Food Stamps, SNAP, and EBT: Parents Still Struggling to Feed Children

sad girl

Signs stating, “Yes! We take Food Stamps, SNAP, EBT!” appear in windows and decorate cash registers all across our excited nation. More than 47 million people are current participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), costing the nation more than 19 billion dollars this year already (with an average cost of more than 70 billion yearly), according to data given by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (as of March 8, 2013).

Yet somehow, parents still struggle to make ends meet.

Rebecka and Jourie Ortiz, SNAP participants and Woonsocket, Rhode Island residents, live for the 1st of each month, or “Check Day!” That’s when they receive their monthly benefit, put on their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. However, by the 27th or 28th of each month, the Ortiz family has run out of milk, juice, fresh produce, cereal, meat, and eggs.

Their lives revolve around part-time jobs at a local supermarket, caring for their two young children, and countless financial decisions, such as “Was it better to eat the string cheese now or to save it? To buy milk for $3.80 nearby or for $3.10 across town? Was it better to pay down the $600 they owed the landlord, or the $110 they owed for their cellphones, or the $75 they owed the tattoo parlor, or the $840 they owed the electric company?”

Once the SNAP money runs out, and their bank account is empty, Rebecka is “left to ply Woonsocket’s circuit of emergency church food pantries.”

When I read about the financial struggles of others, like the Ortiz family (who buy boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for $2.49 each, have cell phone bills totaling $110, and owe tattoo parlors $75), I want to sympathize and comment on how awful it must be – but I can't. I cannot imagine living life like that! I want to help. I want to fix the downward spiral. I want to tell their children that this isn’t normal, and that most families eat the same way on the 28th, 29th, 30th, and 31st of the month as they do on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.

But am I right? Or is the Ortiz family more normal than I want to admit?

I don’t intend to sound heartless, nor do I have an overflowing bank account by any means! My husband and I continually struggle to make ends meet on a monthly basis. However, I’d like to think that if things got that bad for us, we’d happily cut off the unnecessary “pleasures” of life, in order to provide for our children.

Get rid of the cell phones and don’t get any more tattoos! Stop buying Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and eat oatmeal, or grits!

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Perhaps I don’t fully understand. But I won’t blame the government for my extra bills from tattoos and cell phones. I won’t blame the rich, more blessed, they-had-a-better-upbringing-than-I neighbors for my lack of money (especially not after the string cheese and candied cereal runs out).

We can’t personally create jobs that don’t exist, nor can we lower the cost of milk or gas. But we can find a way to ensure that our children have enough food, from the first of the month until the last of the month.

Don’t you think?          

What do you think?

Food Stamps, SNAP, and EBT: Parents Still Struggling to Feed Children

Kimberly Shannon is a wife, a mother, an editor, a writer ... She is always working to find the perfect balance¹! After Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she worked on two master’s degree programs (Creative Writing, and Marriage and Family Therapy). At various times in her life she has signed up to study Naturopathy, only to back out at the last minute, and humored the idea of returning full-time to the world of dance. Kimberly has also started 10 different children ... More

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12 comments

  1. Jodi says:

    The welfare debate is the most sensitive issue among people I know. All of my family, friends and co-workers make comments on their Facebook pages and argue quite viciously over this very subject. SNAP and TANF along with similar types of government assistance are merely means of keeping the peace among classes. Whether you ride the high horse past the Welfare Office With Your stomach growling or open your mouth and take a piece of the free bread when your hungry, the simple fact is you are unable to live as lavishly as the class above you. The income guidelines that determine whether or not one qualifies for government assistance is frustrating for a person that has to bust their buns to make the exact same income at the End of The Year. Yes earned income and unearned income can make people furious. For many it is a personal choice whether or not to take assistance if you qualify. It could be your moral upbringing or pride that stops you from taking a hand when you need one. I believe this choice reflects strongly on cultural and social beliefs. I am not an expert on the matter but I have a degree in Sociology and Anthropology. I learned a lot about the struggle for power and I believe there is a culture of poverty in which certain things such as tattoos help people survive. It Is an idea that many refuse to recognize. The Cadillac welfare mom is strongly disliked among the working class. I will say that I am a single mother with three children that came from a hard working poor family in a rural town. Oatmeal is just as expensive as cinnamon toast crunch. It’s silly to use the two as a comparison. Sorry.. just saying. My choice to get SNAP benefits was for my Three Children. Healthy foods are overpriced and it would be detrimental to their development to feed them what I could afford. All children should have a right to eat healthy foods 365 days a year! It is all going right back in to the pockets of the rich supermarket owners. The people making comments against welfare fail to see that the world is round. The last thing anyone wants is a hungry person drooling on their meal or snatching it out of your hands. without social welfare crime would surely be on the rise!! The better question is " what would I be capable of doing if my child was the one screaming from hunger pains?" rather than I can not believe that lady just used an EBT card to purchase a Filet Mingnon!?! (which I have done the while checking a recipe on my Smart phone) my philosophy is to choose your battles wisely and always think outside of the box. The consequences of not having well fed children and adults could further drain our healthcare system and crime Levels are sure to spike. Im not sure people should judge anyone’s spending habits just because they are below the poverty level. That pendulum swings both ways. Americans of all socio-economic statuses should be able to feed their Children nutritious meals. WE WOULD ALL BE CRIMINALS IF THE WORLD WAS FAIR: )

