i fell in love with amanda pleau and her totally sweet blog, misadventures in portland, about a year ago when she wrote a post about her spanx addiction. it made me laugh so hard that i was extremely disruptive to others in my workplace. apparently, tax spreadsheets should not be quite so hilarious. also, i was wearing spanx at the time, so it really struck a chord with me.
point being, misadventures has had a place in my “best maine blogs” sidebar (and my heart) for a long time. a few months ago, she wrote this really amazing post about being a recipient of food stamps, and i knew i wanted her to write a companion piece for broke207, because i think there are a lot of young people out there who could benefit from the program, but either don’t know about it, or don’t think they qualify. shockingly, she accepted my request for an unpaid guest post (in between writing her own blog, working, and being a full time student), and here it is. please enjoy it for both its educational and entertainment value, and you should probably add her to your google reader and twitter feed, and head on over to her blog and devour the whole thing, leaving copious comments all the way.
You know that feeling when you log into your Internet banking; your breath is caught in your chest, you start panicking? “Where the did all the money go? Oh my god, how am I going to pay my rent/phone/student loan/insurance? How exactly does one start turning tricks and how long does it take to get the money?” I’ve had that feeling intermittently throughout my twenties, from when I moved out at 21, to when I had a real job with the proper salary, and especially now that I’m a student again.
Two years ago, I wrote this article or my friend Mary. It was my first year back in school at the University of Southern Maine, and I was working twenty hours a week at a coffee shop. I felt great about my financial situation, hopeful for the future. I had goals! A budget! It’s laughable how much things have changed since then: I caused a car accident while driving without insurance, I’m looking at almost $30k in student loans after I graduate this year, and I lost my lucrative waitressing job for doing something really dumb. Once the shock of being fired wore off, that panicky feeling slowly crept up, and I fell into a bottomless pit of despair. “What am I going to doooooooo?”
I figured out my income/expense ratio. It wasn’t good. It only took a few days for me to decide to go to the Department of Health and Human Services and apply for food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. Once upon a time, there were actual stamp-like bills, but now it’s like a credit card. I’m sure social service workers are probably super annoyed by the difference between the actual name of the program and the common vernacular. My case worker was pretty short with me. He said I needed a letter from my former employer confirming my termination (that was an awkward email), signatures from my roommates saying they were not feeding my sorry, lazy ass, proof that I was a full-time student working at least 20 hours a week, and pay stubs from my jobs. My jobs at that time consisted of a monthly column in the Portland Phoenix (for which I earned one whole Jackson), and my work-study job at the student newspaper. Very shortly after submitting all of my paperwork, I was admitted! There was no phone call, no confirmation, just a shiny new EBT (Electric Benefit Transfer) card with my name on it.
If you’re wondering whether you qualify, here’s a sort of confusing worksheet from the folks at Pine Tree Legal to figure out income eligibility. As a non-disabled, non-elderly single person, the requirements were something like my gross income couldn’t be more than $1,110 a month. Pffft! Done!
Mostly, it’s been pretty awesome. I get $200 a month! There one irate woman was upset with me for posting a blog about it. She claimed that I have been “taking advantage of the system; that I shouldn’t brag about living in Portland’s most expensive neighborhood (Munjoy Hill) and buying fancy cheeses at Rosemont Market.” First of all, I filled out the paperwork and it turns out I’m actually poor. My rent is $410, a far cry from the most expensive. Second, there’s no prerequisite about where to shop or what to buy. If I wanted to go to 7-11 and get only beef jerky and Mountain Dew, I could. The funds I am given are usually more than enough, so I treat myself to expensive cheese once in a while. And by the way, if you didn’t have a car and had to carry all of your groceries home, you would probably also sacrifice price for convenience. And I’m not alone- a friend who works at Rosemont Market on Hill told me that a significant portion of their customers participate in the SNAP program.
Here is a list of frivolous things I have bought:
Sushi at Hannaford
sandwiches from Shaw’s
fountain sodas to sneak into the movies
Little Lad’s popcorn
sliced, peeled fresh mango
a whole blueberry pie
a whole cheesecake
hot coffee at Rosemont on Brighton Ave
Here is the only thing I was surprised to not be able to buy:
For a more complete list, head on over to the US Department of Agriculture, where they explain why you can buy pumpkins for Halloween, seafood, energy drinks, seeds and plants, some gift baskets, some birthday cakes and why junk food counts as food, but not live chickens.