SNAP Benefits Shouldn’t Be Limited to Food

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

In 1990, I was 31 years old and had been married for 11 years to my high school sweetheart (my first attempt at trying to get a man to meet his own potential despite his lack of interest in the whole project!). We lived in a large single home in the suburbs across the river from Philadelphia in South Jersey, with two kids and two dogs. By that year, I realized that the man I married was NOT someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and I told him to leave in March. He finally did so that June, and I got my friend’s sister and her toddler to move in as my roommate. She worked days, I worked nights, so perfect, right? Not so much.

Anyway, one thing led to another and I found myself in the unacceptable position of needing to apply for public benefits – food stamps, welfare and Medicaid – for myself and my children. My father took me there to fill out the application (no internet in 1990, sadly) despite my distaste of the whole idea (I had my own prejudices about ‘assistance’), because I was entitled to it. He was right – I wasn’t able to work because I was recuperating from surgery and my estranged husband (in rehab after a drunk-driving accident that caused him some serious frontal lobe damage) wasn’t working either, leaving us with no actual income.

I was way more fortunate than the majority of women in similar circumstances – single parents without financial support from the noncustodial parent – because my parents were fairly well-off. In addition, due to a legal settlement, and a bargain ‘fixer-upper’ of a house, I had no mortgage payment. Unfortunately, this did not mean I lived there for free – real estate taxes, utilities, cable and such put my monthly expenses conservatively around $1,500 before food. Adding groceries to that total for just myself and two young kids (7 and 10) brought that total to around $2,000.

When I was approved by the state for assistance, I was granted Medicaid for myself and my children (limited to those providers who agreed to accept the meager fees paid for their services) along with cash assistance/welfare and food stamps. The monthly cash payment I received was $475, and in food stamps, $256, about 30% of my monthly bills and about half of my grocery expenses. Of course, those grocery expenses include more than just food.

The non-edible things purchased at the grocery store are (in large part) also necessities and should be included in the benefits. Who among us can manage without laundry products, paper products, feminine hygiene products, health and beauty aids and cleaning products? How much of the average American’s grocery budget includes non-edibles like toilet paper, tissues, etc.?

When I pointed this out to the welfare worker I was assigned to, I was told that this was the purpose of the cash benefit. How I was supposed to pay my bills after I used my cash benefit for my non-edible groceries was not her problem. The only reason I wasn’t forced to sell my home in order to live off the proceeds was because of my parents’ financial support.

It is long over due for the food assistance system to be updated to reflect that actual needs of real families, including the fact that the least expensive food items are also those least healthy for us to eat. Fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins are significantly more expensive than the non-nutritious prepared foods available in the middle aisles of most grocery stores, and produce is almost nonexistent in food deserts where the only ‘grocery’ store is a dollar store.

Once again, we have to ask ourselves – if people who work 40 hours or more every week for a minimum wage job require government assistance for food, housing, healthcare and other necessities, why aren’t their employers required to raise their pay to a living wage?

Taxpayers shouldn’t be required to supplement poverty-level wages, to make workers whole; employers should be forced to provide a minimum living wage that is above the poverty level. Put the burden for this disparity where it belongs; on the companies that pay too little. Republicans (along with Sinema and Manchin) who refuse to address this do not deserve their place in power. Period.

This is Who the Republicans Are

My Republican friends have to explain to me why they aren’t outraged by the hundreds of voter suppression laws being passed by Republican legislatures in 43 states across the country. They must convince me that their silence about this isn’t a sign of their own complicity in this “Jim Crow in new clothes”, to quote Senator Raphael Warnock (D, Ga).

Over the short history of this country, it has been understood that political parties attract voters by virtue of their platforms, which were usually designed to show how much the party plans to do to help their voters when they are elected to office. When a political party loses an election, those in charge of said party have historically reviewed their platform and met with their voters to ascertain what changes could be made to attract more people to vote for them in the next election. Until now.

In 2021, Republicans have concluded that they cannot maintain their minority hold on government if all those eligible to vote are permitted to do so. They instead believe that making it as hard as possible for those they believe will be voting against them to cast a ballot is their only means of remaining in power, and have wasted no time in putting every roadblock they can in front of their own citizens, particularly those with Black and Brown skin.

Those in the Senate who purport to be liberals have to stand up for what is right, and that means immediately doing whatever is necessary to bring SR1 to the floor for a vote. Because Republicans have chosen voter suppression to platform modification, they will do what has worked for them since 2008 – invoke the word ‘filibuster’ followed by a demand for a 60-vote majority to pass any legislation. There is really no other way to go – the filibuster must be not simply changed,, but eliminated. Claims that the filibuster permits the minority to obstruct legislation they do not like and therefore “be careful what you wish for” is proof that the filibuster is designed as a means of obstruction.

