Food Stamps and Food Issues for Poor People in St. Louis

Food Stamps (SNAP, EBT) and Food Issues for Poor People in St. Louis

If you are new to this blog, you may not know that I was in an accident about two years ago that resulted in a broken nose and concussion as well as other injuries. The concussion was not one of the “good” kind, meaning, I have still not completely recovered.

This deterioration in my health caused me to run through my savings and unemployment benefits in California and have to rely on others. Finally, I am privileged to benefit from my mother’s having space and a generous heart, allowing me to move in with her in St. Louis about 18 months ago.

Missouri, however, is not a great place to live if you are indigent. This post is the second in a series about my experiences here. This one is on food for indigent people in Missouri. The first one was on health care (published February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By).

This post is about the government-subsidized “food support,” formerly called “Food Stamps,” now called “SNAP” for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

snaplogo

What makes Missouri so bad for poor people? For one thing, this state is very Republican-dominated. Despite many of the speeches given by congressional and senatorial representatives from this party, their votes speak loudly: they keep lowering the amounts poor people can receive in all types of assistance and have repeatedly voted to reduce food support. This state also still calls its program “Food Stamps,” but adds “SNAP” so people will know what it is. http://dss.mo.gov/fsd/fstamp/

Missouri’s unfortunate and lethal combination of machismo, arrogance, obstinacy and ignorance have caused millions of Missourians who cannot afford to buy sufficient amounts or types of food for themselves and/or their children to go without food, especially near the end of each month’s benefits period (the food money runs out). Not only are the benefits woefully and abysmally low, even at their highest levels, they arrive in one lump at the beginning of each monthly period. Even the best budgeters can’t make insufficient funds last throughout a month.

“Missouri is among states where legislators this year have considered bills that would curb welfare benefits” and continues to demonstrate its disdain for the poor, blaming the victims and putting economic pressure on the weakest of us to try to shore up the state’s failing budget. The Democratic Governor, Jay Nixon, vetoes these bills, but then the “representatives” usually have the votes to override his vetoes. On it goes, this heinous battle for who can sink the lowest first. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/04/missouri-welfare-restrict_n_7209458.html

Missouri and other state SNAP programs are now in the computer age. SNAP currently issues a debit-type card to recipients which is an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) unit that looks a lot like any other debit card. I’m sure this has alleviated a lot of the embarrassment many users had previously felt when producing their pink paper food stamps at the grocery check-out line. Now, we kind of “blend in,” putting our card through the same reader everyone who uses credit or debit cards uses to make our payments.

SNAP to health
from http://www.snaptohealth.org

Except when we don’t. Most times, even when I tell the register operator that I am using an EBT for SNAP, they punch in the wrong codes and it doesn’t work. Or, they do it correctly, but neither of us knows exactly how much the receipt total will be for until the card is used (SNAP card users get to avoid paying the tax on food that others pay). Worse, there is no way prior to being in the check-out process for a user to know exactly how much is left on the EBT to use.

Here is a typical process for me.
—I get in line (can’t use the self-service machines for EBT/SNAP)
—I put my food on the conveyor
—I get to the card reader while the register operator is still scanning my food so that I am sure to mention to him/her that I am using SNAP
—S/he nods or otherwise acknowledges that I told him/her this (important to get confirmation: they often do not hear me or don’t know what I mean)
—I put my EBT card through the reader.
Hopefully, it reads my card correctly (doesn’t always) and
—I press the right buttons (always confusing, since the buttons are arranged differently in every card reader I’ve seen, so far: not always using the same colors designating the choices or putting the choices in the same position)
—We get to the end of the food scanning
—S/he presses whatever buttons (not always correctly) to accept my EBT card as payment
—I either do or do not have sufficient funds on the card to pay for this amount of food (which I only know at this point)
—If so, we proceed and I am done
—If not, we have to start over with the reader, putting only the amount I actually have into the register operator’s process to take only that amount from my EBT
—Then I have a choice: pay in cash or use a debit card (if I have the funds) for the rest, or put the rest of the food back/don’t take it home.

