Saturday, May 7, 2011

Five Fun Facts About Food Stamps

From the April issue of Bazooka Magazine:

In case you haven’t heard, Yum! Brands has been lobbying legislators to allow fast food restaurants to accept food stamps. WPSD posted a note about this on their Facebook page the other day. As you can probably guess, over 90% of the people who left comments ignored the fact that this change is being suggested by one of the world’s largest fast food companies (they own KFC, Taco Bell, Long John Silvers, and several other chains) in favor of self-righteous psuedo-Randian rants about the champagne and caviar lifestyle of the lazy bottom feeders and criminals who receive public assistance.

Most of these posts offered anecdotal evidence of people on food stamps abusing the system. Many also included a subtle racism that was hilarious until it occurred to me that some of the posters had probably reproduced. Then it was just sad. Since the average western Kentuckian seems to think of welfare recipients as a cross between Wayne Malloy (Eddie Izzard from The Riches) and Tyrone Biggams (Dave Chappelle’s crackhead character), I thought it might be useful to point out the following (apparently obscure) facts about people who receive food stamps and other forms of public assistance.

* A lot of people who receive food stamps have jobs. Sometimes more than one. I know it sounds crazy that anyone living the life of luxury that food stamps afford would see any need to work, but it’s true. Failure to acknowledge this fact was most obvious from the folks who complained about people using food stamps to buy easily-prepared foods like frozen dinners. The idea that somebody working two or three minimum-wage jobs might not have the time or energy to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals never crossed their minds.

* Not everybody who receives public assistance was born poor. The default assumption for people in this area seems to be that anyone who gets food stamps does so because they have chosen to remain poor and milk the system their whole lives. In the world of the self-righteous WPSD viewer, nobody has ever lost their job to a business closing or layoff, used up all their savings, and been forced to accept public assistance because staggering unemployment made it hard to find another job.

* When you sign up for assistance, you’re not required to sell off all your worldly possessions. This is kind of a corollary to the previous fact. People around here are apparently genuinely offended that people who get food stamps aren’t all dressed in rags and performing musical numbers like modern-day Dickensian waifs. Not only do people not consider the possibility that people may have owned things before they fell on hard times, they fail realize that selling the TV is only going to feed a family for a week or two. After that, you still end up on food stamps but now you can’t watch The Simpsons. Overall, it’s not really a wise uses of resources.

* The public library offers free internet. A few people who receive food stamps were brave enough to admit it in the WPSD comments (most of them were against Yum!’s corporate welfare scheme, by the way). The good Christians of the viewing area were outraged that anyone would be brazen enough to admit that they got food stamps but still had an internet connection. Not only does this kind of thinking disregard the fact that skipping the internet bill won’t feed a family for a month or that the interenet is a useful resource for looking for a job, it ignores the possibility that these people were using an internet connection that didn’t cost them anything. This is symptomatic of the larger attitude that anything a poor person owns is evidence of poor money management or criminal activity. There’s no chance that a poor person’s phone (which is almost required to get a job these days) came free with the service contract, or that the nice shirt they’re wearing came from Goodwill, or that the toy the kids are playing with was a Christmas gift from an uncle who’s doing well.

* Most poor people don’t do drugs. I saved this one for last because it kind of ties into all of the others, and the racism I mentioned earlier. The truth is that subjecting food stamp recipients to humiliation and probable civil rights violations through mandatory drug testing really isn’t going to save the government much money. It’s just going to cause some children whose parents have drug problems to go hungry. But when smug, well-off white people (and the poor teabaggers they’ve brainwashed) hear the words “public assistance,” they imagine a gold-toothed black man in an Escalade who lives off the dole while buying big screen TVs with the money he makes from drug dealing. This the the modern evolution of Reagans “welfare Cadillac” meme, which was never anything more than a rhetorical device intended to convince middle class racists to go along with his attempts to dismantle the social safety net. The guy you’re imagining is named Flavor Flav, and he’s a very successful entertainer who doesn’t need to sell drugs or collect food stamps.