  2. MomAgain says:

    Oh to really be able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, the real ones that are all torn up on the inside but just look nice.
    My family of 5 missed our income qualification for SNAP by $40 a year ago and had our benefits stopped. After trying to come up with our 1250 per month rent, utilities – water, trash, sewer are 75 each month, gas averages about 50 a month, electric about 35 – I end up with only enough grocery money to spend about $50 a week. For 5 people. My husband has a great job, we have health insurance that comes out of his check to the tune of 200 per. His average take home for a two week period is only about 946. Anyone can do some math and find that we’re short. Before anyone gets on the high horse about internet bills one of my husbands work benefits is internet, cable and phone service since he works for a provider. I can’t work because of the cost of child care being more than my best take home check. With all of those average monthly bills my current electric bill is over $140 and I just got my gas bill down to $86; because sometimes you truly have to rob Peter to pay Paul Of course there are bills missing from my rundown, like petrol – my husbands daily commute is about 80 miles.
    From the outside it is always easier to say how you could do it so much easier. From inside, however, it’s a different story entirely

  3. momof2 says:

    I’m on SNAP and like most, my money usually runs out before the next month.
    I buy NO juice, except orange juice for breakfast.. NO sodas, none of us drink them, we drink water 90% of the time, my sons drink milk and luckily my baby get WIC, so that helps w/ the milk department and juice, I can get apple juice, I get cereal through WIC, and ALWAYS look for BOGO sales, to make my WIC check go further, I get $6.00 a month in fruit and veggies, this usually allows me to get a huge bundle of grapes that last a couple of weeks, I also try to buy as much as I can to make from scratch, you want peanut butter cookies? Mommy can make them for you, I don’t buy store brand cookies, cakes or anything, I’ll make itfrom scratch.
    I do have a FULL cell phone plan, but I DO NEED it for my job, I’m required to send, check e-mails and pictures of displays. I do NOT have a home phone b/c of this, my cable and water are included in my rent, I’m responsible for electricity and internet, which I need for my job and my oldest son.
    I have an ancient computer, from 2005, I got it in my divorce, b/c I got my son. My car is paid off, I only need gas and repairs occasionally, it’s a 1997 mini van, nothing special, it gets me from point A to Point B…
    When I grocery shop I don’t buy steaks or expensive food, I buy basics, huge bags of frozen chicken breast b/c they last most of the month, some hamburger, chicken nuggets (only when BOGO), I don’t even buy Kraft, I buy store brand mac n cheese, unless I have time to make my own.
    I might splurge on pork loin or cube steaks once in a while, if they’re on sale, that’s it. I do try and buy in bulk when I can, that way it’ll last MORE than a month.
    I’d like to know where these ladies have the money for tats and $800 electric bills, unless it’s SEVERLY past due, mine runs MAYBE $114, tops and I live in FL, keeping my air around 76.
    I work two part time jobs, I’m honest w/ my income, and I get crap to feed a 13 yr.old and a 16 month old, it’s sad…

  4. E says:

    I too receive EBT and I manage to make mine last until about a week before money is added to my card, but never run out of food. My son and I eat the exact same way everyday of the month. My card is simply empty by the week before the card is refilled. I manage to purchase healthy food all of the time so no freeze dried noodles loaded with sodium. I make most of our food from scratch and avoid quick fix frozen and boxed foods. First of all I must say that the person that wrote this article is very unrealistic which makes the story sound like a lie. In the state that I live in there are requirements that must be met and if this family is truly doing these things and have all of these bills than chances are they do not actually qualify for this assistance if they were honest. The things I have for pleasure such as my body art were all done before I had to stop working to care for a sick infant. Body art parlors do not allow tabs to be ran. They will only do the work that can be paid for at time of service. My parents own a 3k+ sqft home and their utility bills are not even close to $800 a month, so is this family living in a mansion or something? It also sounds like the family needs to buy store bands instead of national brands. They need to cut down their heat or AC to cut their electric or gas bill. They also need to drop their cell phone service down to basic talk and text or switch to a cheaper carrier. The key is discipline and self control. They can also drink water instead of juice and soft drinks. Use juice for breakfast beverages only and milk to go with dinner since water should be consumed more then any other beverage. I find it odd that so many people are able to live with the same number of bills and make the same or near the same amount as this family without the struggling to feed their family while on assistance. They should also consider not selling their benefits which is what it sounds like they are doing if their story is true.

