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Thread: Across USA, food stamp use soars and stigma fades

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    Friend of Gossip Rocks! buttmunch's Avatar
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    Default Across USA, food stamp use soars and stigma fades

    Sorry it's so long but please notice that the wingnuts are still moaning about having to help people eat. Assholes. Apparently the right to eat is tied to the requirement to marry. Assholes.
    Strange that Bush was supportive of this.

    MARTINSVILLE, Ohio — With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.

    With millions of jobs lost and major industries on the ropes, America’s array of government aid — including unemployment insurance, food stamps and cash welfare — is being tested as never before. This series examines how the safety net is holding up under the worst economic crisis in decades.


    It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.

    Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.

    While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.

    From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.

    There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps, according to an analysis of local data collected by The New York Times.

    The counties are as big as the Bronx and Philadelphia and as small as Owsley County in Kentucky, a patch of Appalachian distress where half of the 4,600 residents receive food stamps.

    In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children. In the Mississippi River cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, half of the children or more receive food stamps. Even in Peoria, Ill. — Everytown, U.S.A. — nearly 40 percent of children receive aid.

    While use is greatest where poverty runs deep, the growth has been especially swift in once-prosperous places hit by the housing bust. There are about 50 small counties and a dozen sizable ones where the rolls have doubled in the last two years. In another 205 counties, they have risen by at least two-thirds. These places with soaring rolls include populous Riverside County, Calif., most of greater Phoenix and Las Vegas, a ring of affluent Atlanta suburbs, and a 150-mile stretch of southwest Florida from Bradenton to the Everglades.

    Although the program is growing at a record rate, the federal official who oversees it would like it to grow even faster.

    “I think the response of the program has been tremendous,” said Kevin Concannon, an under secretary of agriculture, “but we’re mindful that there are another 15, 16 million who could benefit.”

    Nationwide, food stamps reach about two-thirds of those eligible, with rates ranging from an estimated 50 percent in California to 98 percent in Missouri. Mr. Concannon urged lagging states to do more to enroll the needy, citing a recent government report that found a sharp rise in Americans with inconsistent access to adequate food.

    “This is the most urgent time for our feeding programs in our lifetime, with the exception of the Depression,” he said. “It’s time for us to face up to the fact that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people.”

    The program’s growing reach can be seen in a corner of southwestern Ohio where red state politics reign and blue-collar workers have often called food stamps a sign of laziness. But unemployment has soared, and food stamp use in a six-county area outside Cincinnati has risen more than 50 percent.

    With most of his co-workers laid off, Greg Dawson, a third-generation electrician in rural Martinsville, considers himself lucky to still have a job. He works the night shift for a contracting firm, installing freezer lights in a chain of grocery stores. But when his overtime income vanished and his expenses went up, Mr. Dawson started skimping on meals to feed his wife and five children.

    He tried to fill up on cereal and eggs. He ate a lot of Spam. Then he went to work with a grumbling stomach to shine lights on food he could not afford. When an outreach worker appeared at his son’s Head Start program, Mr. Dawson gave in.

    “It’s embarrassing,” said Mr. Dawson, 29, a taciturn man with a wispy goatee who is so uneasy about the monthly benefit of $300 that he has not told his parents. “I always thought it was people trying to milk the system. But we just felt like we really needed the help right now.”

    The outreach worker is a telltale sign. Like many states, Ohio has campaigned hard to raise the share of eligible people collecting benefits, which are financed entirely by the federal government and brought the state about $2.2 billion last year.

    By contrast, in the federal cash welfare program, states until recently bore the entire cost of caseload growth, and nationally the rolls have stayed virtually flat. Unemployment insurance, despite rapid growth, reaches about only half the jobless (and replaces about half their income), making food stamps the only aid many people can get — the safety net’s safety net.

    Support for the food stamp program reached a nadir in the mid-1990s when critics, likening the benefit to cash welfare, won significant restrictions and sought even more. But after use plunged for several years, President Bill Clinton began promoting the program, in part as a way to help the working poor. President George W. Bush expanded that effort, a strategy Mr. Obama has embraced.

