Food Stamps are a SNAP
I had a little blip with my Medicaid recently – because I had moved they cancelled the medical insurance for me and my two kids.
So, I had to hunt down a social worker here in our new community to help us with that. While I was pursuing the Medicaid reinstatement, I inquired about food stamps.
“Food stamps are harder to get than Medicaid,” said Mr. Bill, my gruff, brusque/garrulous (depending on his mood) social worker who I met over the phone. You never actually see any of these people.
He also told me that food stamps were no longer called food stamps, although he constantly referred to them as food stamps. “It’s SNAP now.”
So I applied for SNAP while doing the Medicaid reinstatement – it all went to Mr. Bill. Anything to alleviate the painful hemorrhage of money whenever I went to the grocery store.
In addition to my application form and recent paystubs, Mr. Bill said I had to supply a letter from my landlord verifying my residence and letters (on letterhead) from my various employers saying when I hadn’t worked.
Mr. Bill explained that some people try to abuse the system by just reporting part of their income so they look poorer and thus qualify.
“Can’t you tell my income by my social security number?” I asked.
Mr. Bill said no, they don’t get that information until much later.
In a time of Internet and high-tech databases, I was a little surprised by the antiquated capabilities of the social services office. “We do have a fax machine, but there’s only one for the whole building,” said Mr. Bill. “So have people send letters on their letterhead in the regular mail. Things that get faxed usually get lost.”
Despite his sternness and barely concealed exasperation, Mr. Bill had his charm. I imagined him embattled, one of many Kafkaesque workers in a large but dingy office, surrounded by old dented greenish metal file cabinets, cracked linoleum floors and flickering fluorescent lights.
I was amused by his voicemail greeting: a long message that he no doubt recorded using an old-timey rotary phone. It went something like this:
“This is Mr. Bill at the Department of Social Services. Our hours are 8 AM until 5 PM. If you call outside of those hours, do not leave a message. We’re not here; why would you call? If you do leave a message leave only your name, client ID number and phone number. If you leave a lot of other information I will not return your call. One of the things that takes up most of my time is voicemail messages. Would you rather that I spend time resolving your case or listening to long voicemail messages all day? Please allow at least forty-eight hours to return voicemail messages. And etc.”
I sent letters with SASEs to my landlord and all employers asking them to please send a letter, on their letterhead, verifying my residence and/or lack of employment. (I couldn’t help but think that you could thwart the honor system by not even mentioning an employer, but of course I am so full of integrity I wouldn’t do that.)
The response from Mr. Bill was remarkably swift. My Medicaid cards started working right away.
After a week or so I received an EBT card in the mail. EBT stands for “Electronic Benefits Transfer.” This was my SNAP card. It had over $500 dollars on it.
You’d think I’d be really psyched about this. Part of me was very pleased – free food! And it sure was a lot better than having a bunch of humiliating “stamps” to sort through and give to the grocery store cashier. I wouldn’t have to feel so panicked about my grocery store expenses. But another part of me was bummed. I had sunk to an even lower depth of poverty; I had put a giant pleading hand out for benefits, and when I went to buy things people would know.
I told my daughter about my mixed feelings the first time we went to the grocery store with the EBT card. I was anxious – how would it work?
Turns out that when you buy your groceries, and they have those electronic things where you swipe your credit or debit card, there are two other options: “EBT Food” and “EBT Cash.” I hadn’t ever noticed them before – until now it was meaningless gibberish. But now EBT was me.
I expected the Stop & Shop cashier to treat me with scorn when she discovered my status: poor person. I swiped my EBT card and pushed EBT Food and it paid for most of my groceries. There were some things – I’m thinking shampoo and toilet paper and the like – that weren’t covered. The cashier smiled at me encouragingly and took some time helping me figure out if I could get “EBT Cash” to pay for the rest – I couldn’t. I used my regular credit card.
The cashier actually seemed to get friendlier and more helpful when my EBT status was revealed.
I had the same experience at Whole Foods. I bought a meal for my kids and myself, and after she rang us up and the EBT card was revealed, the cashier kindly advised me to ask, in the future, for them to ring up the transaction as “cold food” rather than “hot food” – cold food was covered by EBT.
You know how when you learn a word you start noticing it everywhere? Now I’ve been noticing references to EBT cards – usually a sneering comment about people using them to buy booze and cigarettes.
I haven’t tried to buy booze or cigarettes with my EBT card (yet), but I’m thinking that the EBT card will probably not work for those kinds of things, especially if it doesn’t pay for toilet paper.
It’s a noble society that provides food for its poor without humiliating them.
Now my job is to notify the Department of Social Services immediately if I move or get a job. In the meantime, I am grateful for the help.
Note: Kathryn A. Higgins’s first book is available on Amazon / Kindle — It’s a memoir entitled How I Quit Sucking My Thumb and Other Tales of Triumph Over Adversity.” It costs $2.99 — a brave new world of publishing!
 I’ve changed his name here.
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