Day 2 was interesting. I didn’t get much sleep last night. I was keeping myself awake trying to figure out meals that I could make with what I bought on Wednesday. I wondered if I had enough to last me till next Wednesday, the last day of this seven day challenge. I worried about what I would have to do if I ran out of food before the end. I began to feel the anxiety of food insecurity.Anxiety is not a good feeling, and it plays with your mind. Given enough time, anxiety can morph into anger. I was beginning to get angry about the cost of food in general. I started to resent the stigma that those needing public assistance face by those who don’t have the same struggles.
I am learning just how many people rely on SNAP in this city. There were some sobering statistics in the Journal Tribune article that covered my SNAP Challenge. This is a much larger issue than most people understand. And, despite what some would have you believe, most people on SNAP don’t want to be on it. They would rather be able sustain themselves without it.
SNAP and other government aid programs have been the subjects of stereotyping and social misinformation in more than just this latest well-meaning challenge. This stereotyping and misinformation has bled into our culture to the point where recipients of SNAP and other aid programs fear their personal circumstances being misrepresented to the public.
The United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service served 46,536,000 people in 2014 with SNAP. Each of those individuals received, on average, $125.35 dollars per month in benefits. SNAP and other government aid programs provide benefits for a substantial amount of people within each state.
A traditional nuclear family in the United States has four people in its household. To qualify for SNAP, a four-person U.S. household must have an average gross monthly income of $2,584 or less. This means the average income of the household before taxes and eligible deductions must be $31,008 or less per year for the family to qualify for SNAP benefits. Once allowable deductions like legally owed child support payments and shelter costs for some homeless households are factored in, the household has to make $23,856 or less to qualify for SNAP benefits. This threshold net income amount accounts for 100 percent of the households considered to be in poverty within the U.S.
Even as SNAP enrollment has surged in the past five years, the program and its participants are still haunted by stigmas and misconceptions. Among the major stigmas associated with SNAP is the perception of Snap as a welfare program. It isn’t. SNAP is a nutrition assistance program. One of the biggest misconceptions is that all people who don’t work and who are trying to abuse the system use SNAP. Even if someone is eligible for benefits, he or she might not want to be thought of as one of those folks and may feel uncomfortable using their EBT card in a store, because someone could think they’re one of those people who commit fraud. Abuse can occur in any program, but to make a blanket assessment that all recipients commit fraud is an unfounded and unfair characterization.
My lesson learned today in this challenge is that no one really understands the stigma and anxiety of having to rely on public assistance better than those who are living it. Generalizations and labeling are really the product of a lack of knowledge and insight by those who have been fortunate enough to have never experienced food insecurity. It’s important to educate ourselves about the struggle so that we can understand the challenge and work towards solving it. A person’s dignity can be a fragile thing. We should be careful about how we address those in need.
Let’s see what kinds of revelations come out of Day 3..