    The revival was crowned last year with an upbeat change of name. What most people still call food stamps is technically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

    By the time the recession began, in December 2007, “the whole message around this program had changed,” said Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington group that has supported food stamp expansions. “The general pitch was, ‘This program is here to help you.’ ”

    Now nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites. Benefits average about $130 a month for each person in the household, but vary with shelter and child care costs.

    In the promotion of the program, critics see a sleight of hand.

    “Some people like to camouflage this by calling it a nutrition program, but it’s really not different from cash welfare,” said Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, whose views have a following among conservatives on Capitol Hill. “Food stamps is quasi money.”

    Arguing that aid discourages work and marriage, Mr. Rector said food stamps should contain work requirements as strict as those placed on cash assistance. “The food stamp program is a fossil that repeats all the errors of the war on poverty,” he said.


    Suburbs Are Hit Hard

    Across the country, the food stamp rolls can be read like a scan of a sick economy. The counties of northwest Ohio, where car parts are made, take sick when Detroit falls ill. Food stamp use is up by about 60 percent in Erie County (vibration controls), 77 percent in Wood County (floor mats) and 84 percent in hard-hit Van Wert (shifting components and cooling fans).

    Just west, in Indiana, Elkhart County makes the majority of the nation’s recreational vehicles. Sales have fallen more than half during the recession, and nearly 30 percent of the county’s children are receiving food stamps.

    The pox in southwest Florida is the housing bust, with foreclosure rates in Fort Myers often leading the nation in the last two years. Across six contiguous counties from Manatee to Monroe, the food stamp rolls have more than doubled.

    In sheer numbers, growth has come about equally from places where food stamp use was common and places where it was rare. Since 2007, the 600 counties with the highest percentage of people on the rolls added 1.3 million new recipients. So did the 600 counties where use was lowest.

    The richest counties are often where aid is growing fastest, although from a small base. In 2007, Forsyth County, outside Atlanta, had the highest household income in the South. (One author dubbed it “Whitopia.”) Food stamp use there has more than doubled.

    This is the first recession in which a majority of the poor in metropolitan areas live in the suburbs, giving food stamps new prominence there. Use has grown by half or more in dozens of suburban counties from Boston to Seattle, including such bulwarks of modern conservatism as California’s Orange County, where the rolls are up more than 50 percent.

    While food stamp use is still the exception in places like Orange County (where 4 percent of the population get food aid), the program reaches deep in places of chronic poverty. It feeds half the people in stretches of white Appalachia, in a Yupik-speaking region of Alaska and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

    Across the 10 core counties of the Mississippi Delta, 45 percent of black residents receive aid. In a city as big as St. Louis, the share is 60 percent.

    Use among children is especially high. A third of the children in Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee receive food aid. In the Bronx, the rate is 46 percent. In East Carroll Parish, La., three-quarters of the children receive food stamps.

    A recent study by Mark R. Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, startled some policy makers in finding that half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent.

    Need Overcomes Scorn

    Across the small towns and rolling farmland outside Cincinnati, old disdain for the program has collided with new needs. Warren County, the second-richest in Ohio, is so averse to government aid that it turned down a federal stimulus grant. But the market for its high-end suburban homes has sagged, people who build them are idle and food stamp use has doubled.

    Next door, in Clinton County, the blow has been worse. DHL, the international package carrier, has closed most of its giant airfield, costing the county its biggest employer and about 7,500 jobs. The county unemployment rate nearly tripled, to more than 14 percent.

    “We’re seeing people getting food stamps who never thought they’d get them,” said Tina Osso, the director of the Shared Harvest Food Bank in Fairfield, which runs an outreach program in five area counties.

    While Mr. Dawson, the electrician, has kept his job, the drive to distant work sites has doubled his gas bill, food prices rose sharply last year and his health insurance premiums have soared. His monthly expenses have risen by about $400, and the elimination of overtime has cost him $200 a month. Food stamps help fill the gap.

    Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda. “To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.

    He has noticed crowds of midnight shoppers once a month when benefits get renewed. While policy analysts, spotting similar crowds nationwide, have called them a sign of increased hunger, he sees idleness. “Generally, if you’re up at that hour and not working, what are you into?” he said.

