Upper White Trash: The Joy of Food Stamps

welfarestate.jpg(Editor's note: this dispatch is from a middle-aged, college-educated Manhattan resident who has given the hell up and gone on welfare. Some weeks back he described the process of signing up for the dole.)

Despite all the waiting and the hassle of dealing with a bureaucracy, the one bright spot of Public Assistance is getting food stamps (also known as EBT). They're now given in credit card form. In the old days you used a coupon to pay for items, which could be a bit humiliating, since it made your poverty public. But now you swipe a card like a credit card. No muss, no fuss, and your ego stays intact.

You rarely hear about food stamps as a gateway to the good life, but culinarily speaking, that's how it worked for me. The key is no kids! I've come to the conclusion that the main delineation between the classes is not race or education (though these play a role), but who has kids. An insane amount of recipients of public assistance are single parents, mostly moms, sometimes with multiples of kids. I'm not interested in passing judgments on their behavior, but thank God it ain't me! Selfish or not, it allows me to use my food stamps to indulge my taste for good food, including shrimp, lamb chops, and imported cheese. I need staples too, but eggs and milk are not quite as important to me as to a growing kid.

And I doubt kids have such exotic tastes as mine: a small Vietnamese grocery on Grand Street accepts food stamps, which means fish sauce, duck's tongues, and black rice vinegar.

Food stamps can be used for any uncooked or cold items. You can't buy the ready-made soup at Whole Foods, but you can buy stuff from the salad bar, cause it's cold, I guess, which may be why I've also been allowed cooked shrimp.

It's also interesting who takes EBT: Whole Foods, Food Emporium, Trader Joe's, and Fairway do, but Balducci's, Citarella's, and Gourmet Garage don't. Many small Korean stores and the like take them as well, a sign of the times I think.

The main thing to be careful of is not exhausting your food stamps before the next payment. It's quite exhilirating to fill your cart with anything that tempts you on the Feds' dime, and choose deluxe items (Domestic mascarpone? Imported suits me better), but it does need to last the month. I confess I've yet to work it out perfectly, but I am new to this life, and as with anything there is a learning curve.

Still, the thrill of having the Government buy my baby octupus, Van Leeuwen ice cream (try the pistachio, the best I've ever eaten), and creme fraiche is a thrill I'll miss when this ends.

If food stamps are the upside, the downside is all the hoops you have to jump through if you want more than just food stamps: Cash assistance means you must meet Back to Work stipulations, which is why welfare is now called "workfare." Though many blame Reagan, it was our first black president, Bill Clinton, who instituted the change. And a fun bunch of hoops this is. First, you're assigned to a program, sub-contracted by the city, that's supposed to assist you in your search for a job. You have to show up for this as if it were a job, five days a week.

I was sent to something called the MATCH (Moving Ahead Toward Career Horizons) Program at the Gay Men's Health Crisis building. Basically, I sat at a computer and searched the web for work -- something I could do on my own, but I guess they want to make sure you're doing it, and they monitor the computers tightly to make suer you're not futzing around on Facebook or the like. The jobs the staff offered were what you might expect: cashiers, retail, security guard. The chances of them finding me a writing or photography job were, I reasoned, just about nil.

One of the problems here was overcrowding. There were two computer labs, one small (about 15 machines), one moderate-sized (30 computers), but so many people are unemployed at the moment that many new arrivals could not be accomodated with a computer, and were left to sit in a conference room, twiddling their thumbs.

Also, after about two weeks, you're supposed to be assigned a work place to go to, mostly city agencies that need free help (well, not quite free, but considering how low the cash assistance is for a single adult, close to free). I was told that if I didn't want to do janitorial stuff, I could file, and was sent to the Department of the Elderly to do that. I got there within the scheduled time frame, but they only had about 100 openings, and close to 400 people showed up. We were ushered into a room, waited about an hour, then told to sign a paper saying we had arrived late. I thought of arguing about this -- I got there when they told me to -- but figured, what's the point? So I signed.

The harried social worker told us we'd get rescheduling info in the mail -- and there, as they say, my troubles began.

