Picking Up Food Stamps In A Mercedes

The Washington Post website carried an article a few days ago that has provoked a lot of comment.  Entitled “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps,” it tells the story of a middle-class woman who falls into poverty — at least, poverty of a sort.

It’s a sad story, but also the kind that naturally raises questions.  The woman grew up in an affluent suburb, goes to good schools, and gets good jobs.  She meets a guy, gets pregnant, then gets married — but her husband loses his job, they’re saddled with a mortgage that is more than they can afford, and she has twins who are born early and need expensive formula.  Ultimately, she ends up signing up for Medicaid, food stamps, and the Women, Infants and Children Special Supplemental Nutrition Program.

The woman recounts embarrassing anecdotes.  She’s got to answer a lot of questions before she gets the aid.  She’s afraid an apparently well-meaning older man will give her money, but instead he makes a friendly religious pitch and she takes off to avoid further contact.  A busybody woman questions her purchase of root beer using food stamps, and the check-out girl stands up for her.  And finally, one day, she has to take her husband’s Mercedes — a 2003 Mercedes Kompressor — to pick up her food stamps.  No one said anything, but they did stare at her . . . and to this day it’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to her.

They kept the Mercedes because it was the one reliable thing in their lives.  And now, after years of her husband being unemployed, he’s found a good job that pays well, and she’s going back to grad school.  She says that “President Obama’s programs — from the extended unemployment benefits to the tax-free allowance for short-selling a home we couldn’t afford — allowed us to crawl our way out of the hole.”  She closes the story by noting that they still have the Mercedes.  Thank God the combination of years of unemployment benefits, food stamps, and a federal program that let them get rid of a bad house purchase let them keep their Mercedes!

As I said, it’s a story that raises many questions.  If this woman grew up in an affluent suburb, where was her apparently well-heeled family during this period of her falling into Mercedes-owning “poverty”?  How could her husband have remained completely unemployed for years, as opposed to taking any job that would produce some income?  If he wasn’t working at all, why did they need two cars?  Why didn’t she make him go get the food stamps, perhaps to motivate him to get off his duff and find a job?  How do we define poverty if a couple can own and drive two cars and get significant financial aid?

But Kish, as is usually the case, asked the most pertinent question of all:  why would this woman write this story in the first place?  If she’s as embarrassed as she claims to be, why not keep this sad tale of her struggles to herself rather than publicize her circumstances?  Isn’t writing this story just a pathetic cry for attention from some needy person who wants the world to know that yes, she’s had her brush with the common folks?

Picking Up Food Stamps In A Mercedes

The Washington Post website carried an article a few days ago that has provoked a lot of comment.  Entitled “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps,” it tells the story of a middle-class woman who falls into poverty — at least, poverty of a sort.

It’s a sad story, but also the kind that naturally raises questions.  The woman grew up in an affluent suburb, goes to good schools, and gets good jobs.  She meets a guy, gets pregnant, then gets married — but her husband loses his job, they’re saddled with a mortgage that is more than they can afford, and she has twins who are born early and need expensive formula.  Ultimately, she ends up signing up for Medicaid, food stamps, and the Women, Infants and Children Special Supplemental Nutrition Program.

The woman recounts embarrassing anecdotes.  She’s got to answer a lot of questions before she gets the aid.  She’s afraid an apparently well-meaning older man will give her money, but instead he makes a friendly religious pitch and she takes off to avoid further contact.  A busybody woman questions her purchase of root beer using food stamps, and the check-out girl stands up for her.  And finally, one day, she has to take her husband’s Mercedes — a 2003 Mercedes Kompressor — to pick up her food stamps.  No one said anything, but they did stare at her . . . and to this day it’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to her.

They kept the Mercedes because it was the one reliable thing in their lives.  And now, after years of her husband being unemployed, he’s found a good job that pays well, and she’s going back to grad school.  She says that “President Obama’s programs — from the extended unemployment benefits to the tax-free allowance for short-selling a home we couldn’t afford — allowed us to crawl our way out of the hole.”  She closes the story by noting that they still have the Mercedes.  Thank God the combination of years of unemployment benefits, food stamps, and a federal program that let them get rid of a bad house purchase let them keep their Mercedes!

As I said, it’s a story that raises many questions.  If this woman grew up in an affluent suburb, where was her apparently well-heeled family during this period of her falling into Mercedes-owning “poverty”?  How could her husband have remained completely unemployed for years, as opposed to taking any job that would produce some income?  If he wasn’t working at all, why did they need two cars?  Why didn’t she make him go get the food stamps, perhaps to motivate him to get off his duff and find a job?  How do we define poverty if a couple can own and drive two cars and get significant financial aid?

But Kish, as is usually the case, asked the most pertinent question of all:  why would this woman write this story in the first place?  If she’s as embarrassed as she claims to be, why not keep this sad tale of her struggles to herself rather than publicize her circumstances?  Isn’t writing this story just a pathetic cry for attention from some needy person who wants the world to know that yes, she’s had her brush with the common folks?

The Fresno State Food Stamp Fraudsters

Technically, it is the Fresno State Bulldogs.  In view of recent news stories, however, perhaps the team name should be changed to the Food Stamp Fraudsters — which has a nice bit of alliteration to it.

According to reports, as many as two dozen Fresno State players are embroiled in a welfare fraud investigation involving a county Department of Social Services eligibility specialist.  The government worker apparently improperly obtained Electronic Benefit Transfer cards — formerly known as food stamps.  Although the names of the athletes haven’t been released and it’s not entirely clearly what they received, a statement from the University confirms that student-athletes did obtain some benefits from the process.

Presumably getting special benefits from an outsider is an NCAA violation — but the NCAA may be the least of the players’ concerns.  Given that the government worker is being charged with multiple felonies, any misguided player who knowingly participated in the fraudulent scheme to improperly obtain government benefits may end up having more to worry about than just their eligibility to play in a college football game.

 

The Steady Drip, Drip, Drip Of Bad News

It seems like there is just no escaping the drumbeat of bad economic news.  Two examples from today’s headlines:  in May, the number of Americans who use food stamps rose to 40.8 million, an all-time high, and first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose again last week.  I find the first figure particularly amazing:  more than 40 million Americans need help just to eat!

Former Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes famously preached that voters based their votes on the state of their wallets.  With the economy in the doldrums, and bad news an unwelcome constant in our daily lives, it is any wonder that President Obama’s job approval ratings keep dropping?