    Still, the program has filled the Dawsons’ home with fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and meat, and something they had not fully expected — an enormous sense of relief. “I know if I run out of milk, I could run down to the gas station,” said Mr. Dawson’s wife, Sheila.

    As others here tell it, that is a benefit not to be overlooked.

    Sarah and Tyrone Mangold started the year on track to make $70,000 — she was selling health insurance, and he was working on a heating and air conditioning crew. She got laid off in the spring, and he a few months later. Together they had one unemployment check and a blended family of three children, including one with a neurological disorder aggravated by poor nutrition.

    They ate at his mother’s house twice a week. They pawned jewelry. She scoured the food pantry. He scrounged for side jobs. Their frustration peaked one night over a can of pinto beans. Each blamed the other when that was all they had to eat.

    “We were being really snippy, having anxiety attacks,” Ms. Mangold said. “People get irritable when they’re hungry.”

    Food stamps now fortify the family income by $623 a month, and Mr. Mangold, who is still patching together odd jobs, no longer objects.

    “I always thought people on public assistance were lazy,” he said, “but it helps me know I can feed my kids.”

    Shifting Views

    So far, few elected officials have objected to the program’s growth. Almost 90 percent of beneficiaries nationwide live below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four). But a minor tempest hit Ohio’s Warren County after a woman drove to the food stamp office in a Mercedes-Benz and word spread that she owned a $300,000 home loan-free. Since Ohio ignores the value of houses and cars, she qualified.

    “I’m a hard-core conservative Republican guy — I found that appalling,” said Dave Young, a member of the county board of commissioners, which briefly threatened to withdraw from the federal program.

    “As soon as people figure out they can vote representatives in to give them benefits, that’s the end of democracy,” Mr. Young said. “More and more people will be taking, and fewer will be producing.”

    At the same time, the recession left Sandi Bernstein more sympathetic to the needy. After years of success in the insurance business, Ms. Bernstein, 66, had just settled into what she had expected to be a comfortable retirement when the financial crisis last year sent her brokerage accounts plummeting. Feeling newly vulnerable herself, she volunteered with an outreach program run by AARP and the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks.

    Having assumed that poor people clamored for aid, she was surprised to find that some needed convincing to apply.“I come here and I see people who are knowledgeable, normal, well-spoken, well-dressed,” she said. “These are people I could be having lunch with.”

    That could describe Franny and Shawn Wardlow, whose house in nearby Oregonia conjures middle-American stability rather than the struggle to meet basic needs. Their three daughters have heads of neat blond hair, pink bedroom curtains and a turtle bought in better times on vacation in Daytona Beach, Fla. One wrote a fourth-grade story about her parents that concluded “They lived happily ever after.”

    Ms. Wardlow, who worked at a nursing home, lost her job first. Soon after, Mr. Wardlow was laid off from the construction job he had held for nearly nine years. As Ms. Wardlow tells the story of the subsequent fall — cutoff threats from the power company, the dinners of egg noodles, the soap from the Salvation Army — she dwells on one unlikely symbol of the security she lost.

    Pot roast.

    “I was raised on eating pot roast,” she said. “Just a nice decent meal.”

    Mr. Wardlow, 32, is a strapping man with a friendly air. He talked his way into a job at an envelope factory although his boss said he was overqualified. But it pays less than what he made muscling a jackhammer, and with Ms. Wardlow still jobless, they are two months behind on the rent. A monthly food stamp benefit of $429 fills the shelves and puts an occasional roast on the Sunday table.

    It reminds Ms. Wardlow of what she has lost, and what she hopes to regain.

    “I would consider us middle class at one time,” she said. “I like to have a nice decent meal for dinner.”http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/us...pagewanted=all
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
    --Sinclair Lewis

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    Elite Member celeb_2006's Avatar
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    Ain't no shame in having to use food stamps or other assistance if you need it.

