Monday, May 11, 2015

Food Stamps and Ableism

I live in Maine.

Recently, our state has gotten more nationwide attention because our Governor has made statements and policy changes about the use of Food Stamps. In the past year, our state has required photo identifications on EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards to reduce fraud. Maine has also implemented a policy requiring "able-bodied adults without dependents" to work, volunteer, or be part of a vocational training program for at least 20 hours per week in order to continue receiving food stamps. In a state with marijuana legalized for medicinal purposes, he also is trying to push for universal drug testing.  Even Fox News has described our Governor's plan as one of the "boldest welfare reforms". Governor Paul LePage has also recently issued statements about wanting to prevent EBT users from purchasing items like soda or chips.

If you have never gone through the process of applying for food stamps, I'm not sure you understand what it is like. It's not as if you walk into a building and they hand you a preloaded card with thousands of dollars and tell you to run wild. It's a process taking a minimum of months if all the bureaucratic wheels are running smoothly. You need to demonstrate your continued need for assistance by paystubs, bills, leases, ect. Even then, you may be lucky to get 17 dollars a month for a  household.

Recently, there has been a surge of "outrage" by fellow nosy shoppers who are judging what EBT users are purchasing. I have a few HUGE issues with this.

1. Why do you care what other people purchase?! (I literally NEVER notice what other people are buying in line because I always have a momentary panic thinking I forgot my wallet once I've arrived at the register.)

2. How does what anyone else chooses to put into their body affect you or your life?

3. What makes you think you know what someone's life is like based on the few moments of their life you observe reflected in the items on a conveyer belt?

Invisible disabilities exist all around us including those affecting us mentally and/or physically. I've been told I don't "look" disabled, however those wonderful employees who work at the grocery store near me may have a different opinion. Sometimes there is not the energy to cook a meal from scratch. Other times we need to get nutrients ASAP or else something not good may happen to us. Other times my sensory system will prevent me from eating anything other than a restricted number of foods.

Don't judge what people buy.
Earlier this year I was very sick. I lost 9 pounds in just 5 days because I could not eat anything and my survival was solely based on 100% fruit juice popsicles. When I could finally stomach food, my body was craving red meat. This is a family trait and one we identify as "turning the corner" to recovery. I used my debit card for my purchase and I'm not sure if anyone noticed my payment method.

Did they see the graduate student who presents internationally on Autism and part of an award winning performance troupe?
Did they only saw the girl with the messy hair in sweatpants buying a steak and make the assumption she was a "welfare queen"?

I know they didn't see the face I made while eating my first meal in almost a week or my face as I fell asleep with a nutritious meal in my stomach, instead of with the hunger pains I know all too well.


  1. I love this. I spent part of my career as the "administrative wheels" in the food stamp department. All of the above is true, and more. The first thing you learn in food stamp training is that YOU, the worker, have no choice in the decision making process. The "deserving" client--in your opinion---gets exactly the same amount of food stamps as the "undeserving client"---the budgets only show the numbers---their rent, certain other expenses, their income. As a worker, your sympathy FOR the client gets them NOTHING. The best I could do as a worker was to interview them carefully so I fully understood their financial situation and could give them every benefit to which they were entitled. No more, no less.

    Many, many diseases and handicaps are invisible to the eye. My father looked as healthy as a horse right up until the day he died from his 6th heart attack. He was always slim and tanned--because he watched his diet for the heart disease, and because tanning helping his psoriasis get better. He couldn't walk up one flight of stairs without gasping for air, but you didn't see that, because he stayed on the first floor.

    And kids on food stamps deserve a special treat for their birthdays--maybe their Mom has saved up ahead so she could buy a special cake or special meal for them. Maybe they've had macand cheese a couple extra times this month so they could afford the cake. Don't make judgements when it's none of your business. Does anyone tell you what you can buy at the store???

  2. Amen. And there are also those who have food allergies and must buy some items that others consider to be "luxuries" such as dairy substitutes or gluten free items, in order to NOT end up in the hospital. I am sure people are judged for buying those.

  3. Did you put a "Food Stamps (Apply Now) button on this page or was that a computer algorithm of some kind?

    1. Apparently that was a computer algorithm with a sense of irony.