Community forums where anonymity prevails are a great if sometimes painful way to find out what people really think about poor people.
Yesterday, New Year's Day, someone commented on Springfield MA's s forum that he or she had seen someone on food stamps buy $40 worth of crab legs.
One poster (I am not allowed to quote directly) asserted that some poor working joe who's trying to support a family on a $10 an hour wage would never be eating shrimp or crab legs and that what a person is allowed to buy on food stamps should be circumscribed. My query as to the possibly apocryphal nature of this observation-- was this something the poster had observed first-hand or had heard about from someone else?-- went unanswered.
The next thirty posts were about how 85% of food stamp users sold their food stamps for money or drugs, or bought shrimp platters or other expensive food items with them.
Now, the truth is, the days when food stamp recipients had to fumble with tearing $1, $5 and $10 coupons out of a book while others in the checkout line waited impatiently are long gone. The user swipes a card pretty indistinguishable from a regular debit card, so you really have to be right on top of someone and really trying in their business to know exactly how they're paying.
So let's do a reality check about our poor working slob who earns $10 an hour to support his family, and whether or not a shrimp platter would ever be in his budget.
First of all, our friend Joe is almost certainly eligible for food stamps himself-- and so are at least some of the forum posters.
Let's say Joe has a wife and two kids, works fulltime at $10 an hour, and lives in a $750 a month apartment in which he pays his own utilities.
Luckily for Joe, according to MassResources, his family is eligible for some fuel assistance.
Then, if I go over to the Food Stamp Calculator, and keep it simple by assuming Joe has no other income or major expenses such as childcare, Joe and his family should get about $380 a month in food stamps.
Joe's family's in trouble, of course. Let's take away 25% of $1,600 for taxes, leaving $1,200, and then deduct his $750 rent. He's got $450 a month left to live on, and of course he has other expenses.
But it's New Year's Eve. He goes to Shop and Stop after work to pick up a few things, and his eye is caught by a shrimp platter in the seafood section. It's only $26. He stops for a minute and then thinks, "What the hell."
The woman behind him in the check-out line seems not in the holiday spirit; she frowns at his tentative smile. But that's OK. It's New Year's Eve and he's headed home. Home to his family.