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.