Archive for Saturday, May 17, 2008

Food stamp recipients pinched by high food prices

Lynda Wheeler shops with her daughter, Jaime, 2, shortly after midnight on May 1 at One Stop Food & Liquors on Chicago's South Side. The market doors open at midnight on the first of each month so Wheeler and a dozen or so others can start shopping the instant they have access to the new month's allotment of food stamps.

Lynda Wheeler shops with her daughter, Jaime, 2, shortly after midnight on May 1 at One Stop Food & Liquors on Chicago's South Side. The market doors open at midnight on the first of each month so Wheeler and a dozen or so others can start shopping the instant they have access to the new month's allotment of food stamps.

May 17, 2008


— Danielle Brown stands outside a South Side market at midnight, braving the spring chill for her first chance to buy groceries since her food stamps ran out nearly two weeks ago.

For days, Brown said, she has been turning cans of "whatever we got in the cabinet" into breakfast, lunch and dinner for her children, ages 1 and 3.

"Ain't got no food left, the kids are probably hungry," said Brown, a 23-year-old single mother who relies heavily on her $312 monthly allotment of food stamps - a ration adjusted just once a year, in October.

This is what the skyrocketing cost of food looks like at street level: Poor people whose food stamps don't buy as much as they once did rushing into a store in the dead of night, filling shopping carts with cereal, eggs and milk so their kids can wake up on the first day of the month to a decent meal.

"People with incomes below the poverty threshold are in dire straits because not only are food prices increasing but the food stamps they are receiving have not increased," said Dr. John Cook, an associate professor at Boston University's medical school who has studied the food stamp program, particularly how it affects children.

On the South Side of Chicago, people like Brown wait for the stroke of midnight, when one month gives way to another and brings a new allotment of food stamps.

Dennis Kladis began opening his family owned One Stop Food & Liquors once a month at midnight nine months ago to give desperate families a chance to buy food as soon as possible.

"I'm telling you, by the end of the month they're just dying to get back to the first," said Kladis, who has watched other area stores follow his lead. "Obviously, they are struggling to get through the month."

Numbers higher

Jean Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, which runs the food stamp program, said there is only so much the aid can do.

"Food stamps were designed to be a supplement to the food budget," she said. They "were never intended to be the entire budget."

As prices rise, the number of Americans relying on food stamps has also climbed by 6.1 percent in the past year, increasing from 26.1 million in February 2007 to 27.7 million in February this year. The sputtering economy, persistent unemployment and the mortgage crisis have all contributed to the increase. The Agriculture Department expects the overall number of participants to reach 28 million next year.

For Lynda Wheeler, who receives $281 in food stamps each month, the rhythm of life has been one of shopping for food, running out of food and then turning to churches, food pantries and friends for help. And all the while, she is doing things like cutting milk with water to make it last a bit longer.

"You get it on the first and it runs out by the 14th and 15th," said Wheeler, a single mom who brought her 14-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter shopping at midnight with the Link card, the Illinois version of food stamps.

Because food stamp allotments are adjusted every fall based on the federal food inflation rate, recipients are months away from getting any relief. But even when that relief comes, advocates said, it won't come close to keeping pace with rising costs.

A bare-bones diet

The consumer price index for food rose 5 percent last year, the highest gain in nearly two decades. It is especially grim news for the poor.

Start with milk. Between March 2007 and this year, a gallon of milk jumped from just over $3 a gallon to nearly $3.80, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the same period, eggs climbed from about $1.60 a dozen to $2.20. Bread, chicken and tomatoes are all more expensive than last year.

Just last summer, the maximum food stamp payment - $542 a month for a family of four with a gross annual income of no more than $26,856 - was enough to cover the USDA's "thrifty food plan," a bare-bones diet that meets minimal nutritional needs. Studies show that allotment now falls about $25 short, Cook said.

And just getting to the store is a lot more expensive. Since October, the cost of gas has shot up nationally from $2.70 a gallon to $3.62, according to the Lundberg Survey, a petroleum market research firm.

