Tag Archives: food stamps

Mulvaney: Commodity Boxes are “Blue Apron-Like”

Hey Micky, you’re so cruel!

You’re so cruel and you’re a tool!

Hey Micky!  Hey Micky!

Yesterday – though not getting a whole lot of attention – the White House released its proposed budget, and, as expected, it featured cuts to entitlement programs.

Of particular interest/abhorrence is the cut to the food stamp program.  Mick Mulvaney’s idea is to cut peoples’ EBT balances by half, then provide a box of commodities to make up the difference.  The food included are beans, canned meat, canned fruits, canned vegetables, dry or evaporated milk, grains, cereal, pasta, butter, peanut butter, and other staples.

Aside #1: Mick Mulvaney is the head of the Office of Management and Budget, appointed by 45.  He is a loyal Tea Party member and, of course, very far to the right.

He insists it’s healthy food.  I disagree.

Especially for the elderly or people with chronic health problems, this kind of food is not healthy.

A lot of people try to eat healthily to either manage a medical condition or keep from getting any of the diseases that plague people (especially when older) such as hypertension and diabetes.

Myself, I can’t/won’t eat any of that.  I am trying to manage my seemingly never-ending digestive symptoms (courtesy of my still-mysterious ailment), so currently my diet is low fodmap, high fiber, unprocessed, fresh, and low sodium…and while I do eat cheese I don’t drink cow’s milk (because almond milk is high in calcium and it has fewer calories than skim milk).

I haven’t opened a can of vegetables or fruit in years.  Ditto for canned meat. High in sodium and sugar.  Processed to death.

Yeah, even poor folks try to eat healthy.  We’re not dumb.

Mick thinks we are, though.  He touted the food boxes as being “Blue Apron-like” (“Trump’s Insulting Food Stamp Plan Is Nothing Like Blue Apron”, Sidney Fussell, Gizmodo website, 2/13/18).  Blue Apron is a home-delivered box of ingredients that you use to make an entire dinner without having to buy anything else.  But the thing is, Blue Apron includes fresh, high quality ingredients.

I can just hear him now…

“We’ll market it like those fancy boxed meals.  They won’t know the difference!”

But Blue Apron Is not like a box of commodity food, the kind the USDA gives out to low-income people over 60.  Just because a person calls a mudpie a chocolate pie does not make it so.

Believe it or not, we poor folk can tell the difference between mud and chocolate.

My initial reaction to ol’ Mick’s plan was “hell no!”  Then it was, “I bet they won’t do it because the logistics are too much.”

Nope, they can use the USDA system already in place, I reckon.  Mick’s plan is essentially just an expansion of that program.  That worries me.

Aside #2: I didn’t even know we still had a commodity distribution program until I did a Google search.  Remember government cheese?  It’s like that, but with more food – none of it fresh or unprocessed, except maybe butter.

In case you think, “Well, that’s not so bad,” then let me tell you how it might affect you indirectly.

We food stamp people shop in the same grocery stores that you do.  We buy vegetables and fruit and organic food and fresh meats and…well, anything that isn’t considered “hot, ready-made food” (like rotisserie chicken).

We food stamp folks make up a decent amount of grocery store consumers.  What do you think will happen to prices when we stop buying or cut down on how much we purchase?

What do you think will happen to the workers in the stores, the truckers who bring the food, the people who make the food, and so on, when we reduce our purchases?

It will affect YOU whether or not you use food stamps, in the way of higher prices, store closures, layoffs, or fewer types of products to choose from.

Aside #3: This will affect farmers who sell their produce at farmer’s markets, too, as food stamps can be used there.  

Don’t believe it?  Think there aren’t that many people who could affect the economy this way?

Well…the number of people using food stamps is 45.4 million (“SNAP: Frequently Asked Questions”, Snap to Health website).  That’s a lot of shoppers.

Also, unhealthy diets can lead to more illnesses and more trips to the doctor/ER.  That means higher wait times for everyone.

Oh, but Seema Verma and Mick have a plan for that, too.  They want to charge Medicaid recipients a monthly fee – or face losing that benefit – and they also want to privatize Medicare (which will inevitably raise premiums).

