Friday, July 29, 2011

Living on SNAP (Food Stamps): Part Three

As reported in the last blog post in this series, the average length of time a person uses food assistance is 9 months. Every state has different qualifications for receiving food assistance. In Illinois, where the woman featured in this post received her assistance, a recipient is required to work at least 20 hours a week if not in school, and if attending school, they are required to have employment through federal work study for at least an hour a week. Although, if homeless or in an emergency situation, food assistance may be expedited as deemed fit.

Still in high school, working part-time, engaged, and living with her fiancé who also had a part-time job, Stacy came across the harsh reality of paying bills and feeding two people on little income. When she received food stamps they were literally food stamps; the aide she received in 1996 was in the form of conspicuous food stamp booklets where the recipient had to tear off individual stamps that “looked like Monopoly money” and hand them to the cashier. Today, food assistance recipients receive an electronic card that appears like a normal credit card, and is used as such.

-Andriana Bicanin
2010 - 2011


I had just moved out of my grandparents life and was an emancipated youth. I was living with my then fiancé, and I had no idea how expensive it was to live on my own. The first time I got a $200 power bill I knew we were in trouble. Justin (ex-fiancé) didn't have a job yet, and I was working for just above minimum wage and was limited in the hours that I could work because I was still in high school, so I decided to apply for assistance. We got one time help with the power bill, and emergency assistance. We were fortunate in that we didn't have to pay rent because my grandparents owned the house.

My biggest problem (with food stamps) was that they only took new applications on specific days at specific times. As for the process, you couldn't make an appointment so if you did have a job (which I did) you had to take an entire day off work. At the office they hand you an application that is 10 pages long, most of the questions were asked over and over again (name, date of birth, social security number, etc.), and then you had to provide proof of ID which included Government ID, birth certificate, and social security card. We also had to provide proof of address with a bill and/or lease. We had to show proof of income with our last 3 pay stubs. Then there was an interview. The lady was very nice, and I've been told that it usually takes the better part of a month to get food stamps but we got ours in 2 weeks. We were classified as an emergency situation. From our perspective it was. They then gave us a referral to Community Action which helped us with our power bill.

Keep in mind this was 15+ years ago before Illinois started using the EBT cards (link) cards. Every month we would have to show proof of income and they would send us a booklet (or two depending on how much money we made that month) of actual food stamps. Going through the checkout was embarrassing because everyone in town knew who I was (the local dentist's daughter). It was a big production too because most cashiers made you tear out each individual stamp (which looked like monopoly money) and hand it to them rather than taking the entire booklet. As far as assistance goes it didn't stretch very far. I used them to buy non-perishable goods and part of my paycheck to buy produce, meat, etc. I was a coupon clipper too so NO ONE wanted behind me at the checkout!

Receiving food stamps meant that we had more than a sack of potatoes to eat (which I had lived off of). So there was definite improvement in my standard of living. It allowed me to get my feet under me. We were only getting assistance for about a year before I was able to make enough for us to live off of. Justin never really had a job that paid the bills (he worked 20 hours a week at a car wash for minimum wage).

While receiving assistance I worked as a dental assistant for my dad. I was able to come off assistance once I was able to work full time (after graduating high school). Number of hours worked depended on how many emergencies. I was scheduled for 35 but usually worked at least 40, usually more.

For further information on SNAP (food stamps) aide:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Living on SNAP (Food Stamps): Part Two

There are various reasons as to why a person applies for food assistance, and the help it provides in an emotionally trying moment in their lives. The next three blog articles will feature a different person and their story as to why they chose to apply for food assistance, and what they experienced as a welfare recipient. No single case or incident represents the whole, but these stories do reflect an overwhelming trend in social welfare.

The following story is about Stephanie, a resident of Illinois who paid for her food expenses through assistance. In this post, Stephanie shares her experiences as a young college graduate who found herself homeless and in need of assistance in order to feed herself.

The average length of time a recipient of food assistance stays on the program is 9 months, and in the year that Stephanie utilized SNAP (food stamps), 1,625,404 people in the state of Illinois also fed themselves through the aide of the SNAP program. Nationwide, 13% of the U.S. population received aide in the form of SNAP, in 2010; here is one of their stories. (For further information on SNAP statistics, click here).

~Andriana Bicanin
2010 - 2011

I decided to apply for food stamps because I was essentially homeless and unable to find work.

After I graduated from college in December 2009, I lived with my mother and had major difficulties finding work (this is when the recession started hitting pretty hard). My mother kicked me out of her house in April. I spent a few nights out on the street, but finally got a hold of some friends who agreed to let me sleep on their couch until I found work. At the time, I was struggling with major depression and suicidal thoughts. One of my friends got me in to see a counselor. The counselor was really encouraging and gave me lots of information to help get back on my feet, and demanded that I go apply for food stamps.

The process was pretty confusing and difficult. There wasn’t much information online, except for where to go to get the application. I went (to the Department of Social Services) and waited in line for 30 minutes to get the application and then found out that I had to travel 20 minutes away to another town in the county to actually apply for food stamps. The application was quite lengthy and confusing. When I went to the facility to turn in my application, I had to wait for another 30 minutes until my name was called. An older gentleman was my case worker and very kind. He walked me through the process and since I was essentially homeless with no income, he issued me a card right away (which became active at 3 AM the next day – and yes, I stayed up to go grocery shopping as soon as it was active).

