Would You Accept Food Stamps If You Didn’t Need Them?

by Shawanda Greene

Have you ever applied for food stamps?

I have . . . twice.

Once as a sophomore in college eleven years ago and again as a budding entrepreneur, um, about a week ago.

Currently, my income is . . . how should I put this? Modest.

If that old Michigan dude qualified for food stamps AFTER winning the lottery, surely, a non-millionaire like myself would have no problem obtaining food assistance.

Why not see if I’m eligible for aid that’d reduce my grocery bill?

Have you seen how much Greek yogurt costs these days? And don’t get me started on the rising price of organic milk.

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Technically, I didn’t apply for food stamps. I used an online tool to see if I might qualify for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

After completing a short questionnaire on my state’s website, I received the bittersweet news that I’m ineligible for food stamps.

I’m just not poor enough. Dammit! I was really looking forward to adding more snow crab to my diet. Oh well.

Although SNAP is a federally funded program, it’s administered by the states. And my state decided that if you have more than $2,000 saved up, you ought to be able to feed yourself.

Strangely, only fourteen states require their residents to “pass” an asset test in order to qualify for SNAP. I’m lucky enough to live in one of them.

I estimate that I have until the end of 2013 before I seriously begin to question whether my income and assets afford me the luxury of eating.

But frankly, if I qualified for food stamps, I’d get ‘em. I mean, I’ve paid plenty of taxes in my lifetime. Not to mention, every dollar I save on food is a dollar I can invest in my business.

Judge me if you will; I’m tellin’ you the truth.

If you qualified for government assistance but didn’t need it, would you accept it?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

nicoleandmaggie July 26, 2012 at 8:52 AM

Apparently the answer is no, as we didn’t in graduate school. I do wish we’d taken advantage of free birth control though… that was several hundred dollars a year we could have saved, even with our insurance.
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Shawanda Greene July 26, 2012 at 1:24 PM

As a sophomore in college, I definitely thought I’d qualify for food stamps. But the government said that with my student loans, grants, scholarships, and $8 an hour job, I brought in too much money. *shrugs*
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Holly@Clubthrifty.com July 26, 2012 at 9:49 AM


I have a friend who used to be on food stamps several years ago and she was always trying to sell her “excess” food stamps to people. She would say, if you give me 50 bucks, I will go to the store with you and buy you $100 worth of groceries. She only asked me a few times…and my answer was always, “HELL NO.” I have a job and can pay for my groceries.
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Shawanda Greene July 26, 2012 at 1:26 PM

I dunno. A guaranteed 50% savings on groceries is a tough offer to pass up. :)
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Holly@Clubthrifty.com July 27, 2012 at 9:10 AM

Nooooo!!!!! Some things are just wrong Shawanda.
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Daisy @ Add Vodka July 26, 2012 at 10:01 AM

We don’t get food stamps in Canada, but we get government assistance in other ways. I take advantage because the government sends me a cheque once every 3-4 months for $100+. But, if we had the chance, and we were eligible, I WOULD DO IT.
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Shawanda Greene July 26, 2012 at 1:29 PM

A $100+ check for what? The only checks I get from the U.S. government are for tax refunds, and I haven’t received one of those since 2007.
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femmefrugality July 26, 2012 at 11:03 AM

My state requries the asset test, too. It actually just got passed. I think it’s incredibly counter intuitive. It discourages people who are on these programs from saving to get themselves into a better situation. As with all welfare systems, though, I feel that people who are working hard to improve their situation are generally disadvantaged and have to either give up part of their moral system or live without assistance.
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Shawanda Greene July 26, 2012 at 1:34 PM

You must live in Pennsylvania. I read that they recently instituted an asset test.

I’d never lie about my financial situation to qualify for government benefits. But if I legitimately qualified for assistance, and I didn’t have to jump through too many hoops to receive it, I’d take it.

I understand the argument about how asset tests discourage savings, but I’d rather people rely on themselves, instead of the government, as much as possible. The government giveth and the government taketh away.
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eemusings July 26, 2012 at 8:28 PM

I completely agree. If you’re at rock bottom and need to go on government assistance, the welfare system then makes it impossible to get ahead with the maximum asset rule. Where is the incentive to get up and off it?