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    Friend of Gossip Rocks! buttmunch's Avatar
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    Agree but there are lots who don't.
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
    --Sinclair Lewis

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    Elite Member WhoAmI's Avatar
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    I saw someone using food stamps for the first time last week--two kids, one about 8 and the other around 15. They were attempting to buy Starbucks bottled drinks, a bag of Doritos, and other expensive junk food. The older child (a girl) disappeared when the cashier got to them, leaving the boy to attempt to check out. The card was denied--I guess it had no more money on it, and the older child was leaving the younger one to try to talk/cry his way into getting the food anyway. I felt sorry for the poor little guy. He was being used to try to get crap food that he probably didn't even want (coffee drinks?).

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    Friend of Gossip Rocks! buttmunch's Avatar
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    There will always be people willing to abuse the system or too dumb to realize they'll die of fat of malnutrition. But it kind has little bearing on the fact that there are a lot of people in need of help to cover basic food needs.
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
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    Elite Member celeb_2006's Avatar
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    I remember a long time ago, when my dad passed leaving no insurance, etc., for my mom and myself. She wasn't working at the time, so she used food stamps for a few months. She was so ashamed of having to use them.

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    Elite Member WhoAmI's Avatar
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    I think it's a good program when not abused. The sadness of the little boy's situation just struck me and stayed with me.

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    I know of people using food stamps to buy wedding cakes.

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    Food stamp recipients pinched by food costs - Life- msnbc.com
    Amount not enough to cover rising costs of staples; more relaying on aid
    The Associated Press
    updated 2:00 p.m. PT, Fri., May 16, 2008

    CHICAGO - Danielle Brown stands outside a South Side market at midnight, braving the spring chill for her first chance to buy groceries since her food stamps ran out nearly two weeks ago.
    For days, Brown said, she has been turning cans of "whatever we got in the cabinet" into breakfast, lunch and dinner for her children, ages 1 and 3.
    "Ain't got no food left, the kids are probably hungry," said Brown, a 23-year-old single mother who relies heavily on her $312 monthly allotment of food stamps — a ration adjusted just once a year, in October.
    This is what the skyrocketing cost of food looks like at street level: Poor people whose food stamps don't buy as much as they once did rushing into a store in the dead of night, filling shopping carts with cereal, eggs and milk so their kids can wake up on the first day of the month to a decent meal.
    "People with incomes below the poverty threshold are in dire straits because not only are food prices increasing but the food stamps they are receiving have not increased," said Dr. John Cook, an associate professor at Boston University's medical school who has studied the food stamp program, particularly how it affects children.
    Midnight watch
    On the South Side of Chicago, people like Brown wait for the stroke of midnight, when one month gives way to another and brings a new allotment of food stamps.
    Dennis Kladis began opening his family owned One Stop Food & Liquors once a month at midnight nine months ago to give desperate families a chance to buy food as soon as possible.
    "I'm telling you, by the end of the month they're just dying to get back to the first," said Kladis, who has watched other area stores follow his lead. "Obviously, they are struggling to get through the month."
    Jean Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, which runs the food stamp program, said there is only so much the aid can do.
    "Food stamps were designed to be a supplement to the food budget," she said. They "were never intended to be the entire budget."
    Turning to churches, food pantries
    As prices rise, the number of Americans relying on food stamps has also climbed by 6.1 percent in the past year, increasing from 26.1 million in February 2007 to 27.7 million in February this year. The sputtering economy, persistent unemployment and the mortgage crisis have all contributed to the increase. The Agriculture Department expects the overall number of participants to reach 28 million next year.
    For Lynda Wheeler, who receives $281 in food stamps each month, the rhythm of life has been one of shopping for food, running out of food and then turning to churches, food pantries and friends for help. And all the while, she is doing things like cutting milk with water to make it last a bit longer.
    "You get it on the first and it runs out by the 14th and 15th," said Wheeler, a single mom who brought her 14-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter shopping at midnight with the Link card, the Illinois version of food stamps.
    Because food stamp allotments are adjusted every fall based on the federal food inflation rate, recipients are months away from getting any relief. But even when that relief comes, advocates said, it won't come close to keeping pace with rising costs.
    The consumer price index for food rose 5 percent last year, the highest gain in nearly two decades. It is especially grim news for the poor.

