Yesterday there was a big debate thread on the 100+ board about the news that fast-food chains such as KFC, McDonalds et. al. are petitioning the federal government to allow families who are enrolled in the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aka Food Stamps) to be able to use them to purchase convenience foods or meals through their restaurants.
The debate went on for two pages on this thread, as this is a hot button for many people who are struggling and NOT using food stamps for their family and do not have the money to purchase food like this and so they cut it out of their own budgets. They were pretty incensed to think that tax dollars would be used to be able to purchase these convenience foods.
Since food stamps were conceived to be able to feed families HEALTHY choices, this was a big part of the debate. There were also some people who felt that just because someone is poor, they should not be treated differently than anyone else. They should be treated with the same respect and dignity and be given the same choices as how to spend their money or their food stamps as those that do not have to count their pennies.
Since I work and have worked in social services, many of those years with the TANF population (aka welfare) I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I feel very bad that they have to deny their children an occasional meal at a fast food chain when all of their friends are eating there and always talking about it. Families struggle. It is a fact. It does not mean that they should not be able to save for the occasional treat for their kids.
As a matter of fact, I have one client who regularly saved some of her food stamps for one special meal each month. She would get ONE small steak for her teenage son who loved it or some shrimp or on his birthday, a lobster for around 6 bucks. She was actually harassed in line at the grocery store when a woman behind her saw her pay for that lobster with the food stamp card! She was in tears about that. The rest of the month she bought large bags of chicken legs etc and cooked nutritious but inexpensive meals. Why would someone care what she ate? Because in their eyes, they were paying for that lobster and they did not buy it because they felt it cost too much so why should SHE buy it.
Allowing dignity for those less fortunate is hard for many people to do. They say things like “Why don’t they get a job instead of going on the dole?” The odds against them finding work with low education levels, lack of affordable child care, lack of transportation in my state (our public transportation is very limited) and other barriers is very daunting. My own HUSBAND who has a stellar work history AND a degree in Mechanical Engineering can’t get a job and he has applied for EVERYTHING and ANYTHING! He is struggling so can you imagine what that population goes through?
I do not advocate for a full on allowance to use food stamps in fast food or any restaurants because it would be too easy to give in to a whiny kid more than once a month and this would likely mean running out of food stamps much earlier than they should as fast food can be expensive. But, they could put a limit of say 25.00 of the money to be spent on convenience foods or allow target populations who do not have access to kitchens to cook to use them there. (elderly, homeless living in a motel room etc)
Obviously, the fast food chains would benefit greatly from this allowance so they are lobbying congress for it. But allowing families to have freedom to use ALL of their food stamps this way would be unwise from where I sit. But, allowing them to have one night where they felt the same as everyone else and are able to buy their child a Happy Meal, would be the right thing to do. Limit it. That is the solution in my opinion.
It just makes me nuts that those who live in poverty are so misunderstood and urban myths about scamming the system persist. Not all of them do.
Off of my soap box!