Next: My workfare hearing.

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39 comments
ontheotherside
ontheotherside

I don't know if you are joking or not; I've never read you before.  Either way, I love this!!!!  I too, am collecting EBT now and yes, Angrylady, I also have a college degree.  The government offers a set amount of aid based upon income and how I decide to spend it is my decision.  No mac and cheese here...I'm off to Trader Joe's!


criticalstudyingmama
criticalstudyingmama

Excuse me, but if you could get an extra $200 something a month in free food, you would be a damn fool to turn it down.   And if you think that using food stamps to buy organic food is 'taking advantage of your tax dollars' then you are a damn fool as well.  Why get so hung up on someone buying some shrimp when our government is murdering thousands of innocent people by drones that cost billions of dollars?  What our government wants is people like you to buy into their foolish ideology, which in reality leaves you working a shitty ass job but thinking you're better than someone because you don't have an EBT card.  But you don't got shrimp ha!  I have been on food stamps twice and I think if you can get through the circus of signing up for food stamps, then you deserve food stamps :)  Most regular people can get them (50% of NYC's workforce makes under $25k a year)-- take back your tax dollars and get that shrimp!

anonymous
anonymous

If this entry is a parody, and it really seems to be, it's really brilliant and incendiary in a very, very funny way (borders on the Onion -- I can see the mock headline "Man on Food Stamps Upset that Aged Gruyere on Back Order at Whole Foods). If it's serious, man, I don't really know what to say -- it would almost be apocalyptic. 

LisaBrains
LisaBrains

I think the quality and quantity of food also depends on where you live regardless of whether you are relying on food stamps or not. When I visit my dad in WV we can go get about 2 weeks worth of good food from Kroger and a local produce market for about $150 that covers multiple daily meals and snacks.. But here in NC I can get 2 weeks worth of food for the same $150 but it is no where near as healthy or tasty, and only covers breakfast and dinner. As a side note: most people who rely on food stamps shop once a month. Even though I hate living week to week it is better than living month to month. 

elynhart
elynhart

Buying food at Whole Foods is NOT a crime. Rather than be one of the fat, disgusting people riding a "scooter" in Walmart and buying all their poisonous food....I will gladly scrimp and buy healthy foods at Whole Foods. Stop judging people! I am on FS...not by choice!

AngryLady
AngryLady

I hope that I'm not misunderstanding your situation, but you sound like you don't want to work. I and my husband have college educations and also a toddler. Thanks to recession and moving, we've ended up unemployed...although not by choice. We've even applied to famous fast food chains who wouldn't even give us the time of day (probably because of our education). I hate to say this, but we ended up having to use food stamps. It has been a blessing, BUT we by no mean want to and are quite embarrassed by this. While it has been a great blessing, I still treat it like MY money. I clip coupons, I research sales and plan my shopping. All that to say...I find it repulsive that you refuse to take a job because it isn't what you went to school for. You'd live off the government and take from people who really need it and would work ANY job so they wouldn't have to rely on the government.   The fact you basically pass judgment on SOMEONE ELSE's  behavior because they have kids and are on food stamps is hypocritically. Look at what you are doing...the same thing only in my eyes worse. It's people like you who give people on food stamps a bad rep. There are so many who legitimately need it and others who are just trying to "mooch". You are an arrogant jerk. I'm sorry that cleaning toilets is beneath you, but being an lazy ass stealing money from our government (which is in debt) and from people who really need it, is not beneath you. Wow. 

camilo.nevarez
camilo.nevarez

Food stamps are for anyone who lives close to or under the poverty level. last time i checked that was about 6 million people in california alone. Almost anyone can qualify for food stamps with or without a job. Even poor people deserve the right to TRY new things. The key is they should have the opportunity to shop anywhere. food stamp users should not be required to shop only at certain stores, that would be unfair practice and promotion. In fact the government makes it quite difficult for a store owner to accept and process ebt. ebt users im sure appreciate having a diverse option of markets to go to instead of having to ALWAYS go to 99 cent store. The average single person on ebt gets 220 dollars of foodstamps a month. how many of you think you can make 220 dollars of groceries last 30 days? I dont think it would be that easy.

someguy
someguy

get a job in the fields you punk! there is plenty of work there...o wait.....i forgot... that's beneath  you...