    Start with milk. Between March 2007 and this year, a gallon of milk jumped from just over $3 a gallon to nearly $3.80, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the same period, eggs climbed from about $1.60 a dozen to $2.20. Bread, chicken and tomatoes are all more expensive than last year.
    Just last summer, the maximum food stamp payment — $542 a month for a family of four with a gross annual income of no more than $26,856 — was enough to cover the USDA's "thrifty food plan," a bare-bones diet that meets minimal nutritional needs. Studies show that allotment now falls about $25 short, Cook said.
    And just getting to the store is a lot more expensive. Since October, the cost of gas has shot up nationally from $2.70 a gallon to $3.62, according to the Lundberg Survey, a petroleum market research firm.

    'Desperation is just frightening'
    If the USDA pulls $1.7 billion from a contingency fund of $6 billion this year to support the food stamp program, as it expects to do, that would be the largest withdrawal since $2 billion was pulled out after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
    On Thursday, the Senate passed a five-year, $300 billion farm bill that includes $200 billion for nutrition programs such as food stamps and emergency food aid for the needy. Daniel said it was too early to say how that will affect benefits to food stamp recipients, and she knew of no provision in the bill to make the annual adjustment before the fall.
    Diane Doherty, executive director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition, said she's seeing people more frantic for food than ever.
    "The level of desperation is just frightening," she said. "People are calling, saying they have no idea what they are going to do."
    But even as demand is rising, many food pantries nationwide have been forced to cut back on the amount of food given to individual families because higher fuel costs and commodity prices have sliced into private donations to the pantries.

    For now, many of the needy, including many in Kladis' store pushing carts laden with soda pop, bags of cookies and chips — much of it cheaper than healthier food — are doing what they can to stretch their shrinking buying power.
    "The bottom line is, a mother trying to feed her kids is not really picky about what she puts in their bellies," said Dan Gibbons, executive director of the Chicago Anti-Hunger Federation. "She just wants them full."

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    Friend of Gossip Rocks! buttmunch's Avatar
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    I find it disgusting that kids aren't eating while various fat cats dine out on the nation's dime.
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

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    Elite Member msdeb's Avatar
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    a couple of years ago, when i was hospitalized (diabetes) and lost my job, we barely had enough money coming in to pay for gas, let alone rent, bills and food.

    we sucked it up, and went to the Welfare office for foodstamps, so our daughter could eat, and get this... we were denied. Hub made 42 dollars a month too much.

    yet, there were TONS of non English speakers there with their 5.3 children, driving BMW's and wearing fancy clothes and jewelry, getting approved.
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    There's the rub, the cheaper food alternatives are the unhealthy kind. It also costs money to get to store, etc. etc.

    It ain't all that easy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by msdeb View Post
    a couple of years ago, when i was hospitalized (diabetes) and lost my job, we barely had enough money coming in to pay for gas, let alone rent, bills and food.

    we sucked it up, and went to the Welfare office for foodstamps, so our daughter could eat, and get this... we were denied. Hub made 42 dollars a month too much.

    yet, there were TONS of non English speakers there with their 5.3 children, driving BMW's and wearing fancy clothes and jewelry, getting approved.
    I'm curious as to what the lack of English has to do with this?

    And yeah, cheaper, non-nutritional food is sometimes cheaper, although you can still throw together dinner for a tenner if you know how to cook and make do. I actually have a couple of great books from England WWII called Make do and Mend and Eating for Victory. Some of the stuff isn't really reasonable or applicable today but there are some great ideas in there that probably wouldn't have surprised a generation or two ago.
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

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    Elite Member stella blue's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by buttmunch View Post
    I find it disgusting that kids aren't eating while various fat cats dine out on the nation's dime.
    Agreed. I also find it disgusting that children are a large portion of the beneficiaries of this "cash welfare" program that people get so bent out of shape about when it's not their fault they're in that situation and there's not a damn thing they can do about it anyway.

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    Elite Member kingcap72's Avatar
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    I knew plenty of people who used food stamps growing up. They did what they had to do when times got tough. Although there were some people who did abuse it. But food stamps and food pantries are becoming the norm, instead of the exception, with this recession.

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