My political thought of the day:
Slate has a cool feature up, that lets you enter your zip code and see stats about how many people are on food stamps, how much it has grown since 2000, how much they get on average, and so on. Apparently there are some coding problems (people in the comments section say they couldn’t get their zip codes to come up), but it worked fine with me. You can check it out here:
I looked t some o the areas where I live or have lived. For example, my county in the Bronx has 27% of its residents on food stamps, receiving $1222 per year. That’s comparatively high but still works out to about $23.50 a week. Food stamps amounts seem to be higher for families with kids than for adults, and in my neighborhood we have a lot of large families from the working poor. So it’s not exactly surprising food stamps would give that much per family – and that’s high. For comparison, Watauga Co., NC (where I graduated high school) only has 6% of the population on food stamps and they only received about $12.53 a week. In neighboring Ashe Co. (our sports rival – a better representation for the area since they aren’t home to a major university with the way that changes the economy), it’s 14% receiving $14.46/week.
(Slate gives monthly figures but I’m used to thinking about budgets in terms of weeks. I took the yearly figure and divided by 52.)
Two things really surprised me here. First, there seems to be a lot of variance across the country – much more than the cost of food varies. Food is a little more expensive in the Bronx than Watauga, but nowhere near that much. I may pay less than most since I work in a community garden and so get a lot of fruit and veggies and herbs for free, but even so, I think there’s more politics than economic variety going into things here. To be fair, in the South, there’s also more of a reliance on food banks run off of donations rather than tax dollars than I’ve seen in NYC.
The other thing is just how little this program actually gives people. With the level of shame usually attached to it, you’d think people were eating steak and lobster every night, and not lifting a finger to earn it. I don’t doubt there are some people who abuse he system, and I’ve seen the exposes where people have accumulated thousands of dollars in their account somehow. I’m all for fighting those – as abuses. But I think that $23.50 a week is more in line with the reality of people in my community using food stamps. It’s not much, but it’s enough to keep their children fed if they combine it with the income from the low-wage jobs most people in this area seem to work. Based on the people that I know, it’s the difference between having cheap but highly unhealthy food like potato chips and soda and giving them something more healthy.
I encourage you to enter your own zip code and get to know the stats. It’s a nifty way of getting beyond rhetoric and seeing the facts of how food stamps are used in your neighborhoods.