I think it’s obvious that this process is not quick, or at least, not as quick as using cash or a debit/ credit card. When the lines are long, I dread getting into one because these “delays” cause impatience to arise in those in line behind me. I have a fairly thick skin, so to speak, so I don’t care about how impatient people are. We all have to wait, sometimes.

However, others do care about others’ opinions, so it makes many SNAP users anxious to go through the check-out process, as you can well imagine. Many times, when I was more flush, I gave the SNAP users in lines ahead of me some money when their EBT cards were shown to carry insufficient amounts for the entire purchase and the users clearly didn’t have any cash or funds to cover the rest of the food.

Confession: I was less likely to offer money when the purchases of the SNAP user seemed “frivolous” or “junky” to me. Awful judgment call on my part and really, none of my business. But, at the time, I felt quite high-and-mighty, telling myself I was “doing them and their kids a favor” if they didn’t get to bring home that sugary or salty treat. Why, I wonder now, does anyone believe we suddenly have the right or ethical duty to pass judgment on someone’s food purchases simply because they’re poor? We leave all the horrible choices of the middle- and upper-class to themselves, so why do we believe we are entitled to assess those of the poorest among us?

News flash; poor people are not stupider, less informed, less competent or any other judgment the better-off can levy just by being currently without enough money. Money does NOT make anyone smarter, more informed, competent or anything else, automatically. We all know plenty of wealthier people without a clue, don’t we?

In other horrible news, SNAP makes us “re-qualify” every year even if our benefits are for a two-year period. This means recipients are able to be—and, in my case, I was—penalized if we earn even a little bit of money. My SNAP benefits were reduced by half (and were insufficient to begin with) when I reported that I had earned some income from freelance proofreading/editing and doing occasional childcare, even though the total earned was less than $1000/month and more often, not even half that. Look at the chart below for how low these monthly benefits are for an entire month and picture this: you have ONLY this amount to pay for all food for 4.3 weeks (30 – 31 days):

Family size: 1 2 3 4

Maximum benefit level: $155 $284 $408 $518

So, if you’re math-impaired, consider these actual figures:
—the individual SNAP allotment comes to about $36/week, or $5.14/day per individual.
—For a family of two, it comes to $33/week/person, not even $4.70/day, which is LESS per week than if you’re on your own.
—For a family of three, usually one parent and two children, they get only $32/week/person, which is $4.53/day per person!
The larger the family, the less the family gets per person.

What is the logic, here? That kids eat less than adults? Incorrect, unless they’re under 7 years old.

Or, maybe they live in a fairy-tale land, in which they believe larger families can buy “in bulk.” Well, that only works if a family has enough money in hand to purchase the larger amount of chicken or rice or beans, which they often would not have, since the total amount provided by SNAP and workers’ wages is insufficient. When a family doesn’t have enough money to buy food, how can anyone buy MORE food per grocery visit?

Doesn’t work.

Over the last 2 years of my own experiences as a poorer person but one who has many resources others do not have (a great and safe place to live, family members to help me, a car, higher education and advocacy skills, among the best) and seeing these SNAP figures, above, I understand the motivation that spurs poorer people to become criminals just to make ends meet. Why the hell not?

I’m not advocating a life of crime, but I certainly can empathize the reasoning better, now.

When our government fails to support those in the most need, what are the needy supposed to do?

Meanwhile, some help is better than none. How can people get fed, then?
—If a family has young children or the mother is pregnant, that mom and kids can also get further food support (very restricted, but food and juice, nonetheless) from WIC (Women and Infant Care) and (minimal) cash from TANF (Temporary Aid to Need Families, formerly known as “welfare”).
—If one is disabled and/or a senior, one can get Social Security disability and/or retirement benefits to supplement these paltry SNAP monthly allotments.

For basic SNAP information and links to your state’s SNAP website: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap

Good news! Many health food stores, farmers’ markets and alternative grocery stores now accept SNAP.

we accept SNAP

However, the poorer among us face an entirely different problem that I personally don’t experience (that good fortune is due to my being able to live with my mom). Those who live in “high-poverty” areas now often inhabit regions that have become what are known as “food deserts”: because the larger chains and independent grocery stores refuse to locate or stay in these neighborhoods, there is literally nowhere to go grocery shopping. If you live in a “food desert,” you are screwed. Bad enough that you already have less means (no car, no money for gas), horribly skimpy SNAP funds and little time (those who do have jobs work hourly and must show up on time and leave when they’re scheduled to leave, period). You now are somehow also supposed to travel great distances (often when there is no viable public or any public transportation, so how are you going to accomplish that?) to get to a decent, fairly priced grocery store or to get anywhere that sells any fresh food at all.

