If I ever do the Food Stamp Challenge again, I am going to try to get hold of an Electronic Benefits Transfer card somehow (and I will almost certainly do this again; I have a plan, as no one who knows me is surprised to discover). Obviously, I don’t need the actual benefits, but a couple of days ago, I blogged about some of the ways this challenge is different from the reality of people on SNAP, and then I thought of another one: I don’t have to go through the line at the grocery store with an EBT card.
It used to be worse. People used to have food stamps, pieces of paper that looked very different from cash and made it immediately obvious that they were paying with “taxpayers’ money.” I say it that way because I watched many times as the people behind them in line decided that paying with food stamps invited commentary on their purchases and lifestyles. Because really, you can’t buy anything on food stamps without being judged for it, and thank you Jon Stewart for this brilliant demonstration of that fact.
Now they have EBT cards, which are less easily differentiated from the ubiquitous credit/debit cards that everyone else is using. If you’re receiving multiple kinds of benefits, such as a combination of temporary assistance and SNAP, they can both go on a card, and you can use ATMs to withdraw benefits that are available as discretionary cash (but not SNAP or WIC benefits, which are limited to specific kinds of purchases). It’s a better system, until your EBT card doesn’t work for God only knows what reason, or you have to separate your order into general food items and foods that qualify for WIC benefits, and someone notices that the card in your hand isn’t a credit card. Suddenly everyone in line is rolling their eyes as you take TWO EXTRA MINUTES of THEIR TIME. Because we all know that no one paying with “their own money” has ever had an issue with a credit card declining or an item scanning properly.
Besides the indignity of struggling to afford a basic human need in the first place, people on SNAP are subject at any time to being dehumanized by the person who happens to be behind them in line. They’re criticized when they buy “junk food,” never mind the many factors involved with that decision, or when they buy cheap food because it’s “not nutritious enough,” or when they buy healthy food because “shouldn’t you buy something cheaper?” Even on the Food Stamp Challenge, if I wanted to do so and thought I could stretch money in another area, I could go buy a bag of chips or a salmon filet or a birthday cake, and no one would bat an eye. I don’t think that should be a luxury, but it certainly appears that it is.