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Stop Demonizing Poor People Who Use Government Assistance

By Jodi Smith | Think Pieces | January 17, 2017 |

By Jodi Smith | Think Pieces | January 17, 2017 |

There is an article about how the top purchase of SNAP users (aka food stamps) spend 9.3% of their grocery budget on sweetened beverages while non-SNAP households spend 7.1% on the same.

Really? This is the newest shaming tactic for users of government assistance? That they consume slightly more sweetened beverages, which includes fruit juices, than other households? I know that this is a sore subject, with people complaining that their money is going into the pockets of lazy people who waste it on garbage.

Guess what? I used to be one of those people who needed SNAP to survive.

My now husband and I moved to a very small town for his first teaching job. While living in that town, I got pregnant. Long story short, I was fired for having morning sickness while on the job. I received some unemployment, until a temp service lied to the unemployment office and it was cut off. My husband and I got by with help from his parents and food banks, but we eventually had to turn to food stamps when our daughter was born.

We were able to stop using the SNAP program after a short time on it, but then my husband lost his job. He worked a 12-hour shift at night in a box factory, came home and then would usually go straight to a substitute teaching job. I was at home taking care of our daughter as the double-whammy of postpartum depression and the emergence of a long-simmering panic and anxiety disorder surfaced at the same time. We had to go back to SNAP.

We had been paying into the program since we were teenagers. My husband was still paying into the program we were using to survive. I would later return to work and pay into the program. Yet, I was embarrassed to be seen with the SNAP cards both times we had to use them because of the seemingly universal disgust people have for those who have fallen on hard times.

I remember one grocery trip where I was chatting with a lady behind me in line. She was remarking on my daughter’s behavior, blah blah blah. As soon as it was my turn and I whispered to the cashier that I had a SNAP card for my very healthy groceries, that formerly friendly lady pretended I didn’t exist. She never even looked in my direction again.

Was I not good enough to speak to once it was revealed I was taking advantage of a program created to keep people from starving or dying of malnutrition when they fall on hard times? Was I suddenly a lazy mooch? It was beyond mortifying and the reason that I usually tried to secretively flash my card or whisper that I had it.

I was shopping at Trader Joe’s once. I quietly told the cashier that I had a SNAP card and that I was so sorry. She immediately asked me if anyone in the store, customer or employee, had previously made me feel bad for using my card. I told her no, not in this store. She told me she was glad to hear that, but that if anyone ever did harass me for using that card to feed my family, I should tell management. It was a much-needed reprieve from the constant glares, judgment, and embarrassment that had followed me to the grocery store over those maybe five months total (from both times we used SNAP).

Perhaps you are saying, “Yes, but this is just one example of someone using it correctly.” Okay, but there are lots of people like me, using the program only as long as they need to use it to keep from starvation. And there is no way to know which person is which, so maybe err on the side of humanity and give them the benefit of the doubt.

Jodi Smith is a Senior Reporter, Film & Television at Pajiba. You can email her or follow her on Twitter.

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