And since Medicaid and Medicare patients comprise a good portion of healthcare consumers, a reduction of our business can result in hospital closing and staff shortages.

That affects YOU, too.  Maybe even your own job.

You see, as I say a lot, we are all interconnected – and I don’t mean spiritually.  Economically, nothing happens in a vacuum.  Draconian public policies affect us all, even if not directly.

Aside #4: By the way, one of the reasons Mick gives for food stamp cuts is “widespread fraud.”  In reality, the fraud rate is about 1% (Ibid).

We knew these cuts were coming after the latest tax bill was passed.  Republicans have done this before – given tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations, then screamed about the deficit and “balanced budgets”.  They have no problem spending money as long as it is for other people in their income brackets and higher (their donors, in other words).

Or the military.  45’s administration wants to give a massive increase in funding to the military, even bigger than some Republicans are comfortable with.  I guess it might be because they don’t want 45 lobbing missiles at North Korea or something.

Anyway, the plan for changing the food stamp program is a bad one.  it was crafted by someone who is hostile towards social support programs overall.  It is supported by Paul Ryan and other Republicans who have made no secret of their hatred of the poor, the elderly, the chronically ill, and the other-abled.

Please contact your congress people and ask them to fight these changes.  Find out who your representatives are here.  Thank you, allies.

Weird news of the week: This story is not only weird, in my opinion it reflects an extension of the tendency for some people to take themselves way too seriously (kind of how they do when they feud on social media).  I’m surprised Disneyland doesn’t just ban all these “social clubs”.

Control freaks in Disney garb.   “Lawsuit Alleges Mafia-Style Tactics Aimed At A Disneyland Social Club”, Laurel Wamsley, NPR news website, 2/12/18.

Recommendation of the week: Why, the Winter Olympics, of course!  I can’t think of anything better to lift your spirits, watching all these athletes from around the world compete.

Be good.  Be kind.  Stay strong.

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Free Garbage is Still…Garbage.

I remember talking to someone a few years back, about the local food pantry here in our little town (which is also the county seat, so it’s not exactly unsophisticated).   I had good and bad comments about the food pantry, but the whole experience left me wondering about how that and the healthcare system are somewhat intertwined.

First, the positive – the food pantry here delivers.  That’s really awesome and helpful, especially since the pantry is on the outskirts of town, where buses don’t go.  So, for those of us without a car, that’s a really nice thing for them to do.

The people who deliver the food are very nice, and when you try to thank them they say, “Don’t thank me, thank God,” which I take as the modest statement it is.  They are using their own cars to bring food to my apartment, and I think it’s really nice of them to do that.

Aside #1: Contrary to some misconceptions, I do not argue with every Christian who expresses thoughts about Jesus or saints or whatever deity they choose.  I fully support their right to believe as they wish.  My complaints only come into play when they try to force others to believe as they do, or force others to participate in their worship, or make judgments about neo-Pagans/non-believers being evil and so on.

The bad part about the food pantry here?  It’s nothing but unhealthy food.

Day-old baked goods like cake and cookies (which are, of course, yummy), white bread, canned vegetables with high salt content and lined with BPA, juice “drinks” (basically the ones with juice flavoring and sugar), hot dogs, beans (in cans, not dried beans), and tomato soup (very high in sodium).  And usually ramen – lots and lots of ramen.

Aside #2: Beans are the only things that are remotely healthy on this list, but they always seem to come in extremely large cans, are processed, and in general are not all that good for you. I don’t know why they don’t give out dried beans, as these are much cheaper, keep longer, and are easy to make – and better for you.

I received this a couple of times when my son was living here with me, as we had a very hard time making ends meet on just my food stamps.  Thankfully, he got some assistance and we didn’t have to call these folks again.

Thankfully, too, he got a job down south years ago and never has to live like this again.

I mentioned the unhealthiness of this stuff to someone, who then turned to me and said, “At least it’s free.”

Garbage out of dumpsters is free, too, but it’s still garbage.

Since the person I was talking to was somewhat conservative, I asked him what he thought the extra cost to the healthcare system is, due to people eating unhealthy food for prolonged periods of time.

Aside #3: Heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases can sometimes be prevented, or often can be ameliorated, by eating decent food.  That means little or no sugar, fresh vegetables (or at least frozen ones), fruit, fiber (like beans), and grains.

