I frequently come in contact with people who have some problem or another with the use of government assistance programs for food (i.e. SNAP/EBT or WIC). I think that some people are simply generally uncomfortable with the fact that some of their tax dollars are used to feed other people. I think that other individuals take issue with the ways in which EBT benefits are used; some folks seem to have an idea that because they pay taxes, they have the right to be feel indignant when they witness the purchase of “inappropriate” food with an EBT card.
I believe it is important to understand that every situation is different. Some people never struggle financially, but most people do, and no two financial battles are alike. A person may choose to go hungry rather than ask for help. That is his or her prerogative. This does not mean that someone who is unashamed to request assistance when he or she needs it is weaker, lazier, or inferior in any way. It means that different people have different life experiences.
Do people abuse the system? Always. This doesn’t mean that the system should be shut down; it means that the system should be improved.
Which brings me to the inspiration for this post: “frivolous” food purchases. Take, for example, a big, gaudy, somewhat-expensive birthday cake. A person can order a $50 cake at the grocery store for her daughter’s birthday, and buy it with her EBT card. Some people would find this outrageous. I would like those people to take a moment to consider just how little they know about this hypothetical cake purchaser. Perhaps she works full time, and still doesn’t make enough to feed herself and her daughter. Maybe she’s a single mom – unwed, divorced, or widowed – or maybe she’s married to a deadbeat who drinks away her earnings. Or maybe she’s married to a fantastic person who also works full time, but thanks to student loans or being laid off from a better job or a sub-prime mortgage, ends aren’t quite meeting. Perhaps she and her family have decided that they will subsist on beans and rice for a week in order to make room in the budget for a birthday cake. Perhaps it is worth it to give themselves, for just one day, a little relief from the stress of not having enough to get by.
Or maybe the whole family lives on potato chips and expensive prepackaged foods, has 200 channels and iPhones, drives a car that’s less than 5 years old, and receives so much extra on their EBT card each month that they decided to buy the cake just for the hell of it. I’m pretty sure these things happen.
What I’m really trying to say here is that, while you might think you know what is happening when you’re standing behind this person in line at the checkout, you don’t. I don’t know, either. So for you or I to pass negative judgment on someone else for purchasing something we don’t approve of with government funds is highly inappropriate, because it’s none of our beeswax. If you think that it is your beeswax because you’re a taxpayer, then write a letter to your congressman. Tell him that you want control over what is done with your tax dollars and see what he says.
I think that if we take issue with the system, we must address the system via the people who construct and maintain it. Taking out frustrations on citizens who simply use what is offered them in their time of need is ugly and petty and misguided. To make assumptions about who someone is or what their life is like based on 5 minutes of indirect interaction is ludicrous in any other situation, so we must realize that it is also ludicrous here. Such a realization makes it easier to let go, be more thoughtful, and return the mind to where it belongs – one’s own business.