Money Part 5: Food Stamps

Reporter Sean Callebs is blogging for CNN about living on Food Stamps. He’s spending the month on a food budget that’s the maximum amount an individual the program can have, which is $176. He’s in Louisiana where basically 1 in 6 use the program. It’s now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is not supposed to your sole source for food money.

But for a lot of people it is.

17 states allow you to apply online. New York doesn’t. Not surprising considering how many people they would have to help. On the other hand, you’d think that would be a great reason to start here. Then again, NYC was really slow to get cable. It looks like it will lag behind Philly as far as becoming a wireless internet city. If you look even further back into its history, the sewage system in Manhattan was atrocious. Mostly it was a haphazard assortment of privately owned drains (Canal St. was named for this specific reason). Frequently, they backed up and everyone’s diseases no matter where they were on the social spectrum were spread via the fecal-oral route. Surprisingly, Brooklyn sewage system was ahead of the rest of the country thanks to one Colonel Adams’ work with fluid dynamics in 1857. Believe me, I think about this each time I flush on either island and am less convinced of ever moving back to Manhattan, or “The City” as they call it in one of the outer boroughs. I understand The City has trouble when the rains come with everything backing up. Brooklyn far less so.

This is only to say build the system properly at the start and you’ll have less problems.

At dinner the other evening, the conversation came around to how “who is being laid off” is replacing “what’s the size, location and rent of your dwelling” as The Big Topic around town nowadays. Klaus Schwab, who started the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 1971 when he was a Professor of business policy at the University of Geneva, said today he had not seen the world financial outlook in so grim a condition. They have an International Monetary Convention Project, which has been looking at the waves of crises over the last decade. Leaders from around the world are looking to have some ideas by the meeting of the G-20 in April.

We live in a country where 31 million people are on SNAP. They’re swiping their cards that have replaced the stamps and trying to figure out how to cut corners. There are Food Banks around to help those in need. Feeding America sends out 2.2 million pounds of fresh produce each week. I think we will see people needing to get help who haven’t before now. At the same time, we have the $16 billion in Wall St. bonuses. French finance minister Christine Lagarde called those bonuses despicable and I agree. You can blow France off as Socialist but at least they had the good sense to get rid of the heads of banks that got in trouble. They only bailed out one major bank. Seems more like sensible parenting to me.

We didn’t do that here. The Republicans are making a big fuss over the Obama Administration’s stimulus package. It’s now down $100 billion to almost the same size as the Bush Administrations $700 billion package. Remember that half that package was spent without oversight and is now gone. The second half hasn’t been spent yet. There’s a lot of squabbling over stimulus vs. spending. At this point, it doesn’t matter. I would love to see Congress have contests to show who can get their constituents up on their feet fastest through ingenuity. “We only had 4 cargo vans, a bake sale and a few hundred postings on Craiglist but by God we got my district back up on its feet!” The old saying “you have to spend money to make money” comes to mind in all this.

If we all lived on a food budget of $176 a month, that would cause its own problems too. What will the sushi chefs do? Where will the gastronomes go? How will Rush Limbaugh have enough energy to blow out his other eardrum? Tangent: if Rush does give himself an aneurysm from screaming about hopes for failure, Eddie Trunk of VH-1 Classic could sub in for him. Same look, same voice (only quieter) but he’d just play heavy metal songs.

I’ve not lived on SNAP. I did do unemployment once in 2003. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I filed over the phone. The guy on the other end had most of my info in seconds. I received a pittance because I had just come out of 3 years of graduate school and several years of non-profit sector work. Each week I filed by answering questions online. I know several people who have done this frequently. Some feel it is their right since they put the money into the system when they are working. Others have trouble asking for assistance of any kind. I know people who have worked with big names who have done this. It happens.

How far could one go on SNAP and Unemployment? This is probably different from state to state but in New York the length of emergency assistance will go up from 20 weeks to 33 on Feb. 22, 2009. However, there are breaks in the payments.

The name change from Food Stamps to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program happened last fall. It reminds of when George Carlin talked about language and how we can go from Shell Shock to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I do think many on SNAP will have PTSD.

According to the Unemployment Insurance website, people applying for UI must be careful of scammers. We have learned of persons or companies that may charge a fee to help customers complete or file Unemployment Insurance claims. They imply that they have a connection to the NYS Department of Labor. THIS IS FALSE. The State Labor Department does not want our customers to be fooled by these claims. Customers in New York State should continue to file their claims for UI through our web site or by phone. There have been some delays recently at our call centers due to a high volume of claims, but we take all claims in the order they are received. Using a paid service to file your claim will not ensure faster handling.

I hope there’s an extra special place in Hell for those people.