He thought for a minute and said, “I think we should pass laws so people can only buy certain things with food stamps.   That way, they would have to eat healthy food.”

Sigh.  I should have known – conservatives are not known for their generosity.  Or for their understanding of how po’ folk live.  Or for supporting other peoples’ self-determination.

Should we also pass laws telling private charities what they can and cannot give out at the food pantry, too?

Of course not.  The answer lies in education.  Education for everyone.

The people running the food pantries need to be educated so they can in turn educate their donors on what to give.  I think most people would love to know that what they give could make a huge difference in someone’s health.  And I think if they knew what to buy, and were shown how cheaply they can buy it, it would be a win/win kind of thing.

The people receiving food from the pantry could use some education, too (no, not all of them, and it’s not just the poor – most Americans don’t eat healthily).  I don’t mean about the food groups and so on, I mean education regarding how to prepare meals from scratch.

Many people do not know how to cook from scratch, poor or not.  But it’s not hard.  Cooking rice and beans from scratch takes time, mostly, not brains.  You can cook a whole bunch on the weekend and freeze it all, if need be.

Some poor people do actually work (for Walmart, too, but that’s another blog post).  They have families.  They might not have the energy or time to cook from scratch, unless they are given the tools by which to do so.

By “tools”, I mean…cookbooks.  Heck, you can have volunteers cut recipes from magazines, punch holes in them, and put them in binders for very little effort or money.  Or you could get people to donate cookbooks (though that’s probably a bit harder – most people’s cookbooks are not basic like Adele Davis’ “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit”).

Aside #4: I always thought Adele Davis wrote “Recipes for a Small Planet”, but that was Frances Moore Lappe.   Adele Davis, by the way, was the person who coined the phrase “You are what you eat.”

You could even – gasp – ask businesses to donate crockpots.  They are not very expensive, and you can dump all the ingredients into one, set it, go to work, and have dinner by the time you get home.

You could get people to donate freezer-ware, and include instructions.  You can get containers to freeze things in at Dollar Tree – and all their stuff is BPA-free, I asked.  $1 for a set of 3 or more – cheaper if you buy by the case.

All of these things still add up to a lot less than hospitalizing someone who’s had a heart attack or other possibly preventable illness.  Which would keep healthcare costs down – that wouldn’t satisfy Libertarians or right-wingers, who both want to see po’ folk not get any healthcare at all – but for most normal people, this would be a good thing.

And why should we think about how we can help the poor eat more healthy food, and save on Medicare/Medicaid costs?  Because it’s the decent thing to do, and because it saves money in the long run (i.e., your tax dollars – and theirs, too, by the way, since many of them work).

But…what about people who work and don’t qualify for food stamps or government health insurance?

To them I say, “Be quiet, and be grateful that your life isn’t so horrible that you have to sit in someone’s office for an hour and explain to them why you don’t have enough food to eat each month.”

Aside #5: The intake process at most food pantries is pretty hard on one’s pride.  They ask you how you got to where you are, and that’s a fairly painful question to answer.  Not even welfare workers ask such nosy questions, or look at you like you’re trying to put one over on them.

To them I also say, “You own a car and a house, have a retirement plan, savings account, and other things that poor people will probably never have.  We would all trade our food stamps and Medicare/Medicaid to have the income you have to afford all those things.”

We’d trade it all just to be able to work at a decent job.  To just have a shot at a life out of poverty.  Most of us aren’t lazy – if people who thought that had to live for a month as we do, where everything takes twice as long to do, or in some cases isn’t even doable, I think they would understand the amount of effort it takes just to survive.

Hey, Merry Christmas!

I do tell people, “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Hanukkah!” depending on to whom I am speaking.  No point in saying, “Have a great Yule!” because that means nowt to most people and who am I, anyway?  The holiday police?

Naw, I greet people this time of year in whatever way keeps them the most, well, merry.

I celebrate Christmas, always have.  I don’t always celebrate Yule in the manner I would like, because most of the places I have lived do not have anywhere to burn a Yule log (yep, y’all stole that from pagan folk).

Here is a brief explanation of Yule, by the BBC:

“The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.

