I want to tell you about one of my aunts.

Aunt Bea worked for almost 50 years as a psychiatric nurse and then a supervisor in her department.  She was forced to retire at 70 even though she was fit and motivated to keep doing the job she invested her career in. Other people wanted her title and salary — maybe not her hours, which often ran to 60 or 70 hours a week  — which while modest still put her in the upper tier of the middle class, income-wise.

When I visited her last year, I opened her refrigerator to make her a snack and saw that she had almost no food.  I was surprised and said, “Aunt Bea, let’s go shopping you are low on everything”. She smiled slowly and said, “That’s OK, as soon as the first of the month comes, I will be able to stock up again”.  It was the 23rd.  I was shocked.  Through delicate questioning, I found out that Aunt Bea receives both social security and a decent pension. She has Medicare. Her rent is moderate  and she owns her car.  What I learned was that she has to spend more than half of the money she gets for medications and other health-related care (she  had breast cancer, an ulcer, high blood pressure and migraine headaches.  She is just slightly overweight, never smoked and only drank a rare glass of wine over her lifetime. She tries to take care of herself).  Her husband, my Uncle Tim has already passed away.

Seniors eating

This is the profile of one person who is food insecure in this country.  My Aunt would not qualify for food stamps, but even if she could, pride would prevent her from applying for them, they have been so vilified and stigmatized. She has had to live with hunger for one week out of every month.  That means 91 days of every year, unless someone takes her out for a meal or her church has a fellowship event, Aunt Bea has nothing to eat. She drinks tea on those days and only in the middle of the day, to make that last. Aunt Bea was once a Democrat, but has voted Republican since the Reagan election.


I read this article in the New York Times and thought about Aunt Bea.  Then I thought about Mr. Cantor who wants to cut $40B dollars from the Food Stamp Program. Does it seem right that 49 million people in America don’t have enough to eat every day?  Food stamps provide about $1.50 per meal.  I tried to find pricing on menus for most of the fast food chains I know.  Almost all ‘meals’ at these places are priced around $3.00 per.  I will admit, there are parts of the country where you can get a plain McDonald’s burger for about $1.00 and a Taco Bell Burrito for about the same.  These are probably tasty, arguably not particularly nutritious and are loaded with fats, salt and sometimes even sugar.  I wouldn’t want to eat them three times a day, every day.

Food Stamps are meant to be an emergency response program to put a nutritional floor under people in economic downturns.  While Wall Street is thriving, Main Street is not.  What’s worse, wages for the average person have stagflated for fifty years.

one in six are hungry

Most of the people on Food Stamps are children, the elderly and the disabled.  What used to be bipartisan agreement that giving them money to purchase food would not only help them to bridge the gap and get proper nutrition — the humane, responsible, and moral thing to do — but also subsidize farmers and put money into the economy.  It was always agreed that decency dictated carving out a portion of the budget to help people who are faced with having to choose between paying for rent, for medications or for food. Many are parents who go without meals so their children can eat.  And we know hungry children don’t do well in school and fall behind their luckier classmates.  These policies sentence them to a lifetime of poverty from which many never recover.

The growing obsession with austerity and budget cuts seems to have broken America’s moral compass.  To make matters worse, the Wall Street boom has led to inflationary food prices, putting more and more products completely out of reach of the average American.

Maura Daly of Feeding America says that the average income for a family of four among  the people she assists is $25K, and half of them earn far below that – these are people who are working hard, not sitting on the couch. In 2012 the top 10% of US households controlled 50% of the nation’s total wealth.  This is in part the result of decades of severe budget and tax cuts.

I heard John Boehner suggest that people should just eat a $1.00 can of beans every day so they can get by without federal food assistance.

I think anyone who recommends that, should try it.  I’m a skinny vegan and I couldn’t do it.