People who live in “food deserts” can sometimes purchase food that is close to where they live, but it is usually from “convenience” stores or gas stations’ stores. Their “food shelves” and “hot bars” are typically stocked with low-nutrition, high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar, deep-fried or microwavable, high in “empty” (simple) carbs, over-priced options only: no fresh fruit, no fresh vegetables, not much good protein, almost no complex carbs and very few choices that are even close to being healthy.

YOU might be able to help change this! https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-food-deserts Help populate “food deserts” with good food sources and/or bring better public transportation to these areas.

And, just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse, now it’s 2016. SNAP recipients between ages 18 – 49 stand to lose what little SNAP benefits we do get if we aren’t working “sufficiently,” but more of us than ever still need SNAP and many cannot work or work “sufficiently.”

Want to know more? Have a read:

From January, 2016, Cleveland.com: “Over 1 million face loss of food stamps over work requirements”
http://www.cleveland.com/nation/index.ssf/2016/01/over_1_million_face_loss_of_fo.html

From January, 2016, American Enterprise Institute: “Are SNAP benefits really too low?” by Angela Rachidi
https://www.aei.org/publication/are-snap-benefits-really-too-low/

From February, 2016, the Times-Picayune of Greater New Orleans: “Despite ‘recovery,’ more Americans using food stamps, at a higher cost”
http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/02/despite_recovery_more_american.html

Next in this series, February 23, 2016: Advocacy, Entitlement and Knowing When to Complain: The Rights of Poor People http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1C2

This second is on food for indigent people in Missouri, published on February 16, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1BL.
The first one is on health care, published on February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By.
The third post is/was on advocacy and intersectionality, (to be) published on February 23, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1C2.

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Part II: Science Alert, Serious Wonder, Brain Pickings Weekly and Cosmos Up

Part II: Science Alert, Serious Wonder, Brain Pickings Weekly and Cosmos Up

[All three posts in this series have the same introduction, but I choose info from each of the four science compilation sites separately for each post. This post focuses on gleanings from Serious Wonder and Brain Pickings Weekly]

INTRO: I should have been a research scientist. I love science. I’m extremely intelligent, determined, creative, and organized. I coulda been a contenda for a Nobel prize. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Why am I not a scientist? I had a series of misogynistic (one of my teachers hated the four girls in my advanced science class so much he would pith [paralyze] the frogs by holding them in the air directly in front of one of us so that each frog would urinate on our blouses), anti-Semitic (another one wore his “John Birch Society” pin to school every day, displayed prominently on his lapel; there were three girls in my class and he insulted each of us daily), incompetent (in an lab accident at his “real” job, this poor man had lost most of his sight and drive and spent each class time mostly ignoring all of us) and otherwise horrible science teachers in 8th, 9th, and 10th grades.

With better teachers in those critical years, my life could have turned out very differently. Those terrible teachers turned me so far off science I only took one more “hard” science course (because it was required, in undergraduate college), despite many more years of education, through getting a doctorate.

As an adult, I became enthralled with quantum physics, health/anatomy, nutrition, child development/learning and the multiverse/astrophysics, so I read. A lot. I also watch documentaries. I am not even close to understanding some of the physics stuff, but the rest I got quite adept at utilizing. To “keep up,” I subscribe to many science-oriented blogs and curation sites.

My favorites are: Science Alert, Serious Wonder and Cosmos Up. I also subscribe to Brain Pickings Weekly, which I include in the Serious Wonder post. I will excerpt from some of the “best of the best” of what I’ve recently perused. Part II is all from Serious Wonder.

I hope you enjoy! Go subscribe!


SeriousWonder.com

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Astrophysics and Quantum Physics/Mechanics
1. 9/11/14, Your Cosmic Address, BY STEPHEN P. BIANCHINI of Serious Wonder

When you were younger, didn’t you sometimes write your “return” address in a similar way? Well, now you have a more exact way to locate yourself…In case you send mail to aliens, for example.