Emariedonovan
Emariedonovan

I don't have a problem with someone on food stamps shopping at stores that offer healthy choices I am more bothered by those buying chips, ring dings and soda on food stamps...I do however have a problem with your comment about Kids being the delineation between classes.I just recently for the first time in my life went on food stamps. I am a college educated woman with a master degree who had a great job making excellent money. I gave birth to my second child worked through my pregnancy and the first year of her life. I lost my job while simultaneously finding out my child had a disablity! If I took any job waitressing, cashier, etc it would not make me enough money while paying for someone to care for my child and that is the ONLY reason I turned to food stamps. Not bc those jobs are beneath me! Before my children i would NEVER in my life even consider food stamps! You are not a real man...you can make a decent living waitering, bartending, anything!!! You shoul be ashamed of yourself! You're an embarrassment to this country and to those of us who wish we were in positions to work and not need this assistance...DISGUSTING!

Ellen Marie

unbroken2114
unbroken2114

I just recently had to get on food stamps because my husband walked out on our 2 young daughters that are 1 and 3 and myself.  I did it because I had no choice because I cannot work for a while because of a back surgery I had to undergo....you should be taken off of it and it given to someone who really needs it and wont waste the money on expensive foods...I cannot tell you how repulsed I was by reading this...I agree with other people, apply for every and any job you can...our country cannot afford to support your expensive eating habits until you get your "writing" job!!  You can bet I will be out there job searching and taking anything I can to support my girls on my own...It is MY JOB now to support them still even though their dad left not America's!!

Djeanniemeyer
Djeanniemeyer

This zine should be offended to print such crap, especially with it's headline.  Calling anyone white trash is offensive to them and to all races, I don't know you, but would you call yourself a liberal?  Because if you did, you sure as hell don't speak for me as one. Terrible writing btw. Are't you people supposed to be professional and experienced writers?

Anna
Anna

Well my only comment is that the only ones who get food stamps in the state of Virginia are who they want to have them.....I am a mother of 3, yes my husband works but we are considered middle class and get no help from our great state....don't make enough to pay bills and get food..but make to much to qualify for any assistance, because they go by what you make not by what you bring home..By the time you pay rent,elec. insurance and oh lets not forget the taxes and water and sewer..you are in the hole by about $250.00...So who is going to get my kids something to eat..Not my government.....

Glenna Rupert
Glenna Rupert

happened to ours too, make sure he drinks water before bed time this will help slow the decay that milk promotes

Penny
Penny

Thanks for sharing, I just wanted to let you know that your blog doesnt show up perfectly on the blackberry browser but I am probably still in a minority of users.

Jenny Share
Jenny Share

Thanks for sharing, I just wanted to let you know that your blog doesnt show up perfectly on the blackberry browser but I am probably still in a minority of users.

jennine
jennine

Are you gay? Are you old?

mommy2be
mommy2be

Uhhh I have news for you, I have 2 kids and one on the way. I was on welfare to work and food stamps with my oldest 7 years ago and found myself needing assistance again. This time I just filed for child support and decided to only do food stamps. I get close to $400 a month and the first month I received $500.00. The second month I got $800.00 and I also get WIC for me and my youngest son. So I use the WIC for the eggs and milk and my food stamps to cook like an iron chef. I have the same expensive tastes in foods and shop at Whole Foods. I buy whatever I want. What I don't do is spend food stamp money on junk food. I only buy good meats, fantastic spices, and produce I couldn't previously afford. Sorry to break your myth but you actually get more food stamp allowance the more kids you have. So unless they are super greedy, you can still indulge in the good stuff!

Laszlo Toth
Laszlo Toth

You, sir, are a bum. It's nice that you can indulge your "exotic tastes" while you turn up your nose at the cashier, retail or security jobs available to you. Judging by the quality of this piece, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a job as a writer and if your photography is of the same caliber, ditto for that as well.

