1 in 9 Americans Need Food Stamps


food-stampsWASHINGTON-  Since its genesis in the 1960’s, America’s food stamp program has helped millions.  Once a recipient, I can attest both to the benefits of Food Stamps as well as the stigma attached to using them, the rolled eyes, impatient stares and thinly veiled resentment of shoppers waiting behind me in the check-out line as I paid for and sometimes had to put back items I couldn’t pay for with food stamps, which back then, resembled Monopoly Money. Participants now use cards but still get disparaging looks from time to time.  Snap judgment is easy and stereotypes, convenient.  One can learn to ignore them over time but they still sting.

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Well-heeled self-acclaimed fiscal conservatives have long considered Food Stamps, albeit with resentment, “de rigeur” in the inner city, where basic needs can trump pride and where government-sponsored social programs are not merely tolerated but embraced.  Those who’ve had to rely on such help tend to be more tolerant of those who now walk in their shoes.

Food stamps are intended to provide sustenance-level nutrition support to individuals or families in transition, those either unemployed or underemployed; a nutritional “bridge” for precarious, vulnerable citizens.  reagan-goldwaterRepublicans have successfully made them a wedge issue–a foil they combine with others to reliably ratchet up public opinion against what they lump together as “entitlement programs.”

Painting pictures of  legions of lazy laggards living high off hogs provided by America’s hard-working folk, the Gipper scored big with his “go to” mCaddie logoetaphor of “welfare Cadillac moms,” which fomented deep resentment in minds of frustrated workers left behind by the smoke and mirrors of “supply side” economics.

For the first time ever, more than 34 million Americans received food stamps in May, (the most recent data available).

the government said  another symptom of the longest and one of the deepest recessions since the Great Depression.

Republicans have successfully re-invoked similar images and rhetoric to polarize voters for decades, creating an “I work for mine, why should I pay your way?” mentality among party faithful, who sneer from the ballot booth to the checkout line…at least until recently. Why?  Could it be because they themselves need food stamps?

Turns out, a record 34.4 million people, or one in nine Americans, now receive Food Stamps.  And monthly allottments per family are up as well (which, if you’re quick to blame “the socialistic” Obama, in fact, increased under Dubya’s watch).

It was the sixth month in a row that enrollment set a record. Every state recorded a gain, and Florida had the largest increase at 4.2 percent.

Enrollment for food stamps, which help people buy groceries, is highest during times of economic stress. The U.S. unemployment rate of 9.5 percent is the highest in 26 years.

“Food stamp enrollment is rising because the economy is having a devastating impact on low-income families and they need this program to eat,” said Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank. “Every single state has been affected.”

The average benefit in May was $133.65 per person. The economic stimulus package enacted earlier this year included a temporary increase in food stamp benefits of $80 a month for a family of four.

The federal stimulus legislation will block a potential $5 a month decline in benefits in fiscal 2010 which would have been triggered by moderating food prices, the Agriculture Department said.”

(Reporting by Charles Abbott; editing by Jim Marshall)

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