“…[T]his is the cosmic address you may want to use: Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, Laniakea,” in case someone not from this planet needs to know.

What/where the heck is “Laniakea,” and why do we not already know about it?

Astronomers informed us recently about “the large-scale structure of the Universe” which has “…four huge areas identified so far: Laniakea, its neighbouring Perseus-Pisces supercluster, and two other superclusters, Shapley and Coma, on the far side of the universe.”

Elmo Temple from Estonia explained: “‘[The name Laniakea]… is taken from the Hawaiian words lani, which means heaven, and akea, which means spacious or immeasurable.'”

So, time to re-do those multiverse business cards, eh?

http://goo.gl/9wPLOJ

  1. 2/1/15, The Absurdity of Infinity: Astrophysicist Janna Levin Explains Whether the Universe Is Infinite or Finite in Letters to Her Mother, by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings Weekly

It is so illuminating for the rest of us when highly intelligent, inquisitive people ruminate on deep questions and share their thoughts with us, isn’t it?

“In 1998, while on the cusp of becoming one of the most significant theoretical cosmologists of our time, mathematician-turned-astrophysicist Janna Levin left her post at Berkeley and moved across the Atlantic for a prestigious position at Cambridge University. During the year and a half there, she had the time and space to contemplate the question that would eventually become the epicenter of her career — whether the universe is infinite or finite. What began as a series of letters to her mother, Sandy, eventually became an unusual diary of Levin’s ‘social exile as a roaming scientist,’ and was finally published as How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space (public library) — a most unusual and absorbing account of the paradoxes of finitude.”

From Levin’s book/letters: “‘We’re all intrinsically of the same substance. The fabric of the universe is just a coherent weave from the same threads that make our bodies. How much more absurd it becomes to believe that the universe, space and time could possibly be infinite when all of us are finite.'”

Levin concluded: “‘I welcome the infinite in mathematics, where … it is not absurd nor demented. But I’d be pretty shaken to find the infinite in nature. I don’t feel robbed living my days in the physical with its tender admission of the finite. I still get to live with the infinite possibilities of mathematics, if only in my head.'”

Where do you stand on the multiverse as infinite-not infinite subject? I tend to veer way from her inescapable logic into the infinite possibilities of the multiverse, but where each of the versions of the universe so conceived is probably finite.

http://goo.gl/p6ucpj

Child Development/Learning
3. 9/11/14, Telepathy is now a Thing, Thanks to Technology , BY B.J. Murphy of Serious Wonder

It warms my telepathic heart-mind when tech geeks prove what the rest of us with E.S.P. already know!

“As experiments like the one above show, telepathy is a very real concept which need be aided by our own innovations – the creation of techno-telepathy.”

“Could you imagine what our world will transform into when our predominant means of communication is via thought? Everything will change fundamentally, from our markets to our governance.”

Then they have to go and ruin it, with scare tactics….

http://goo.gl/IIblvE

  1. 3/8/15, This Idea Must Die: Some of the World’s Greatest Thinkers Each Selects a Major Misconception Holding Us Back, by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings Weekly

I ADORE this book, which “Edge founder, John Brockman, collected by posing his annual question — ‘What scientific idea is ready for retirement?’ — to 175 of the world’s greatest scientists, philosophers, and writers,” and the accompanying article/review. So inspiring!

Here is my favorite excerpt, based on the responses from one of my favorite scientists, biological anthropologist, Helen Fischer, “…who studies the brain on love….[She] points to romantic love and addiction as two concepts in need of serious reformulation and reframing — one best accomplished by understanding the intersection of the two. Fisher argues that we ought to broaden the definition of addiction and do away with science’s staunch notion that all addiction is harmful. Love, she argues, with a wealth of neurobiological evidence in hand, is in fact a state that closely resembles that of addiction in terms of what happens in the brain during it — and yet love, anguishing as it may be at times, is universally recognized as the height of positive experience. In that respect, it presents a case of ‘positive addiction.’…'[B]esotted lovers express all four of the basic traits of addiction: craving, tolerance, withdrawal, and relapse.’”