Stephanie
Stephanie

PS: There are other ways to shop healthy in the city without going over budget if you look for it. Many of the greens markets will now accept food stamps. I hear even the one in union square is a good place to go for this. Another route to try is to join a CSA (community supported agriculture). Many of them have subsidized rates and also except food stamps as methods of payments! Good luck to all of those who are doing the right thing!

Stephanie
Stephanie

I was in a pretty bad accident about a year and a half ago. I had to have someone take me down to the office in my wheelchair because there was too long of a wait list for them to come to my home as a home bound person to receive food stamps. And the amount that they give you with special dietary restrictions and needs is not enough. Even the cash assist is a joke, who in NYC pays 200 a month for their rent? So if he wants to live lavishly for two weeks a month and then have no money left for the last week I think that is up to him. But I think the way the money is allocated and divided is done unfairly and that not everyone deserves the exact same amount. I think there is no shame in needing the extra help, if you are really in need if it. And if you are really trying to do something to get yourself out of the situation you are in. Sometimes you have to take a job that is in a lower pay bracket. Even before this I used to work more than one job to make sure that all of my bills were paid. That I was proud to do!

Sarah
Sarah

This is pretty disgusting. If you can buy these expensive items with your ebt card then you are allocated too much money a month. My sister is a single mom (widow) who doesn't get enough to get the basics.

Anonymous
Anonymous

I'm currently an undergraduate working on my bachelor's degree, I support myself through my low paying job, and go to school only because of the grants I recieve via finacial aid----I also recieve food stamps, and do they same exact thing! I go to whole foods---its amazing. I love hitting up that salad bar. I agree with you completely---people with kids don't deserve assistance anymore than we do! (though they should get it) There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a little welfare when times are tough----for some reason the culture in america makes us have this negative vibe about it. If you go to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, England, they don't regard you as scum for getting welfare----I guess they are more collectivist and accepting

anonymous
anonymous

After a failed marriage to a Yale graduate, selling my beautiful home(built from the ground up) and losing my job ,while trying to raise two kids(Yale grad is dead beat dad), I gave in and applied for food stamps. The humiliation left, having been a former Wall st broker, the moment my nine year old said how much she missed having yogurt. I thank God for a country that can give you something when it needed.

Fight_Complacency
Fight_Complacency

This is so awesome. I recently graduated law school after having completed my master's degree. So I'm entirely over-educated and yet can find NO work. After 70 applications for lawyer positions and no responses, I applied for several jobs that I should have been working straight out of high school. Didn't get those, either.

So I join you in the joy of food stamps for those of us who "don't need it."

No, I don't need 'em because I have a high school diploma, a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and a juris doctor. However, our government bailed out the execs who created this mess, and not us. So I applaud you in getting what you can. A job? No. Food? Yes.

Good for you.

Anonymous
Anonymous

This entry is insulting.

It's wonderful to know that my money is paying for you to life "high on the hog", buying stuff that I have to refrain from so I don't have to go on welfare to support my family. You give people who actually *need* help a horrible name. Bravo for being a selfish ass.

Matthew Hovey
Matthew Hovey

Robert,Maybe we are supposed to admire your bravado in declaring your enjoyment of fine cuisine on Uncle Sams tab; I find it repulsive. I am sorry you cannot find your dream job in this economy. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Apply for those cashier or security jobs you so easily dismiss and get to work. This nation can ill afford to support the growing number of people that think they are owed something.

Gorilla Bob
Gorilla Bob

I agree. I'm not such a Scrooge McDuck that I think kids shouldn't get help, but I'm amazed that people with little education and no means have kids, and many: on a farm this would make sense, to do manual work, but in a city it seems insane. I'm sure there are studies on this, I just marvel at it.

