , like beer.  It seemed to me that prices have gone up roughly 50-100% in the last 6-12 months.  I have no data, except I remember getting 12 jumbos for a 1.20 a few months ago, now they are 2.20.  I settled for 12 large for about 1.20,  from the lowest-priced brand by far. And of course, large means small in FDA/lobbyist speak.  The End!

      •  yes, the food prices are skyrocketing and the (0+ / 0-)

        packages and contents are getting less and less for
        more and more money.  There are people that are starving
        in America, IN AMERICA how can that be.

        "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment." Ansel Adams........................................................ "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." Will Rogers

        by Statusquomustgo on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 08:26:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  we have to make sure that SNAP is strengthened (15+ / 0-)

    in the 2012 Farm Bill.  Thanks for the info. Laura

  •  But the rich need another tax cut! (11+ / 0-)

    So sickening. I see the line at the local food pantry grow every week, and hell, if things don't pick up for me soon, I'll be in that line too.

    Mas eu tenho certeza que se eu não morrer, nada nessa vida vai me surpreender.

    by bozepravde15 on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 02:29:33 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for this. When you hear people talk (10+ / 0-)

    about the flat tax think about the poor, or those just over the poverty line. Right now, they don't pay federal income taxes. If these flat tax proponents get their way that could change and cause even more pain to people already struggling.

  •  A very tenuous lifeline without cash (25+ / 0-)

    Food stamps are often the only, or one of the few, benefits that a person without an income can get - especially single people, couples without kids, or folks who don't fit the very difficult guidelines for qualifying for cash benefit programs.

    I spent nearly a year with no cash income other than food stamps. It was the period after I became too ill to work but before my disability was approved.

    Getting by on $185 a month of food wasn't easy, but it is possible if you are extremely parsimonious with purchases - buying staple ingredients and cooking from scratch, foregoing any indulgences, and supplementing it with homegrown veggies and fruits and occasional food pantry visits. (I even managed to feed my dog using the SNAP benefit - you can't buy dog food, but you can make from scratch it with bargain basement ingredients - and she liked it much better than kibble!)

    I was fortunate - I own my house outright, so no mortgage or rent payments (although property taxes were paid a year late and homeowners' insurance lapsed). Living in Vermont, I qualified for free health care coverage (even prior to my disability determination) - something that few states provide to poor single adults. I was equally fortunate to be eligible for LIHEAP (low income heating assistance program) to fill my propane tank once during the winter, and supplemented that with wood cut from my land to burn.

    My only cash during that period came from selling belongings - selling a car that I had inherited from my father, trimming my book collection and other household items. This somehow provided enough cash to cover electric and phone bills, and to put gas in the car (which I dangerously drove with lapsed registration and no insurance - the kind of choices that a lot of poor people make).

    I don't know how I would have made it through that period without food stamps - they were an invaluable lifeline for me, and I know they are for others.

    Any time we hear about people having no income other than SNAP, or even when someone has some income but still qualifies, we need to understand exactly what it really means in the kind of fundamental life challenges they face simply to get through every day. Food Stamps are not some kind of generous benefit - they are simply one of the most vital strands of a severely frayed safety net.  

    My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world - Jack Layton

    by terjeanderson on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 02:48:38 PM PDT

  •  "Household" can be misleading. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cai

    Two single person living together but have no ligal liability to each other are actually considered two households. Each of the adults who live with their parents are legally a household unto themselves. Unmarried adults living together as well as a person and their roommate make 2 household homes.

    This is not to disparage the fact that there are more people who fit these definitions who collect food stamps, but to make everyone aware that many of these households are not the nuclear family homes we usually associate with the term household.

    •  For food stamps that actually depends on (4+ / 0-)

      your self-reported meal habits.

      There's a question like, "Do you regularly buy groceries or cook meals with any non-related roommates?"

      From MA SNAP website:

      A SNAP food stamp household is an individual or a group of people who live together and buy food and prepare meals together (most of the time) to eat at home. Members of a SNAP food stamp household get their benefits together, on one EBT card, and their income is counted as a group in determining eligibility. Household members do not have to be related to each other.
    •  Defining "household" is not the problem (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NoMoreLies

      1. Who are the "we" who usually associate a particular conception of nuclear family with the term "household"?
      2 1/2 kids with a Mommy/Daddy named June/Ward was always largely a Hollyweed fantasy. The other people simply didn't get any screen time.  
      2. You are correct, people are living in a variety of living arrangements to prevent each other from living on the streets. Grown children live in their parent's basements, several friends live together to share rent, young folks who can meet the increasingly stringent military requirements live together in barracks throughout the world, etc.
      3. But these ad hoc arrangements should not be used as an excuse to minimize our economic problems. 20-25% of our working age people are underemployed or unemployed.  1 out of 7 homes are vacant,  many going to mold and rot, as speculators and banks wait for another magical housing price boom.
      4. Our economic-political system is dysfunctional, our global military empire is taking us straight to hell, and bickering about the definition of "household" is merely delaying an honest accounting of where we're at.