It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.” (“Winter Solstice”, BBC website, 6/7/2006)

And thus concludes this installment of ‘alternative religion and holidays’.

What I want to write about, this week, is something a lot of you probably don’t want to think about – how poor folk might deal with this time of year.

This is my annual plea to those of you who donate to the food bank.

First of all, thank you.  It’s really good-hearted of you to donate, and I hope you keep on doing it.  But I have some suggestions…

You’ve heard of BPA?  It’s not good for you and it’s in most canned foods, especially canned pastas and meats. Apparently it has been linked to cancer.   It’s also in vegetables and beans – the highest amount found in canned vegetables is in green beans.  And green beans, along with corn, seem to be the 2 things most people donate.

Please don’t.  Oh, you could go all “organic aisle” and get canned stuff without BPA,  but no one expects you to do that – that stuff is expensive.  I was just at the store today, and a can of
“BPA-free organic beans” is $2.39!!  That’s ridiculous.

So please, get dried beans and lentils instead.  They take longer to make than, say, popping open a can, but especially this time of year when people are cooking and baking a lot anyway…oh yeah, we po’ folk bake cookies and cook holiday meals too.

Dried milk instead of evaporated milk (I know, dried milk is pricey, but it’s much needed). Tomatoes, soups, vegetables in those box things instead of cans.  Stuff in glass jars is a little trickier, so you may want to ask your food bank if that’s ok.  Think of what you like to eat during the holidays, and maybe toss in a bag of cookies or something.

In Hollidaysburg, it will go to the people for whom it was intended.  Wherever you live, I don’t know – use your discretion.  I have seen people in Memphis and Altoona rip off the poor that way.  One director of a charity thrift shop in Altoona keeps all the “good stuff” in the back (pastries and so on) that the local grocery store donates to them, then sets out mostly bread for people in need to take.

“Well gosh, poor people don’t need pastries!  The nerve!  They’re all too fat anyway!”

Oh, this is turning into a rant.  Sorry.

Yes, I agree that giving is an act of kindness, and “beggars can’t be choosers”, nor should they “look a gift horse in the mouth”…but, come on, it’s the holidays!  Everywhere you look, people are buying things, visiting relatives, getting involved in holiday things, and of course TV has all the heartwarming shows anyone could ever watch.

A percentage of the population hasn’t money to buy presents, may have no family with which to spend the holidays, and/or is isolated and not involved in holiday activities.  Maybe they are ill, physically or mentally.   Most of them wouldn’t dream of asking for anything from anyone…

…which is why I am going to do it on their behalf.  Because I am one of them, and I choose not to use the food bank because I would rather have very little or no food at the end of the month than to eat the canned stuff they give out.

Side note: Hate to belabor the fact, but just in case y’all think people on disability are not poor, the poverty level for a ‘family of 1’ is $11,670.  That’s per year, folks.  The usual disability check is $735/month (that’s the basic check amount), or $8,820/year.  That means a lot of people subsist at a level that is almost 25% lower than the federal poverty line.

I want to drive home the point because I don’t know how else to get it across – think about how much you make, because you are able to work.  Hell, I don’t begrudge you a million dollars, if you can get it –  that’s not the point.  I want you to imagine how you could live on $11,000/year or less.

If you suddenly become poor, does that mean you have no right to at least eat a somewhat healthy diet?  Compare prices in the store sometime, healthy vs non-healthy, and then you can understand why that food stamp person in the line in front of you is buying canned punch instead of real juice, white bread and pasta instead of the whole wheat versions, even soda instead of something more healthy.

Ever try to bring 2 cases of water home on public transportation?  They get really angry if you try it and they threaten to ban you if you do it again.

Don’t you even dare say we can drink “free” tap water.  If you lived in SuperFund Pennsylvania like I do, you won’t even give your pets tap water, it is that nasty, unhealthy, and sometimes you can set fire to it thanks to fracking.  A water pitcher with filter?  Yeah, I have one.  It sits empty because I can’t afford the refill filter.  That, I have to save up for.  Oh, and in PA most renters have to pay their own water bill…and it’s $60/month.  There is no federal or state program to assist you with your water bill. So, tap water isn’t really free.