OK, this isn’t a movie blog. But it seemed especially relevant to those of us who try to piece together an income either in the arts or in academia.
As I sat in the DES office this morning, waiting to turn in some documents for my food stamps and Medicaid application, I had some time to think about some images that have flashed across my world recently. I’m sure you’ve seen the internet memes. The ones that say “If you can afford alcohol, cigarettes or tattoos, you don’t need food stamps!” Or the ones that say “Why is the chick with a brand new fancy smart phone buying her food with food stamps?” It’s so easy to judge, isn’t it? Its so easy to assume that if someone gets food stamps and pays for their beer or wine with cash it means they are taking money out of the government’s pocket to buy food when they could be going cold turkey to buy food instead. But we really have no idea what someone’s whole story is just from a few basic facts.
I get food stamps. Sometimes. Not always. Sometimes I make “too much money” for food stamps. Too much money means above the poverty line by a certain percentage. And truly, when I am making that much money, I really don’t miss the food stamps. I wonder if any of those Judgey McJudgerson’s out there even know what the Federal Poverty Levels are for 2012. Well, according to worldwork.org (who gets their info from the US Department of Health and Human Services) the poverty level for a family of 2 in the 48 contiguous United States is $15,130. I want you to just imagine for a moment that you had to try to feed yourself and your child (who has no income cuz he is a full time student – duh, he’s a kid!) on that income as well as paying rent or mortgage, a car payment, car insurance, and give your kid lunch money every day. There is a buffer zone. I think the max you can make and still qualify for reduced lunches and free healthcare is about $25,000 for a family of two (based on the City of Tempe’s posted guidelines for free and reduced lunches, which are based on Federal regulations). Still. 25k a year to support 2 people? It’s certainly possible. But good luck. It’s difficult. And if you work a highly demanding time-consuming job like I do (and probably most other folks working low paying manual labor jobs) it’s just plain hard.
It also seems to me to be extremely presumptuous for someone to assume they know how to make judgments about what a person spends every month on regular expenses. Yes, I spend about $100 a month on wine. But I spend about $400 on groceries for my little family of two. Why? Because I always try to buy quality foods whenever possible. I never buy sodas. Instead I buy 100% juices (with no artificial sweeteners) and seltzer water. We make our own “sodas” and they are much healthier. I always buy whole grain products. Sodas, pasta, white rice and white bread are much cheaper than 100% juice and whole grain breads or brown rice. And I always try to include fresh vegetables in our lunches and dinners. I do not buy pre-packaged frozen dinners. I try to buy organiz whenever I can afford it. I try to make a fresh dinner from scratch every night. In fact, if the Judgey McJudgersons of the world want to tell me I don’t need food stamps, perhaps I could spend the rest of my son’s high school career feeding him nothing but Ramen noodles and boxed macaroni & cheese. That would be healthy, right? And how do you know that it is only because of food stamps that I buy wine to have with my dinner? Perhaps when I do buy clothing I buy it at Goodwill or at one of the retail closeout stores like Ross or Marshall’s or from the clearance rack at Target. Or maybe I choose to stay in and invite friends over so we can buy wine at the supermarket rather than paying overpriced costs at a restaurant. Perhaps I rarely go out on the town to save money. And you know what? It’s none of your business. If my total gross income is BELOW the standards set up by the government as being poor enough to receive food stamps, it’s none of your business how I spend what little cash I do have on hand.
Think about it a little bit before you go judging the tattooed folks buying a six pack and some groceries and flashing the food stamps card to pay for ONLY the food portion of their purchase. The system is in place so people don’t go hungry if they are underemployed or unemployed. Remember the Great Depression? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Judgey McJudgerson is probably an offspring of the baby boom generation. Oh, and what cell phone company isn’t offering a free damn smartphone just for signing or renewing a two year contract? Just because I can send and receive emails on my phone does NOT mean I have much disposable income. PS – Just because some folks can get their prescription meds paid for by their medical insurance (sponsored by the evil pharma industry) doesn’t mean they have the right to judge the folks who are indulging in some not-quite-legal medicinal herbal therapy. There are folks out there for whom medicinal marijuana is the only way to relieve chronic pain or chronic misery of one sort or another. And it’s a much less destructive option than many of the chemical meds out there for similar conditions.
There are other alternatives of course. You could pay people what they are worth for the work they do. Then, at least I, personally, would NEVER need food stamps. I could save enough during the year to float me on my summers off. By the way, summer’s off for an academic does NOT mean we are not working. It means we are working toward the next school year without receiving any income. I might have taken a grand total of 3 whole weeks completely off from work this summer. But for the rest of the summer I have been doing research, preparing project proposals, preparing course syllabi and trying to make improvements to the courses I teach because I think that is the right thing to do as an educator. We have to try to improve just like we want our students to always improve.
Let’s make a deal, I’ll try not to judge your desire for a 6 figure income with ample tax shelters to support your habits, whatever they may be: (the latest car?, newest fashions?, weekly pedicures?, annual cruise to the Bahamas?) if you’ll stop making judgments about who deserves or does not deserve food stamps based on minimal circumstantial evidence.