  •  It makes perfect sense to the GOP. (5+ / 0-)

    Rail about a miniscule amount of waste in the Food Stamp Program, but allow hundreds of billions to be stolen by Wall Street.  This way you maximize the millions in campaign contributions from Wall Street and Corporate interests.

  •  And we continue to hear that the bottom 50% (9+ / 0-)

    pay no income taxes.  What trash!

    The banks were responsible for  $6.5 trillion in reductions in home values, eliminating the available cushion many had to weather hard times or pay for a better education for their children.

    I got into a heated debate today with a FB'er on my congressman's thread who said I was stealing from him because of social security. That the military was stealing from him to fund their pension and medical plans.

    This from a college grad with a CPA who should know better.

    I'm sick of the reactionaries in our society.

    The Dude abides, now get off my lawn.

    by Boris49 on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 04:53:40 PM PDT

  •  I assume this amount... (0+ / 0-)
    And even those households with other income averaged just $731 of income per month.

    includes the food stamps?

  •  Food stamps saved my ass last year (8+ / 0-)

    I came back to the US in July 2010 and promptly discovered work was nearly impossible to find.  I stayed with some relatives for a bit, but they weren't exactly able to afford the burden of an extra person under their roof.  It wasn't until November that I was able to start up with parttime work and the $200/month in food really was the only way I got through November, December and January, until I got more hours.

    I'm finally dropping the assistance this month now that I'm actually fully employed.  Having the pressure removed of how I'm going to eat between paychecks made a huge difference.  

    Being on that assistance did not make me lazy nor did it sap my ambition to find enough work to cover my own needs again.  Anyone who wants to eliminate food stamps is truly an enemy of mine.  I wouldn't have made it through last winter without the help.

  •  One caution on these reports (0+ / 0-)

    What is being reported is the income that people report when they apply. While I don't doubt that there are people with no income whatsoever, at least around here there are also a lot of people who are working off the books -- earning anywhere from a few dollars to a very good income, but nothing that can be traced. In other words, fraud. I do not believe the food stamp administrators have authority to cross-check with other databases, so if a person gets a job after being certified for SNAP, I think it can go six months or a year before they have to get recertified and report the income.
    So it's hard to know from this one number what's really going on out there.

  •  Reading, PA #1 in Poverty (11+ / 0-)

    NY Times has a story about Reading (88,000 pop) and it's economic decline. It went from #32 in the last decade to #1 now.

    One of the people depicted in the story is Ms Santiago, 36, with an associate's degree. She hustles from temp job to temp job after losing her full-time job in 2007. She loses her subsidized day care and Medicaid for her kids. If she earns more then $10 an her she loses Medicaid coverage for herself.

    What struck me though was this - despite getting an associate's and hustling she's back as a temp at a candy factory where she worked more than 8 years ago and making less.

       

    And jobs just seem to pay less. Ms. Santiago recently took a temporary job at a candy factory where she had worked more than eight years ago, when she was still in her 20s, before she had completed her associate’s degree. At the time she was making $10.50 an hour. In her most recent stint, her hourly wage was $9.25.

        “Eight years ago I said, ‘I don’t want to do this, I have to further my education,’ ” she said. “And now here I am, still packing candy, and making less.”

    This is one of those lazy people Republicans like to talk about.

  •  Starve, say the Republicans (0+ / 0-)

    burn in hell you bastards, say I.

    A man, a plan, a canal, Panama

    by Karl Rover on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:00:47 PM PDT

  •  Adding insult to injury (5+ / 0-)

    to go along with the endless stupidy and epic fail that comes along with every Movement Conservative Jihad against the social safety net and latest Movement Conservative domestic and economic policy implosion is that.... food assistance programs for the poor?

    Actual state and federally based efforts to fight poverty and hunger that are properly overseen and regulated?

    Smeared, jeered, leered. Yet.

    They work. Even hobbled, crippled, restricted, and grossly underfunded.

    Right now, there are people who are still alive because they had this last line of defense against starvation. Right now, there are people who aren't in the back of a cruiser because they at least have something. Right now, we are less likely to have rioting in the streets because, even as spartan as they are, there is hope and a criminally modest option to find food.

    They are good, no, great public policy on so many levels.  

    Up to and including national security.

    We are a nation that would be facing civil unrest without these programs.