Imee
Imee

I've come to the conclusion that the main delineation between the classes is not race or education (though these play a role), but who has kids. -LOL! You have a point there. Then again, I think welfare should really be given to those who need it more--those in the lower-income brackets and those who have no job and plenty of mouths to feed.

just500
just500

@AngryLady The government sold you out to the Federal Reserve and multinational corporations. The money in "your" bank account has had debt connected to it since the early 1900s. The FED owns owns that debt and is collecting interest. The only way to pay them back is to borrow more money from them. Worse, with our FIAT monetary system, they can print up as much as they want to control inflation . Abusing food stamps is akin to abusing drugs. One can go after the user all day, but in the end, it is the dealer who perpetuates the scam through social engineering and the one-sided propaganda they refer to as the "Media."

just500
just500

@Emariedonovan I don't see what the big deal is. Government officials choose to use our money to make bombs, death rays, mind control, HAARP, poisons, and diseases. Do you have any idea how much 1 Bomb costs? Enough to feed families. Donald Rumsfield went on air September 10th, 2001 saying that the pentagon had lost over $2 Trillion dollars. The next day, the part of the pentagon with all the financial data was destroyed. We would rather sit here and bash our fellow Americans and that is what they want.

just500
just500

@Djeanniemeyer  HAHAHAHA Liberalism is a JOKE in the U.S. They are all right wing when compared to the rest of the world. Check out this political compass. Maybe you will find your bearings.

http://www.politicalcompass.org/

JeanR
JeanR

Anna,I am in a very bad bad situation too, but i had my hubby's paycheck changed, thanks to his kind boss to get FS. if not, we wouldn't eat for a week, would be able to buy metrocards, until his next pay check,every 2 weeks... I haven't been able to find work for 2 yrs, my kid had a big accident and was homeschooling the whole year, that means one of the parent has to be home when the teacher comes. that is the law. so i had to be home and my hubby works...so, let me tell u, FS is a gift from god for us!!! otherwise. and yes, we buy healthy and pricey items but they make it available so why not!!! if only rich people can eat it, that is really not fair...i know, it sounds bad for some people, but  i feel that i have the right to buy organic food too if the stores accept fs!!! i buy organic whenever possible,sorry!!! it's stupid not to do so for those who still buy bad and processed food...my family can at least enjoy the food we only see in expensive restaurant. all of this is temporary, so i don't feel bad even for a minute using it to go to the fancy stores...

Pesto8134
Pesto8134

Indulge in all the "fantastic spices" you want. You're still EBT trash, that should be sterilized in order to keep receiving assistance.

Mme X
Mme X

Sarah,Why doesn't your sis apply for it? if she has a hard time making ends meet, then she should!!! Why is it disgusting that someone uses FS to buy healthy food???? it's only temporary anyway so he might as well enjoy it!!! where else do u want him to go? Mc Donald???  In these times of crisis, it's a peace of mind to know that we can rely on our gov to assist us when we need help..As we red it, this guy and other people are well educated who can't find work. so he only tries to survive and stay healthy tooo. Unfortunately, healthy food or if i may say organic are so fucking expensive, so should it be for the rich only???Each case is unique, so don't get mad and judge him if u don't know his situation!!!Of course, a lot of people take advantage of the FS by giving out false information about their financial situation but that's been going on for years, too bad the gov employees are not doing such a good job to change that.... yes, people lie all the time to get free stuff, free housing , free this and free that!!let him enjoy his gourmet food and mind your own business!!! life is too short!!!

Jonathon Swiftboat
Jonathon Swiftboat

If you want to be condescending, learn how to post properly. Double-posting, moralizing jerks hold no credibility with me.

Sincerely,

Sipping DSS-purchased Kumbachaya from Whole Foods on Long Island

Flubulubuluba
Flubulubuluba

Everything is good as long as you go to work...eh Mathew? You retired?

just500
just500

@JeanR I totally agree! Most food commercially available is just not safe. Look at the obesity epidemic and all our health problems compared to other countries. Just because a person or family doesn't generate a certain amount of income is not a good enough reason to be forced to consume sub-par fuels.

just500
just500

@Pesto8134 You sound a lot like a WW2 era world leader they are trying to erase from public school's history books.

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