And, even though this excerpt belongs in my post’s section on quantum physics and the astrophysics, above, I had to put it here, since it comes from this article:

“Science writer, Amanda Gefter, takes issue with one particular manifestation of our propensity for oversimplification — the notion of the universe. She writes: ‘…[T]here’s my universe and there’s your universe — but there’s no such thing as the universe.'”

An expansion of many of my own thoughts on a variety of subjects and more than I could ever have thought of on others await me. Gotta get this book!

http://goo.gl/7Z5Weo

Anatomy/Biology/Zoology and Gender
5. 4/18/15, AIR SHEPHERD: ANTI-POACHING DRONES SEEK CROWDFUNDING, BY B.J. MURPHY of Serious Wonder

I’m not a fan of drones (given most of their current uses, but this is a great idea! To protect elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species: “‘We fly drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have infrared cameras and GPS on them and can send back thermal images of animals . . . and poachers.’ – Air Shepherd.”

Air Shepherd‘s crowdfunding campaign deadline has passed (April, 2015), but the goal was not met and they would appreciate donations at any time: https://goo.gl/hfi9u1 for the IndieGogo page and more info, including http://www.AirShepherd.org for the website itself.

http://goo.gl/uaqlMu

  1. 3/8/15, The Best LGBT Children’s Books: A Sweet and Assuring Celebration of Diversity and Difference, by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings Weekly

As a parent, a bisexual, a feminist and a long-time educator, I am extremely committed to enlarging perspectives, particularly for young children. This list of excellent children’s books on gender, sexual orientation and other related “differences” whose authors embrace diversity in all its guises makes me very happy since it helps many who work with and raise children to find great reads on these important topics.

Plus, who doesn’t love Maurice Sendak’s books, regardless of your age and politics? We lost one of the 20th Century’s greatest writers for children (and adults) when he passed recently.

Books in this list were published in the 1990s and afterwards and range to one about gay penguins, a grandmother who speaks about lesbians to a granddaughter who asks, a prince seeking a spouse (not a bride, as it turns out), a gay human father and more. Each has excellent illustrations, demonstrates acceptance values, and provides the types of dialogue and storylines adults will be glad to read and re-read to the young children until they can read them on their own.

You might think this list of children’s books doesn’t belong in a post about “science,” but science includes advances in social and emotional health, right? Include these books in every library, school, daycare facility, summer camp and home and we’ll see a huge rise in the mental health of LGBT youth and a great increase in the number of LGBT Allies as well.

http://goo.gl/BNr6qJ

Health and Nutrition
7. 2/1/15, How Playing Music Benefits Your Brain More than Any Other Activity, by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings Weekly

I am a musician. I come from a family of musicians. My son and his father are musicians. Many of my lifelong and new friends are musicians. I am currently helping two kids (ages 7 & 11) learn about music and to play the piano. I have been a paid accompanist, musical director and songwriter. To say I believe in the value of music would be a vast understatement, but this article about the health benefits of music encourages and uplifts me enormously, particularly since I am in the unexpectedly long process of recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)/concussion which occurred over a year ago.

According to the latest research: “…[P]laying music benefits the brain more than any other activity…[and] it impacts executive function and memory…” which are two of the areas most affected in me by my recent TBI.

I love the way musician/author, Glenn Kurtz, explains in his book, Practicing, exactly in what ways playing (not just listening to) music improves our brains: “‘Because making music also involves crafting and understanding its emotional content and message, musicians also have higher levels of executive function — a category of interlinked tasks that includes planning, strategizing, and attention to detail, and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects.

“‘This ability also has an impact on how our memory systems work. And, indeed, musicians exhibit enhanced memory functions — creating, storing, and retrieving memories more quickly and efficiently. Studies have found that musicians appear to use their highly connected brains to give each memory multiple tags, such as a conceptual tag, an emotional tag, an audio tag, and a contextual tag — like a good internet search engine.'”

http://goo.gl/aF3y3z

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Look for Part I, published on June 1, which focused on info gathered by Alert.

ScienceAlert.com

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Next, look for Part III in late July, info from Cosmos Up.

CosmosUp.com

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