If the USDA pulls $1.7 billion from a contingency fund of $6 billion this year to support the food stamp program, as it expects to do, that would be the largest withdrawal since $2 billion was pulled out after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

On Thursday, the Senate passed a five-year, $300 billion farm bill that includes $200 billion for nutrition programs such as food stamps and emergency food aid for the needy. Daniel said it was too early to say how that will affect benefits to food stamp recipients, and she knew of no provision in the bill to make the annual adjustment before the fall.

Level of desperation

Diane Doherty, executive director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition, said she's seeing people more frantic for food than ever.

"The level of desperation is just frightening," she said. "People are calling, saying they have no idea what they are going to do."

But even as demand is rising, many food pantries nationwide have been forced to cut back on the amount of food given to individual families because higher fuel costs and commodity prices have sliced into private donations to the pantries.

For now, many of the needy, including many in Kladis' store pushing carts laden with soda pop, bags of cookies and chips - much of it cheaper than healthier food - are doing what they can to stretch their shrinking buying power.

"The bottom line is, a mother trying to feed her kids is not really picky about what she puts in their bellies," said Dan Gibbons, executive director of the Chicago Anti-Hunger Federation. "She just wants them full."


TopJayhawk 9 years, 3 months ago

Just the fact that she has a one yr old out after midnight shows poor, or no judgement. Poor parenting, and probably a healthy dose of pure stupidity on top of it. Poor choices is what gets you in that situation period!! I have no sympathy for stupid, you can't fix it. If she had been working her whole life like the rest of us. She wouldn't be in that position. If she does work, you can bet the article would have said so.... Amazing!!! But hey you sympathizers, bleed and bleat on..

TopJayhawk 9 years, 3 months ago

Pogo. If I had my way, I would abolish the dept of agriculture. It is true farm subsidies are out of whack and benefit the large corporate farms... other than that, your rant is getting old. Get a job.

sherbert 9 years, 3 months ago

I was also shocked when I saw that big bag of Kingsford charcoal on her cart!! Her kids are so deprived that they have to make a midnight run the minute the food stamps are available, and she buys charcoal. There goes the milk for the rest of the month!! Also, looks like Stoffer frozen food and donuts to me! That's the problem with social welfare programs, they're so abused that it's ridiculous.

BigPrune 9 years, 3 months ago

If George Soros wasn't using his hedge fund to manipulate the futures market in order to put a democrat in the white house, we wouldn't be seeing higher gasoline prices or higher food prices.

jumpin_catfish 9 years, 3 months ago

tunahelper said: get a jobClearly thought out post tunahelper, I honestly hope you never find yourself in a tough spot but if you do remember what you said. But I guess you would just let them die or live on the street. Personally, I don't want a country where the poor have no hope or help.

May Soo 9 years, 3 months ago

With gas and food prices so high, everyone is having trouble those days, not just the ones on food stamps.However, I have to agree that they never increase your food stamp when the food prices go up. I once took care of a disabled person, who gets $623/month in SSI and pays $250 in rent but only gets $10 in food stamp each month. Makes me wonder how they calculate how much food stamp you get based on your income.

sullivan9999 9 years, 3 months ago

"many in Kladis' store pushing carts laden with soda pop, bags of cookies and chips - much of it cheaper than healthier food - are doing what they can to stretch their shrinking buying power."Are you kidding me? Maybe if these idiots realized that 6 boxes of mac and cheese costs the same as a bag of chips they wouldn't run out of food halfway into the month.

doc1 9 years, 3 months ago

A. Get a job (if able)B. Stop buying cigarettesC. Stop buying drugs

JayCat_67 9 years, 3 months ago

Anyone else notice the picture of charcoal on top of her cart? Name brand charcoal? Now, unless her utilities are out, (and they could be) what the heck is she doing buying that? Even on sale, that stuff is still about $7 a bag. At least enough to buy a couple more gallons of milk. I do work 2 jobs, (3 if you count the reserves) and things sometimes still get slim between paydays. I like to grill as much as anyone, but if I don't have the money, food's gonna be cooked on the stove or in the microwave. Even when I do have the money, Always Save, Best Choice or a store brand are common in my shopping cart for charcoal and many other items. They say a picture says a thousand words and this one says loads about needing to learn the difference between "necessity" and "luxury". It's sad to see any kid go hungry when at least part of the solution is staring you right in the face.

