Monday, February 18, 2013

Food stamps: Oh, the horror!

When I first moved to Mississippi a year ago, I was surprised to hear an almost constant refrain about how illegals and "others" were sucking up copious amounts of food stamps. I heard these stories everywhere I went. I was assured that there were hordes of illegal immigrants and lazy moochers who piled their shopping carts high with steaks and hams and all kinds of expensive foods. I can't count the number of people who told me how angry this made them.

I also worked next door to a food pantry, and heard another constant stream of complaints about how the lazy moochers going to the food pantry each week didn't really need the food and were just taking advantage of the kindness of others.

Now that I've been on the other side of a cash register at a very busy grocery store for a month now, I can tell you quite definitively that there are no hordes of illegals (or otherwise) sucking up high-priced foods and paying for them with food stamps.

Most of those who use food stamps eat rather modestly. I can think of only one food stamp recipient who bought what I would consider a pricey item (a bag of shrimp). For all I know, that might have been for a special dinner to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary.  That is the only occasion that someone used food stamps in my line for a pricey item. Let me repeat that: After a month, only one food stamp recipient used food stamps to pay for a pricey item.

Hardly the hordes I had been told to expect. Hardly the hordes that I had been assured were cheating the hard working American tax payers out of their hard earned money.

Would you like to know what most food stamp recipients purchase? Surprisingly, very cheap foods. Very cheap indeed. Packages of hot dogs that sell for $1.00. Cheap loaves of bread. Macaroni and cheese. Cans of soup. If there's any meat in the order, it's usually chicken, which is the cheapest. No steaks.

Today I had a typical food stamp order by an older man who was obviously on his lunch break. He was poorly dressed, wouldn't meet my eyes when I greeted him. He had a pack of $1.00 hotdogs and a pack of $1.00 hot dog buns. That was it. He swiped his EBT card and seemed almost sheepish about it.

A little while later, a woman appeared in my line and told me not to let her go over $50. More hotdogs, buns, cheap loaves of bread, cans of soup, Mac & Cheese, eggs. She saved the "expensive" items for last: Bags of chips, a candy bar, a six-pack of soda.

As for the illegals, I'm stumped. Once in a while a Hispanic person will go through my line, mostly older men purchasing lunch items. On Valentine's I saw several purchasing cards and chocolates. They all paid cash. I have yet to see any sort of "illegal" (read: foreigner) using food stamps.

Most of the people using food stamps are dressed rather poorly. It's obvious they don't have a lot of resources. As well, many of them use coupons to make their food dollars stretch a little bit further.

Where are the hordes of food stamp abusers? Could it be they don't exist? Could it be that those horror stories about young bucks sucking up steaks are just ... stories?

Full disclosure: I use food stamps myself. I can assure you that I have never purchased a steak with my food stamps and will never do so. Rather than spending $10 on a steak, I can buy six cans of soup, which translates into six lunches, which is a much better deal. Were I to purchase steaks and such, my food stamps wouldn't go very far at all.

I suspect these stories about food stamp abuse are designed to gin up anger and resentment, which they do, and quite effectively. That they don't seem to be based on reality doesn't seem to matter.

If you're a fellow cashier, by all means feel free to leave a comment and weigh in. Are my observations correct? What have your experiences been?


  1. By the way...I receive food stamps and have no qualms about purchasing a steak. I get three meals, easy, from one steak.

  2. What used to bother me was not the luxury items, but the unhealthy items - your chips, candy, and cokes. Then at some point I realized that you have to be rich to eat healthy foods. For example, for the price of one bag of frozen vegetables, I could turn around and buy 3 cheap frozen worthless meals.