    Each and everyday, struggling people in one of the wealthiest most powerful nation on Earth are not starving to death, or resorting to crime because they have no other option, because of food programs.

    It is a travesty that there is hunger at all in the United States of America. A fucking scandal. And it's made worse because the blueprint is there, the logistics, the ideas, it's just that Warren Buffett's taxes are a bigger priority to Movement Conservatism.

    I am a national security liberal. There is a strong argument to make that having a strong social safety net is as vital to defending our country as maintaining our vastly overfunded military.

    Societies don't magically stay stable, or thrive because mystical gnomes and fairies sprinkle nationalism dust over us as we sleep at night, they rise and fall on their ability to live up to their promise. "You can not only survive, but thrive here".

    "You can be a half-starving shit-kicking serf drowning in debt with a staggeringly small shred of a chance to maybe get on a gameshow or win the lottery to get a better life."

    That is a society asking, no, begging for fucking trouble.

  •  For the New Great Depression (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tinfoil Hat, terjeanderson

    Tang and Twinkie lines.

    This aggression will not stand, man.

    by kaleidescope on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:04:47 PM PDT

  •  I guess we were lucky, again. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terjeanderson, NoMoreLies, worldlotus

    Our income last year was $7,000, gross...doesn't go far for a family of 5.  But we did have some savings left, so we were able to use that.  And we had some generous friends who gave us food.

    I know how desperate we were...so...well...I just can't imagine...nothing.

    ...and it fills me with a rage unlike any other, knowing there are those who talk about families like mine, as lazy, wanton,...whatthefuckever...

    These people, the Republican party, the Mitch McConnells, Paul Ryans...they have no idea what they may be seeding and creating...out here, among the "lazy rabble"...  They're foolish beyond all measure.

    "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." ~ Steven Biko

    by Marjmar on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 08:06:27 PM PDT

  •  Don't have a cow, man. (0+ / 0-)

    I'm all for feeding the homeless and the elderly and the handicapped both mental and physical.
    But I do think we could cut that program waaaay back if we just made sure able bodied people didnt milk it dry.
    In the immortal words of Bart, Don't have a cow man. I said it. So what.

    I give $ to every needy person I come accross. But it also pisses people off to see somebody wheel up in a late model car with a $3500 set of low profile rims and a $2000 soundsystem. Walk inthe store and whip out that EBT or ETB or whatever ithe cards called.

    I mean really. Obviously I have never applied. Though I have been homeless before. But finding a way to feed myself, was pretty much the bottom of the barrel skill set, I was not about to have somebody else feed this grown man. I maybe didnt have a regular job. But I''d be damned if I couldnt find something I could do or make and sell or something in a 24 hr time. To make enough $$$ to put food in my mouth.

    Same thing with every other program. I'm for every one. But not for everyone, using them.

    My boss made $70,000 a year and had the rest of us paying for his wife and kids Medical and infant neutrition and anything else they could put them on. While living together in a new $120,000 house they just boaught along with the new Xtera for her once he got her up hear from Mexico with fake psych meds and diagnosises to claim the hardship was on him for her and his daught living in Mexico.

    $70,000 a new SUV and 2 yr old work truck for him a new house all the flat panel TV's etc. And guys below me making $400 a week were paying for their bosses family to be on these programs. And that is happening everywhere.

    Like it or not. It's true and it's not right. Save it for those who are truely without the ability to earn at least FOOD !
    And yes. I have only voted for Democrates my entire life and worked in Human Services for decades.

    Teabaggers making the John Birch Society proud!

    by covertaccess on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 12:30:38 AM PDT

    •  You've got some anger issues on this (0+ / 0-)

      The degree of "fraud" and "abuse" in programs like SNAP is minimal. External audits have found remarkably little abuse and gaming of the system by recipients - the overwhelming majority of people on SNAP are truly eligible and very much in need. (The fraud that has been documented has been more likely to be  at the retail store level.)

      The program isn't being "milked dry" by ineligible people abusing it -- it is stretched to the financial limits because the need is so great. At a time of 9% official unemployment (and 16% de facto), when income disparities have never been higher, and when low income people are struggling to survive, the program is more needed than ever.

      You talk about "able bodied" people and those with the "ability to earn at least FOOD" -- but that ignores the reality of the employment picture for millions of Americans who would dearly love to find a paying job of any variety, but who remain unemployed or severely underemployed.

      The story is about millions of Americans with NO CASH INCOME for whom Food Stamps are the only life support they have. That reality is far more upsetting to me than it is to hear an anecdotal account of someone gaming the system.

      My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world - Jack Layton

      by terjeanderson on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 09:30:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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