sullivan9999 9 years, 3 months ago

You aren't going to convince me that pop and chips are a financially responsible purchase if you are claiming to not have enough money for food. Period.There are hundreds of things more filling, healthier, and cheaper. Ramen, canned foods, bread.... I am fine with people who need a little extra assistance and are responsible, but I have no sympathy for the single mom gets $300/month and then blows it on junk food at midnight at the Liquor-Mart and then complains about not being able to feed her baby.

Christine Pennewell Davis 9 years, 3 months ago

not saying get rid of food stamps but a basic education on how to spend the money and what to buy. I agree with the pop and chip statements those are not food neccesitys they are wants. bread butter veggies meat milk yes junk no.

mom_of_three 9 years, 3 months ago

Don't know what you all are eating, with your cheap food budgets, but my monthly food budget with three teenagers is much higher than 400 a month. The cost of fresh fruit and vegetables and healthy snacks has really increased. Milk went from 1.99 to 2.99 average. Increasing prices has really taken a toll on people who were just getting by. I am not going to criticize anyone who is put in the position of needing government assistance. Maybe it can be done to eat healthy food with the allowance they are allowed, but you also don't know the cost of living in that area. It may not buy as much as it would here.

sdinges 9 years, 3 months ago

"many in Kladis' store pushing carts laden with soda pop, bags of cookies and chips - much of it cheaper than healthier food - are doing what they can to stretch their shrinking buying power."This simply is not true. It might feel better to make this excuse rather than say they don't know how to shop responsibly. But you're not attacking poor people by fessing up to the truth.Soda is still more expensive than tap water. A bag of cookies costs as much as cheap ground beef. Chips cost more than pasta. Milk is too expensive? Well oatmeal and malt-o-meal don't need milk and they're cheaper than cereal. Fresh tomatoes cost too much? Well the good news is that canned tomatoes go on sale every week.Being poor is hard, sure, but it's not unmanageable. Stop going to the one-stop and go to a real grocery store - cheaper prices and you can take advantage of sales on seasonal produce. The rest is math - if people are running out, then they are missing the budget they're needing to keep in their head at the store - 10 dollars a day. That's it. You can feed your family on 10 bucks a day, but you'd probably want to stop buying cookies and soda.

Confrontation 9 years, 3 months ago

Hey, just have another baby and you'll get more food stamps! There, problem solved. You'll get some more WIC vouchers, too. Make sure you pick out a useless baby-daddy, and you're guaranteed that no child support check will interfere with your welfare money. Forget about the FREE birth control from the clinic. We love paying for you to support your family.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 9 years, 3 months ago

I think one of the things that the people on food stamp needs is a class to teach them where to shop and what to buy. How can anyone live on soda pop and chips and cookies? Maybe they are cheaper but you die sooner if you keep eating those, this might be just the solution for them not have to worry about run out of food stamp each month.They use to have a program like that when they also had commodity cheese. A friend of mine did that. They also did nutrition education in the elementary schools. The funding was cut during the Reagan years.

hawklet21 9 years, 3 months ago

I like themiddlechild's idea. Having some sort of system to educate people on how to maximize their money would probably be really useful, and maybe save money in the future. Imastinker should teach the classes... you sound like you know your way around a grocery store!

sullivan9999 9 years, 3 months ago

I can not think of one reason why a person who doesn't have enough money to buy enough food would ever buy soda pop.Just because it is "cheaper than healthier food" doesn't mean you should buy it.

Christine Pennewell Davis 9 years, 3 months ago

well sorry about the misspells. I guess people here are lucky if we have a yard to grow tomatoes and the such I imagine a urban city with no yard might be kinda hard to grow your own. Just so people do not think I am heartless I do know how these people feel been ther done that, but come on common use of brain power should tell you buy the mac& chesse over chips shop at aldies and buy generic.

