The Harsh Reality of the SNAP Program

The Washington Post has an incredible piece on the SNAP program that you will not see discussed on Fox News between their musings of Goodies and Free Stuff.

This story, which focuses on what the SNAP program means to small town America, is the ultimate rebuke of the idea that the program is ineffectual.

At precisely one second after midnight, on March 1, Woonsocket would experience its monthly financial windfall — nearly $2 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Federal money would be electronically transferred to the broke residents of a nearly bankrupt town, where it would flow first into grocery stores and then on to food companies, employees and banks, beginning the monthly cycle that has helped Woonsocket survive.

Three years into an economic recovery, this is the lasting scar of collapse: a federal program that began as a last resort for a few million hungry people has grown into an economic lifeline for entire towns. [...]

SNAP enrollment in Rhode Island had been rising for six years, up from 73,000 people to nearly 180,000, and now three-quarters of purchases at International Meat Market are paid for with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. Government money had in effect funded the truckloads of food at Pichardo’s dock . . . and the three part-time employees he had hired to unload it . . . and the walk-in freezer he had installed to store surplus product . . . and the electric bills he paid to run that freezer, at nearly $2,000 each month.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP “kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, including 2.1 million children,” and “lifted 1.5 million children above 50 percent of the poverty line in 2011,” which is more than any other benefit program. The town of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, which The Washington Post illustrates at length in this piece, is just one example of entire towns that depend on the SNAP program to avoid collapsing.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also found that “less than 2 percent” of SNAP benefits are issued to people who do not meet program’s requirements. And to leave very little to the imagination, this is what living on food stamps looks like (high on the hog, by Fox News’ standards).

Rebecka and Jourie Ortiz usually ran out of milk first, after about three weeks. Next went juice, fresh produce, cereal, meat and eggs. By the 27th or 28th, Rebecka, 21, was often making a dish she referred to in front of the kids as “rice-a-roni,” even though she and Jourie called it “rice-a-whatever.” It was boiled noodles with canned vegetables and beans. “Enough salt and hot sauce can make anything good,” she said.

Late on Feb. 28, Rebecka came home to their two-bedroom apartment to make a snack for her daughters, ages 1 and 3. The kitchen was the biggest room in their apartment, with a stove that doubled as a heater and a floral wall hanging bought at the dollar store that read: “All things are possible if you believe!” She opened the refrigerator. Its top shelf had been duct-taped and its cracked bottom shelf had been covered with a towel. Only a few jars of jelly, iced tea, rotten vegetables and some string cheese remained in between.

And Sean Hannity would say they’re actually living the good life.

The Washington Post also pointed out that roughly half of those living off food stamps in Woonsocket are white while only 15 percent are black which, as you can imagine, is something very few conservative pundits and politicians are willing to acknowledge. And perhaps more tragically, many conservative voters who depend on government programs themselves are also unwilling to acknowledge or learn lessons from it.

And I would be remiss not to mention it — Paul Ryan’s Path to Poverty 3.0 would block-grant the SNAP program and would leave the residents of towns like Woonsocket up the creek without a paddle.

  • mdblanche

    Woonsocket was my father’s hometown. Only a few people have ever lived the good life there. You can still see their stately homes up on the hill. But nobody that wealthy wants to live in them anymore because of the mess their previous owners left behind.

    Woonsocket used to be a mill town. Most of the workers were surplus dirt farmers from Quebec who came since there was nothing for them in Canada, the world’s most overrated country, but poverty and discrimination. The fact that my father’s family had real job skills meant they were relatively well off and eventually moved out. Not everyone did.

    At its height Woonsocket promoted itself as the third largest French speaking city on the continent and attracted overseas investment from France and Belgium. But the investors were quick to relocate when the formerly docile mill workers started unionizing and even cheaper labor was discovered in Dixie.

    The mills started closing after World War I and most of the remainder closed after World War II. They were replaced with nothing. All that’s left is a cheap housing stock that attracts people with nowhere else to go. The first to come were Southeast Asians, many dislocated by our imperial misadventures in their homelands. The newest to arrive are some of those Latinos we’ve been hearing about since the last election.

    The economy in Woonsocket has been broken for a very long time, long before the rest of our economy broke. And nobody- not those mythical job creators, not Obama, not Reagan, not LBJ or JFK or FDR- has ever offered more than a band-aid. I don’t know how you can ever fix a place as broken as that, but I know it doesn’t involve the “self-made” scion of the same type of family that broke it in the first place taking the band-aid too.

    • DetroitSam

      So why does small town America continue to vote against their best interest. Meaning voting republican. And howmany are teabaggers.

      If my memory is correct, which it is, the President has sent several jobs bill to Congress, all of which have been rejected y the same people small town America voted into office.

  • MrDHalen

    Ashby, the piece was done by The Washington Post.

    • JMAshby

      sigh, thanks Halen. I think I had 4-5 posts open at once and got them reversed.

  • muselet

    I would love to see everyone who publicly declares SNAP to be a waste of money or a luxurious giveaway enjoyed by the undeserving spend a year on food assistance. Not, mind you, because it would change any minds—that wouldn’t happen—but simply because listening to them weep and wail and gnash their teeth would be endlessly entertaining.


    • D_C_Wilson

      They wouldn’t last a week.

    • Draxiar

      Having spent some time on food stamps when I was a kid I can tell you that it’s not a glorious way to live. Without going into the details I’d say that were it not for food stamps it would have taken much longer for my parents to dig us out of the hole (which they did quite admirably) we inadvertantly fell in.

      • muselet

        That’s why the Right’s carping about SNAP (and WIC) is so irritating. To listen to Fox News and Congressional Rs, federal nutrition programs are unjustified goodies that go to layabouts (welfare!) and cause dependency. It’s of a piece with their idiotic critiques of the rest of the social safety net.