I am less concerned about whether asset testing discourages people from going on welfare, than how it stops people who genuinely have nothing, and WANT to get back on their feet, from doing so.
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Nicole July 26, 2012 at 11:39 AM

I used to be on food stamps when I got pregnant at 19, and I stayed on them until I was 25. However, I was also in college and graduated with a double major in Business. When I got off food stamps, it was because I moved over 700 miles from home and got a full-time position with a state agency. I used food stamps to feed myself and my son. But they were based on income and family size and not enough to last the month if you made the choice to splurge on non-essentials.

I don’t really want to seem offensive, but I find the perspective of this article to be condescending. Greek yogurt, snow crab, and organic milk? Really, there are people who can’t eat the whole month without food stamps, but all you can think about is luxury items? You want to reduce your grocery bill? Try making some different food choices…


Shawanda Greene July 26, 2012 at 1:50 PM

You consider Greek yogurt, snow crabs, and organic milk to be luxury items? So are fruit roll ups, Hawaiian Punch, potato chips, and a whole host of junk food I see spilling over the sides of grocery carts pushed by many food stamp recipients. When I was a kid, I could always tell which households received food stamps and which didn’t. Food stamp recipients had tons and tons of snacks and junk food in their kitchens. People who paid cash for food had a tendency to make wiser and more economical food choices.

I applaud those people who use their SNAP benefits to buy “luxury items” like fresh fruit, vegetables, even low calorie, protein rich Greek yogurt. If you traded Capri Suns for water and were able to squeeze in more seafood in your diet, that’d be great too. Healthy food isn’t that expensive. Plus, since a lot of people who qualify for food stamps also qualify for state funded Medicaid insurance, they’d be doing the country a favor by pursuing healthy food options.
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Kathleen @ Frugal Portland July 26, 2012 at 12:41 PM

I was really against my fancy college friends who qualified for food stamps even though they had a trust fund. It rubbed me the wrong way that the government was paying for their food, and mixers, really. I don’t bemoan people who actually need them, but the kids driving Lexuses did not need them.
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Shawanda Greene July 26, 2012 at 1:55 PM

I know what you mean. The reason I even thought of applying for food stamps when I was in college was because my roommate received them. Her father covered practically all of her living expenses AND she barely worked AND she wasn’t that great of a student so she didn’t receive scholarships. Yet, she received food stamps. Meanwhile, I worked my butt off, and I got nothing. Go figure.
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Andrea @SoOverThis July 26, 2012 at 2:36 PM

I’ve also applied for food stamps twice in my life, but I didn’t qualify either time. Well, no, I take that back. The first time I qualified for a whopping $20 or so a month, which sucked because I could have really used them at the time. Anyway, I couldn’t see myself using them if I didn’t truly need them – if for no other reason, the attitudes of the people at the Medicaid office keep me away. I live in a very small town, and when my son was on Medicaid I got SO SICK of the way the employees treated me. It was this attitude like “We know your family and THEY don’t use government assistance, so if you’re in here you must be the scumbag black sheep.”

I wish the SNAP program required education on nutrition and how to prepare actual meals. So many people (especially in the case of generational poverty) don’t know how to cook because their parents and grandparents didn’t cook. So they buy a bunch of processed crap because they do know how to use a microwave. I’ve been very guilty of buying junk food since I got divorced, but I’ve been making an effort to cook in the last few months and it really does make a big difference in how I feel. Luckily since I pay for my groceries myself, I haven’t had to deal with people judging me for what I buy, but I think it’s sad that SNAP recipients do. Worrying about their health is one thing; all this “How come they get to eat steak when I can’t even afford steak!” crap is another. I’d rather eat ramen that I paid for myself than have to go through the humiliation of a trip to the Medicaid office to eat steak.
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nicoleandmaggie July 26, 2012 at 9:40 PM

WIC has been experimenting with cooking classes, which is pretty awesome. (Especially since it will have spillover effects on the next generation cooking too,)
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eemusings July 26, 2012 at 8:30 PM

I asked a similar question of my readers a while ago, but in a different context (http://eemusings.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/worst-case-scenario/).

Dealing with Work and Income is a nightmare, as with any government department, but multiplied x1000. If I needed help, then I would take what I could get. But if I could avoid it, I would, because the hassle and the shame factor is not to be underestimated.
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Virginia July 30, 2012 at 12:15 PM

If the program said I qualified and I could greatly use the help, I would use them. That rule seems to be easy to cheat. What if you just asked your parent’s to hold your savings for you? Not that you should do that…


Shawanda Greene August 8, 2012 at 10:36 AM

Yeah. I wouldn’t do that. That’s fraud.
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