This is a piece I wrote that was recently published in the North Bay Bohemian. This is longer than the piece that ran in the NB as it is in the original unedited form.
The recently reprinted article “Uncovering the secrets to food stamps” was both informative –and disheartening. While the authors of the article do not seem to hold a completely negative view of SNAP recipients, they do little to dispel myths or offer solutions to the supposed “problems” associated with food stamps recipients.
The myth that food stamp recipients are jobless poxes on the system taking advantage of it is just that–a myth. A simple Google search to locate the Cal Fresh website lists one of the requirements to be eligible for food stamps: “Work Requirements: All able-bodied persons (ages 18-49) without dependents must work 20 hours per week (monthly average 80 hours) or participate 20 hours per week in an approved work activity or do workfare. If not, these persons receive only 3 months of CalFresh benefits in a 36-month period.” The only exception to this requirement is for the aged or the disabled.
The second question brought up by Freyer & Wielowski, “how much of the SNAP budget is going for fruits and vegetables and how much for soft drinks and snack foods?” propagates another myth, implying that food stamps recipients are spending on these things. This is image is further pushed by American Medical Association’s suggestion of a ban prohibiting users from buying these items. All parents want to feed their children. There are many non-Food Stamp recipients that are overweight and have poor eating habits. This is an epidemic that stretches across all classes.
It would instead behoove the AMA to encourage local hospitals and clinics to open stores in their facilities to give people more access non-soda/snack foods. As the saying goes “if you aren’t part of the solution….”
The USDA defines a food desert as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food….” Sections in many Sonoma County town qualify as a micro-level food deserts. Rohnert Park may boast several grocery store chains however they are all located on the newer (read: higher incomes) areas. If I were a food stamp recipient in these areas with limited access to transportation, my choices for grocery shopping in some parts of town would be limited to the many liquor and convenience stores located along the main drag.
In truth, if SNAP recipients are buying up soda and snack foods, it is less likely to be the result of irresponsible parenting and more the result of choices that are available to them. No one wants to spend precious grocery money on a four dollar bag of chips.
“The SNAP program has more than doubled in cost and in number of participants since 2005.” While this statement may sound alarming, it makes sense in light of the many economic hardships that have plagued our nation since that time.
Instead of more government restrictions on what drinks people can buy, we should instead ask “what can we as a society do to help?” Instead of critiquing those whose only choice for feeding their families lay at the local quik stop, encourage city planners to equitably distribute grocery store chains around town. Create laws requiring retailers who accept SNAP to have healthy options. Farmers markets can be held year round and can easily be put together using local vendors who would likely be just as eager to promote their products. The benefits to this would not stop at the individual but help foster a sense of community in cities everywhere. SNAP recipients cannot be helped by more restrictions but more solutions that we as a community need to take responsibility to come up with.