My Aunt Bea is not a welfare queen.  She and my Uncle worked hard their whole lives.  They owned their home but when Uncle Tim developed Alzheimer’s, they sold it to help pay for the special care he needed at the end of his life.  She couldn’t afford to keep up the property taxes, anyway. She has taken only one vacation since retiring, to see relatives in Canada, is careful about paying bills and not wasting her money.  She has always been frugal. Her own illnesses absorb a disproportionate amount of money and now she is hungry every month, can never afford another car if hers breaks down.  She cannot even afford the repairs. She could move to a less expensive part of the country but then would be far from the support system of caring family and friends that provide social interaction and something to look forward to every day, so she doesn’t succumb to despair.

Something is amiss when this even happens to someone like my Aunt.

six million seniors are hungry

September is Hunger Action Month.  We can help.

And now that we will  likely avoid wasting money bombing Syria back to the Stone Age, can’t we at least prevail on our Congress to leave SNAP alone?

September 19th update – Nice people, no?

Images: NYT, Feeding America, Miami Herald


13 Comments on “Aw, SNAP”

  1. Beth I am so sorry to read. Many in the UK are also in these kinds of situations. I do not know what the solutions might be and sadly, don’t think that Policy Makers do either. My respects to Aunt Bea and all others In similar situations not of their own making.


    • Thank you for your caring words. I think there is a solution in America and I don’t know about the UK. We need social programs that are Federally assisted. We can raise taxes a modest amount on billionaires who do not pay ordinary income tax, but carried interest fees which are far lower. We can cut back on military operations that are costly (Two trillion already spent on the Iraq-Afghanistan wars). We can somehow work with people like my Aunt who continue to elect representatives who lobby against them on the one hand and then convince them to elect people who care about the middle class in this country. The middle class is quickly slipping into poverty. It’s a disgrace and not what our Founding Fathers envisioned. I appreciate your kind respects to my Aunt, which I will convey to her.


  2. I have a friend in her mid-fifties in the same situation. She is divorced and works as a legal secretary. For most of her life, her salary was decent (between $45-$50K per year) enough for her to live modestly but comfortably. However she also has bipolar disorder which takes up a LOT of her expendable income for medications. She lost her job during the last recession and when she found a new one, it was without benefits. She still cannot find a job which will provide her with healthcare, and now her meds (which she must have to survive; she is suicidal and psychotic when off them, stable when on them) take up to $800 a month of her money. Whereas 10-15 years ago she could get by on her income, now she lives in poverty. I once went grocery shopping with her, and watched her put three frozen dinners into her cart while she explained to me that she could eat half of one one night, the other half the second night, and drink loads of tea to fill her up while she skipped lunch. She cannot get welfare or food stamps because she makes “too much money,” but she is quickly falling through the cracks. For awhile I could help her out, but now my father in law is ailing and my husband has had to cut back his workload to care for him, so we are a little strapped, too…it is getting worse and worse and I do not understand people who refuse to have sympathy for people who struggle simply on the off-chance a small handful of people might abuse the system. It’s just cruel. (my friend, however, has never voted Republican in her life)


      • Well I think I used ‘decent’ or ‘decency’ a few times even though I thought I proofed it last night. My posts are always loaded with grammatical gaffs – I figure if I ever win the MacArthur award for genius I can go back and fix it all while I relax on the prize money :-). And why the heck doesn’t WP allow us to fix comments? I think probably they want to add that later as an upgrade, LOL. Like the airlines making the restrooms pay per use soon.


    • It is these ridiculous phoneys like Ryan, Cruz, Cantor, Boehner who pretend to be on the side of the Tea Party, which is just a front for the John Birch Society and the Moral Majority as far as I am concerned. I cannot understand as you call it this outright cruelty, meanness. What is wrong with these people? I am so upset with them that I have a hard time visiting my husband’s family, who are all rich and every one of them a far right wing nut that think Obama is a Kenyan. I just don’t know why people fall for this and how they can believe it is OK to take 40 billion dollars from SNAP, shut down the government, deny people health care, default on the debt. What has happened in this country? What would your FIL do without your husband? It isn’t right to humiliate people and make them crawl to get help. It should be part of our civilized system that they get help through an objective and independent mechanism so they can maintain their pride along with their health and happiness.