TopJayhawk 9 years, 3 months ago

You lose one job, you get another. I deal daily with the "down and out" crowd, and I know it sounds terrible, but it really is because of poor decision making 99% of the time. Yet I do what I can to ease their burden. One good point however, is about grocery stores abandoning these areas. Even twenty yrs ago when major chains were in these areas, it was always the place to get rid of old produce, outdated packages, and yes, they exploit people knowing they don't have cars and can't go elsewhere. So they do jack up the prices. It ain't fair, but you gotta depend on yourself to better your lot in life 'cause ain't no one else gonna do it for you , or me.

Christine Pennewell Davis 9 years, 3 months ago

ok are you guys saying the farmers of america are all rich and rolling in money? If so you do not know many farmers around here.

TopJayhawk 9 years, 3 months ago

Always save and other off brands of charcoal are all made by Kingsford.. The little brick thingies are just not perfectly shaped, that is the only differance.,.. I seen it on PBS :-D

Exiledlawrencian 9 years, 3 months ago

Multidisciplinary hits a big part of the problem - limited shopping options in low-income areas. Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed covers her experience with this problem, among others inherent in being low-income. I agree that some time outside Lawrence might be an eye-opener for some folks. For the urban poor, sometimes choosing the better of two bad choices is the best they can do. "Learning how to shop and watch for bargains" requires that there be some variety of places in which to shop. Redlining in urban areas is a real problem. I was involved with an urban redevelopment non-profit in Kansas City a few years back and one of the major issues in the neighborhoods we worked with at that time was literally no large grocery stores left in the northeast urban core. The Apple Market on Broadway was the nearest one - way too far to walk if you're without a car and transporting enough purchases to make the trip worth the bus or cabfare, and way too far to walk for just the perishable stuff you run out of on a regular basis. Add the problem of affordable child care - imagine making such a supply run from your affordable but store-less neighborhood with small children in tow -and maybe it becomes easier to understand why people might buy milk or bread at the more expensive mini-mart nearer home. Items like fresh produce are frequently not even available in such stores, which often stock mostly processed and prepared foods, or if they're lucky enough to have an ethnic market, they might be able to buy bulk rice, beans, etc. I can't imagine that with both food and transportaion prices steadily rising that things have gotten better for those folks, unless they finally managed to get some chain to open a store there. I don't live in the area anymore so I don't know. For more info on redlining:

been_there 9 years, 3 months ago

I could be mistaken but I'm pretty sure she is not buying the charcoal with foodstamps, it does not qualify, so she is paying cash for that. Some vegtables can be grown in a container. Maybe there are organizations that could get vegtable plants to be distributed to the low income. People could donate old planters for them to use. Years ago I read how you could grow potatoes in a stack of old tires. Maybe not feasible in some places though. Another thought is to make vegtable plants eligible to buy with foodstamps. Maybe nursuries could start a program where you could buy and donate the plants for a community garden, eligibility based on income, for those who want a hand up instead of a handout. Yes I am aware that there are those who only want a handout. Of course you would have to worry about vandalism because there will always be those that must destroy the hard work of others.

been_there 9 years, 3 months ago

.JayCat-- I wouldn't mind seeing how many people receiving food stamps now would buy into that idea though.Might be an interesting subject for a study, maybe for a thesis. I would actualy be interested in seeing the results of study on it. Or maybe a study to see if the buying habits of people that mostly rely on foodstamps improve if they were given instruction on how to buy wiser.

May Soo 9 years, 3 months ago

I think one of the things that the people on food stamp needs is a class to teach them where to shop and what to buy. How can anyone live on soda pop and chips and cookies? Maybe they are cheaper but you die sooner if you keep eating those, this might be just the solution for them not have to worry about run out of food stamp each month.

labmonkey 9 years, 3 months ago

I watched the news a couple weeks ago about the same subject....and the lady in KC they chose to interview had seven children and didn't look to have any father(s) in the picture. Maybe I am heartless, but I had absolutely no sympathy for her. She could have received some of that free birth control about 5-6 kids ago. She also had as much makeup on as a clown....wonder how much of the budget that cost....