  5. Kim Shannon says:

    Hi Anya! I dont mean to over dramatize the situation … I personally know what its like to find yourself needing assistance. Sometimes its literally impossible to make ends meet and certain bills just dont get paid!! But, I wont apologizing for feeling like a parent should put their child first: you dont need sugary cereals and cell phones if it means not having food at the end of the month. Maybe that sounds petty, but every penny counts. I’m an optimist! I always want to believe there is a better way to do things when it isn’t currently working out.

  6. Kim Shannon says:

    I didn’t mean to over dramatize the situation – because I personally know this is a very real situation!! That’s why I thought it was important enough to write about it. I admire you putting your child’s needs in front of your own – that was more the point I was trying to make. I know there are those who need this help, and that IS what it is: Help. But I also know there are those who abuse it, or perhaps aren’t sure how to budget, or maybe sometimes put their own wants over the needs of their children. You know?
    Thanks for sharing your story with us though! $116 a month for food is definitely not enough for a family of three!!!

  7. jennifer says:

    We have an EBT card for our family and it barely covers the cost of food for my infant. Without it, we would be homeless most likely. I have learned to buy all of my baby’s food first with any extra money, pay the rent and electricity and car payment (for doctors appointments. There are MANY as our child has special needs). Then if there is anything left over Food for Myself and Hubby. There usually is enough left over and we don’t have cell phones, get tatooes, or do anything at all really besides enjoy each other. I would be careful when pointing fingers and assuming that all people who receive government assistance don’t need it or squander it. I never thought we would be in this situation , but I agree with Anya in that this post is over dramatized. I think you need to step back and think what you would do if you needed help. My family of 3 makes less than 1500/month which barely covers the bills and we get a whopping 116.00/mo for food. It is not a handout. It is a necessity.

  8. Anya says:

    1) I dont know of any professional tattoo shops that allow tabs to be made. They take cash or debit. No checks. No credit. No I.O.U’s.
    2) I have snap and buying baby food, formula, rice, potatoes, ramen noodles and 2.99 pizzas, milk or juice only I still run out by the 26th.
    3) EBT can only be used for certain things. Food stamps only buy food. They don’t buy ink. Or cell phone bills.
    I really feel like you kinda overdramatized a very typical & common situation. I don’t know a single young couple or family with multiple kids who has the income to pay off 840$ in utilities, 600 on rent, 110 on cell phones plus groceries and gas…and pay it all at the beginning of each month without owing a dime in 2 weeks when their next paycheck comes around. Not even my neighbor who gets paid 12$per hour and works 50 hours a week roofing makes all that.
    And for the record: there are requiremnet you have to meet to be eleigible for stamps in most states. Here, you need to be enrolled in the SNAP work program or working..you dont just get them for free even if you have kids. So keep in mind that these people are getting HELPED, not abetted.

  9. Jasmine says:

    all those things are fine to spend on if your dont have more important prioties… i used to be fine living check to check giong out to eat on the regular and paying for expensive dinners. and cell phone bills with unlimited everything when it was just me. if i had to go a couple days with a couple dollars in my pocket it didnt matter, there was no for me to tend to. now on the other hand with a family I minimize everythng if i have to. basc cable basic cell phone plan, generic food brands and putting those cooking skills to use. my parents made sure to do it for me and ill give it up for my chlldren…

  10. jessicrossen says:

    Not everyone on food stamps and similar programs is struggling because they spend money on things they don’t need. I know a family in which the father works two jobs and goes to school full time. The mother(who has a bachelor’s degree) stays at home with the kids because even if she found a job her paycheck would go to daycare. They recently applied for food stamps but were denied because they live frugally enough to have put away some money into a CD account. So they had no choice but to take the penalty for pulling the money out early. The husband has also been applying for better jobs for more than a year now and has yet to find one. Hoping things improve for this family, and that in the meantime people won’t judge them for being in poverty.

  11. Grace says:

    i stretch our dollars, we buy the cheapest things rice and pasta and cabbage give you lots of food for your money, we don’t buy sugary cereals too expensive, i eat gritz but even thats a luxury item, its expensive but not as expensive as fruits and vegetables. we do not qualify for snap— my spouse makes a whopping $25 too much for food stamps last i applied, but just because we do not recieve those benefits doesn’t mean we do not struggle, i do not get luxury items like tattoos, but figuring out whether to pay the landlord 1100 or buy food or gas or or electric or water or doctors bills is a daily question , anyway my thoughts on the matter…

  12. Catherine says:

    In the world we live in not having a cell phone is not an option, that doesn’t mean you need an iPhone, with all the on contract/prepaid/pay as you go options out there there’s no reason to pay that much for a cell phone.
    Other than that yes people need to learn how to stretch their dollars and learn the difference between wantband need

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