Food stamps did improve my standard of living, mainly because before I had them I was going days without a decent meal… but it didn’t mean I was buying tons of groceries and cooking lavish meals. I still had to watch my budget and clip coupons.

After about a month of getting food stamps, I found a part-time retail job and they reduced my food stamp benefits greatly. I was working 20-30 hours per week. Luckily, minimum wage and the food stamp benefits I was receiving were just enough to get by. The other bills I was paying were rent, electricity, and water.

I remained on food stamps for about 6 months total. I’m really grateful that programs like this do exist; otherwise I’m not sure if I would’ve gotten back on my feet. It’s been over 2 years since my mother kicked me out and for the last year I’ve now got a stable/salaried job with benefits.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Living on SNAP (Food Stamps): Part One

The news barrages us with headlines about how politicians are trying to cut spending. One of the government programs that has come under scrutiny is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as Food Stamps). SNAP provides temporary assistance to individuals and families in need of food assistance. Whenever I watch and read the news I can’t help but wonder who exactly is affected by these cuts, as well as how necessary and efficient the programs are.

I have heard many misconceptions from those around me regarding ideas of those who receive SNAP and the ease at which someone is able to obtain these benefits. This blog post series seeks to delve into a very small portion of those who currently receive or received SNAP in the past, and dispel many misconceptions and preconceived notions. By exploring these stories, and those affected, we are able to understand the purpose, benefits, drawbacks, and experiences of those who rely on this in order to feed themselves and their families.

As of May 27th, 2011, 44,587,328 Americans received aid from SNAP. In North Carolina, 1,561,887 people receive SNAP. This is a 17% increase from March 2010, where 1,327,754 individuals and families received assistance. Without this aid, those who rely on SNAP may not be able to pay for other expenses, such as medication, utilities, and childcare.

My Background:

As an AmeriCorps*VISTA I am paid $820 a month and am not allowed to receive secondary income (hold another job). VISTA service is for one year, and we serve at nonprofits and faith based organizations. We are paid so little because the purpose of VISTA is to end poverty on a community level, and in doing so we should understand how people live in the communities we serve.

I am currently in my second year of VISTA service, having concluded a year in Washington (state) in 2009, and am about to conclude my second year, in North Carolina. I first applied for SNAP in Washington. I chose to apply because I was unable to pay my rent, car payments (I was required to have a car for my type of service), fuel, and food costs with the little income I received. At first, I received $60 a month in assistance, and by the end of my service term I received $90 a month. Unable to adequately feed myself on this amount, I also frequented the local food pantry for staples such as bread, eggs, cereal, and canned foods.

Exploration into the Lives of those Affected:

There are those in this country who receive less pay than I, have children to feed, and are struggling to pay their expenses while also feeding themselves. This series will hopefully give a glimpse into these peoples lives and how exactly SNAP helps those in our communities. The next article in this series consists of interviews with those who currently use food assistance, and have used food assistance in the past.

Written by:
Andriana Bicanin
2010 - 2011
New Century IDA

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

IDA Success Story: Cheryl Ross, "A Wonderful Life is What You Make."

A wonderful life is whatever you make it. I grew up in public housing and lived on a low-income status all of my life. One Sunday morning I read a newspaper article about a woman with the same circumstances. I read about how the IDA program helped her to become a homeowner, and she said how happy and thankful she was to be able to become a homeowner. I filled out an application not feeling confident that it would work for me. I met some good people with the same circumstances as myself. I never felt lost or confused because a coach was just a call away. I have always been looking for something better for me and my three daughters. My oldest daughter is a college student at North Carolina State University, and the nine and fourteen year olds are looking forward to also attending college.

Upon acceptance into the IDA Program I found the economic literacy classes very helpful in getting me organized and preparing a budget. The instructors were very personal and helpful, and the coaches kept encouraging me. I am now a very proud homeowner with a three bedroom home with two full baths, cathedral ceilings, a deck, three acres for a backyard, walk in closets, gas logs, central air, and a two car garage. I will never have to move again because I have found what I have always wanted. My advice to everyone in the program or considering the program is don’t start looking for houses too early. However, watch your budget and cut out things you don’t need. Also try to save more than one thousand dollars for you will want to buy some things for your house when you move in. Please be patient, and use every resource that is available to you. Ask questions, this is your future. A wonderful life is what you make of it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

IDA Success Stories: Ms.T

Ms. T, a mother of three, was already enrolled in the IDA program when disaster struck. One afternoon she received a call that a fire had destroyed her apartment and all her belongings. To her get her family back in order, Ms. T was enrolled in the Self-Sufficiency Program through the Experiment in Self-Reliance. This program could assist with payment of utilities so she could focus on using her earned income for her IDA payment and rent. Ms. T was moved to another apartment and continued to work. Although the Self-Sufficiency Program was there to support her, Ms. T insisted on providing for her family with her own income.

Soon after her move, Ms. T lost her employment. Undaunted, she continued to search for an alternative. She was able to find employment cleaning homes, making just under $200 per month. Despite this hardship, she kept a positive attitude and continued to make her IDA deposit monthly. Ms. T was determined to find better employment, and applied for several jobs. After a number of interviews, she was offered and accepted a position with Bell South. With her increased income she was able to save above the $1,000 required by the IDA program.

After experiencing much heartache, Ms. T was able to achieve her dream on May 8th, 2001. On that date, Ms T closed on her first house, and is looking forward to making it a home for her and her children.