busymom 9 years, 3 months ago

Are these people buying steak? I agree the prices of groceries have gone way out of reach. I meet standards to get on food stamps yet don't apply for them and still make it! And how about not buying your groceries from a liqour store 1 stop shop, it'd be cheaper.

williaa 9 years, 3 months ago

Wow, you guys. Lots of people who recieve food stamps are hard working individuals who just need the extra support to make ends meet. I applaud those of you on here who don't need the assistance, but don't think you should degrade those who do. Junk food is cheaper than eating healthy, period. Yes you can buy 6 boxes of mac and cheese, but you also have to buy milk and butter. So for the cost of buying everything to make the mac & cheese, you could buy several bags of chips that will squelch hunger pains just as well. Doesn't make them idiots, just thrifty and desperate. It's sad, not disgusting.

JayCat_67 9 years, 3 months ago

It doesn't matter what she is using to pay for it. Common sense says that if you are running out of milk (for example) before your next allotment of food stamps comes through, but you have some cash, buy milk with it, not charcoal. (or since milk expires, put the cash aside to buy more when you need it.) No, I don't want to see these folks starve; if they truly need the assistance, I've no problem contributing. But I do believe that smarter shopping decisions may help at least a little bit. Nice idea about the vegetable plants and community garden. It may work for some. I wouldn't mind seeing how many people receiving food stamps now would buy into that idea though.

lawrencechick 9 years, 3 months ago

It never fails, everytime there is an article on Americans who are "going hungry" the subjects are obese. It just reinforces the difference between American's idea of poverty and the rest of the world's.

imastinker 9 years, 3 months ago

Our family has a food budget of $400, just higher than the lady in the article. We budget with cash, and take out $200 per paycheck. We eat very well, and there is five of us. We buy lots of vegetables and meats, and eat healthy, well balanced meals. All we do special is make a meal plan, and buy only what we NEED to buy, no junk. We nearly cut our expenses in half just planning meals.I just don't see what the problem is here.

been_there 9 years, 3 months ago

I wonder how many people that get foodstamps know that you can use coupons just the same as when paying with cash. The Dillons stores used to have bins where you could put the coupons you didn't want so others could use them. Unfortunately some greedy people would just take them all. I'm not sure why they did away with the bins though.

labmonkey 9 years, 3 months ago

And another thing.....between being raised like this and the hip-hop culture they see on television...what the hell, what the hell, what the HELL, are these children going to grow up to be? Kind of like the Kidrock song says, "Three different kids, by three different men, history repeats itself again." This isn't just a rant against inner-city African-Americans as this happens way too often in the white-trash "meth-lab" areas in Kansas and Missouri. The movie Idiocracy hit it right on the head about who has the most children (and that isn't just astute observation on Mike Judge's college, our genetics professor told us that many geneticists think that the humans as a species are dumbing ouselves down for that very reason).

kansas_o_kansas 9 years, 3 months ago

Get a job? Get two jobs? And who is going to look after the kids?Grilling with charcoal is healthy & cheap fun - and no, it's not covered by foodstamps. No mention of Cigarettes (which are legal and a common "coping mechanism) or drugs (do you really think all poor people/and or minorities are on drugs??? Get real & grow a conscious).Too many families with a working parent can't make ends meet, and yes, cheap food does NOT equal healthy food. And fresh/raw ingredients do take a lot longer to prepare (slow food anybody??) and they are NOT cheaper.

hockmano 9 years, 3 months ago

tunahelper (Anonymous) says: get a job!Sorry tunahelper, but alot of people who receive food stamps DO have jobs!So, speak for yourself!

hockmano 9 years, 3 months ago

I think alot of you who have made such disgusting posts about others need to have your jobs taken away for one month.Most of you would probably crawl under a rock and die! If you haven't ever been in dire straits then you will never understand how hard it can be. What amuses me is how many of you on here are poking fun at people on welfare and food stamps yet you have not learned simple spelling and grammar skills! LOL!I am glad I have a job, but let's not put down those that are less fortunate.

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