A functioning democracy is always at risk of having a reversal of the party in power; that’s pretty much the point, right? In the United States, the minority has been given way too much power to stand in the way of majority rule, which is supposed to be the way our democracy works. While it is reasonable to allow those in the minority to express their opinion about legislation they disagree with, it is ridiculous to allow the party that lost all three branches of government in the last election to decide which legislation is going to pass and which is going to die because they don’t like it.

In fact, Republicans have used this ability to prevent Democratic administrations from enacting anything that the Democrats were elected into to office to initiate. Why is the losing party able to hold the winning team hostage by denying them the mandate they won in an election simply by stamping their feet and plugging their ears while repeating “La, la, la, la, la, I can’t hear you….”? The Senate, formerly considered ‘the world’s most deliberative body’ has been transformed into a two-headed monster; the one on the left has the only functioning brain, while the one on the right is a whiny little bitch.

The citizens of this country spoke loud and clear last November. We voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead us out of the mess that Trump and decades of Republican obstructionism brought us to. The Republicans need to get over the fact that they lost and deal with the mandate the American People gave to the Biden Administration. If they cannot do that, they should be drummed out of existence as a political force for decades to come, if not forever.

Joe Manchin (D, WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D, AZ) need to put on their grown-up pants and stop acting as though the Republicans have a shit left to give about anything other than their donors and their stock portfolios. If Senators Manchin and Sinema give a damn about the American people, they’ll stop pretending that the filibuster is anything other than a holdover from Reconstruction used to stymie any attempt at civil rights. Why do they and most on the right find it unacceptable to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour? Have any of them tried today to live on $290 per week (at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr for a 40 hour work week)? That income may allow a high school student to put some funds aside towards college, but there is no independently living adult who can survive on under $1,200 per month in total income. Of course, those who are only making $7.25 per hour have the opportunity to apply for government subsidies for food, rent, heat (in the Northeast) and cash assistance, but why are the taxpayers forced to lift these folks out of poverty instead of requiring their employer to pay them a living wage?

The social safety net programs have been in the sights of Republicans for as long as I can remember, and it’s particularly galling since many of the working poor who need these programs to survive would be lifted out of poverty if they were simply paid a wage that met their cost of living. Why do so many in the Senate refuse to acknowledge that the below-poverty-level federal minimum wage is directly responsible for every dollar of social safety net funds needed to bring those families to a livable income?

No one working a full forty hour week should need government assistance to survive. Allowing businesses to pay so little to their employees benefits the business owners at the expense of their workers. Requiring all businesses to pay their employees a real, living wage lifts everyone up, freeing up trillions of tax dollars to fund infrastructure, climate remediation, green energy, healthcare and so much more. We all do better when we all do better.

Of course, many smaller businesses working with a smaller profit margin may be required to raise prices, and those who are the least profitable may end up closing, but we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Not all businesses are destined for success, and holding down workers’ pay for the exclusive benefit of the business owners perpetuates disparities that have effectively transferred massive wealth from the many to the few. The fact is, none of the people currently taking up seats in the Senate have any relevant experience within their own lives that compares with trying to survive on too little income week after week, month after month, year after year, without any reasonable expectation of a change until you die or retire, often on too little Social Security income. Apparently, Republican Senators (along with the two Democrats noted above) no longer have any capacity to empathize with those less fortunate than themselves. They lack any real ability to fathom what it’s like to live in a world that doesn’t include a huge inheritance or the good fortune of having your way paved by your predecessors without any input or talent on your part. These character flaws make them the wrong people to represent the vast majority of their own electorate. Their ivory towers have blinded them to what it’s like for the rest of us down her on the ground.

In order to lift the folks at the bottom of the income ladder up, those at the other end of the scale have to pay their fair share in taxes. Trillions of dollars in tax revenue are lost to loopholes, tax shelters and both legal and illegal tax avoidance by the top 0.1%. It is no longer tenable that the majority of IRS tax audits focuses on those claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Why not focus all that energy on those filers most likely to bring in the most in taxes, fees and penalties? Surely auditing one fraudulently filed 1040 by someone with billions in income would be more financially beneficial to the IRS than auditing thousands of low-income filers who did their own taxes and made an honest mistake?

Republicans have used their obstructionism in the Senate as proof that the Democrats can’t do anything when they’re in charge, convincing the slimmest of ‘majorities’ with the help of the tilted electoral college and Senate to put them back in charge. Once there, they prove again that they lack the intellectual and moral authority to actually govern, preferring instead to use rhetoric to keep their base engaged while doing nothing to benefit the citizens of the country. Power for the sake of power, as a means of maintaining power without regard for the will of the people, or majority rule. Republicans have gone all in on the Big Lie, and they’re using it to do everything possible to prevent anyone they deem undeserving from casting a ballot, especially people of color. They have to obstruct because they know that the people will keep Democrats in charge because Democrats get things done.

This is who the Republicans are. Racist to the core. Interested only in themselves. Those who chose to remain within their ranks need to acknowledge that this is their underlying reason for being there; taxes, abortion and guns notwithstanding.