      • My side of the family all thinks this way too – and they are all broke and are going to end up needing services of their own someday. But they think they are the exception to the rule and everyone else who is poor is lazy. I don’t get it at all.


        • This must be a weird phase this country is going through. I never realized how serious this divide had become but I am now almost convinced it is some brain difference, like we actually have something different in our brains that predisposes us to be leftish or rightish. I just see this austerity as destructive on every level and don’t understand people who support it against their own interest. I really am baffled.


          • My family is weird, broke but not austere if that makes sense. They charge themselves into so much debt and drive cars that are so far out of their price range that they stay broke, when they could actually be OK if they lived within their means. Somehow that is a part of it too – this idea of keeping up with the Joneses has become so expensive to do, and middle-class people do it to the point they are no longer middle-class financially, yet appear to be upper-class to the outside world. Then they hate the very people who are poor due to more legitimate reasons than their own! Perhaps it is projection and it’s their way to deny their own situation, or to distance themselves from the people who, on paper, are in just a bad a situation as they are. My parents, no doubt about it, live in a borderline ghetto, but the house is bedecked with hardwood floors, huge flat-screen TVs in every room, expensive furniture, and two $50K cars in the driveway – all financed to the hilt. And they really think they are different somehow from their neighbors with cheap, old cars. Fox News has really done a number on them. Oh and my mother gets so mad at me that I don’t drive a fancy car or take expensive vacations. But when my father is finally too old to work, who is going to provide for them?! Probably me.


            • I think this is very common. We fell into that too when we were first married and wasted a lot of money on things that were merely to keep up with my husband’s family (which we could never do!) and to convince my Dad that we were ‘on the right track’ – meanwhile, he pays cash for everything and has the money for luxuries, we were financing it. We finally woke up. I read that book from the 90’s “The Millionaire Next Door” and got some ideas from it. The premise is that the guy who lives in the ordinary house and drives an older model well kept modest car is the one with the money, not the splashy neighbors with the over-leveraged lifestyle. I am now so careful with money because I have to be. This economy sucks and working for myself, I can’t predict what I will have so I dole it out carefully (my husband does too and he works for himself). Not the way I grew up but then, my parents lived luxuriously on an ordinary two-person income. That just doesn’t work anymore and the only way to do it now, if you want to feel upper middle class is to do it all on credit. Scary. Aunt Bea had a great salary – medical costs and inflation just sabotaged her. We could probably have another whole post on this topic alone.


  3. It’s sad, it’s wrong and it may get worse before it gets better. Is there a way your aunt could join with other seniors for some type of co-op? Pool resources and purchase in bulk? It won’t solve the problem but may help curb it a bit.


    • Vera, that is a really good idea. I guess that is why some cities, like mine, have food banks/pantries. That is probably the impetus behind them. Likely A. Bea would not want actual friends to know what is going on and she would probably see them and they her at any community coop. But maybe there is a way to arrange this with people she doesn’t know but who are in the same boat. I am going to look into this. I have thought about your idea more overnight. Meanwhile, we are trying to arrange Meals on Wheels which does provide a lower price point than the things she has been buying for herself. I am trying to convince her that it isn’t a handout, but a way to interact with people regularly, who can look in on her to make sure she is OK. But I think your idea is a really good one and I will look into that on my own. Thank you! (There is a local food bank, but again, she feels guilty doing anything like that, given that she does have an income – it just isn’t enough, unfortunately. These are the people that, as Marey says in her comment, just fall through the cracks of the system – too poor and too not-poor, so to speak. A real dilemma).


  4. Pingback: The VA and VA | Beth Byrnes

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