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Food Stamps: Hand Up Versus Hand Out

Earlier this week, a study that analyzed 30 years of national data shows that nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black children will be on food stamps at some point in their childhood. Researchers also say those numbers could be pushed higher due to the current recession. The study further suggests that almost everyone knows a family who has received food stamps, or will in the future.

The lead author of the study, Mark Rank, a sociologist at Washington University, said, “Your neighbor may be using some of these programs but it's not the kind of thing people want to talk about.”

In what community? That’s my question. I agree that people may not be talking about it, but it is far from a secret in many of our communities. It is actually an expectation in some social circles.

When I read the statistics, it made me wonder if my family received food stamps when I was growing up. I didn’t think so, even though my mother was a single mom with two children. For a moment, I thought that perhaps she could have been getting the supplement and my brother and I just didn’t know about it. After further consideration, I found that to be highly unlikely because if we had, we certainly would have noticed a bi-monthly food windfall!

Just to be sure, I called my mom and asked her. She confirmed what I thought… we never got food stamps when I was growing up. She did, however, acknowledge that during Hurricane Hugo, we got a one-time ration to replace the food that had spoiled in our freezer due to the lack of electricity.

I asked my mother why. Why didn’t we get food stamps when so many around us were getting them. Surely she would have qualified since she was raising 2 children on her own. My brother’s father died before my brother was born and while my father was alive, he didn’t always help like he should have. So why did she not take advantage of the program, I wanted to know. She said, “I don’t know, Tee. I guess it just wasn’t in my plan. It never was in my thought process to get food stamps. .”

You know, at that moment, I felt a huge sense of pride in my mother for working hard to raise her children with limited, if any at all, assistance from the government. Even though there was a system there to lend a helping hand, she was determined to do it on her own. That got me to thinking. The people who were on food stamps when I was growing up, probably still get them (or some other form of government assistance) today. Hence my theory: there are two kinds of food stamp recipients: those who need a hand up and those looking for a hand out.

Let me say this right now: there is nothing wrong with people receiving food stamps or any other form of government aid. That’s what it is there for. But I do have a problem with people living on government aid. Instead of using it as a ‘hand up’, many are gladly accepting the ‘hand out’ and making it a lifestyle.

Here are some characteristics of 'hand up' recipients versus 'hand out' recipients.

Hand up recipient: Shopping cart primarily has staple items in it. Hand Out Recipients: Shopping cart is full of steaks, shrimp, lobster and other high-end delicacies.

Hand Up Recipient: Conserves some food stamps to go shopping for fresh produce between allotments. Hand Out Recipients: Spend every dime in one fell swoop because they know in 15 days, they will get more.

Hand Up Recipient: Values the benefits and use them as intended. Hand Out Recipients: Bombard you at the grocery store trying to sell their food stamps for cash money.

Hand Up Recipient: May discretely slide the food stamp card through the reader. Hand Our Recipients: Slap their card down with pride like it is an American Express Platinum card.

Again, I want to say there is nothing wrong with getting food stamps. Everyone experiences rough times… I am the first to admit that. But are government programs helping to sustain people during difficult times, or are they making people more dependent? I think these programs are very beneficial for people who need a little help during times of difficulty. Unfortunately, for others, it simply robs them of their amibition, decreasing the desire to climb out of a tough spot, limiting their vision to see past that temporary brick wall.

With this crazy economy, it is no wonder more and more people are taking advantage of the food stamp system. Let’s just hope they take it as a temporary hand up, instead of a life-long hand out. Edit


To be honest, government programs is a mixed bag for me. After decades of politicians vilifying the poor for such programs, I am no longer sure what my thoughts are on this topic as some of their vitriol and propaganda has surely tainted my perceptions.

Providing food, shelter, healthcare, and sometimes childcare to the poor and needy is actually a good thing, isn't it? It's not like food allowances are a G a month. I think it averages around $200-$300 a month. And that's not very much to feed a family of 3 or more in today's inflation riddled market. And the babies need to eat.

While I agree that long term reliance on government programs is not a good thing, I question whether government solutions for the poor and needy go far enough. What happened to teaching a man how to fish?

I'm sure the "hand-ups" are folks that fell on tough luck or have special need circumstances with children or spouses. They probably just need services for a short amount of time until they can work things out. As for the "hand-outs", this group is probably low to no education, no financial assets, no concept of wealth, and low wage workers. Or they too might have a special needs circumstance that pulls them permanently out of the workforce. In their case, the programs are a reliable supplement to their nonexistent to meager monthly earnings.

I would love to think that everyone has an equal chance to break out of poverty; but I know that the challenge is daunting having been there myself. Delete Reply

I'll just say this, I know several people who get way more than $200 - $300 a month and that's great for those who need it.

Now on the flip side, I know people who don't have any kids and get food stamps while working...and you say, well, maybe they don't make enough...yeah, you wouldn't make enough either if you went to the store and bought the fattest calf, etc. I also know people, young people that my guy friend and I mentor that have said in response to our question of what will you do if you end up pregnant..."Well, I will get on food stamps!" and this was said with a straight face.

I agree with Teowonna that there are people who honestly need a hand-up and then there are people who either want or hand-out or they are trained to believe that that's all they have. I feel sorry for the latter of the last two because they are victims and volunteers all at the same time. Delete Reply

Melodie, I'm interested. When you say "way more than $200 - $300 a month", how much we talking? I personally know of a family of 4 (husband laid off, wife part-time worker, and 2 school-aged kids) getting around $350 in NC. Interestingly, they would get much more if the husband leaves the household...almost an incentive to break up the fam.

I think we're saying the same thing, but coming from different angles. I'm talking circumstances and you're talking attitudes.

Thank God that the law bases its determination on need and not attitude. Otherwise, we'd have a bunch of hungry, robbing, and dangerous people on the streets terrorizing anyone with a check card. :)) Delete Reply

many people do not know this but the food stamps program is run by the FDA and it is basically a subsidy for the farmers in this country. The crops that they produce need to be bought/consumed by folks otherwise they would go out of business. This is why the guidelines for being eligible for foodstamps have recently been lowered again by the goverment and they are actually advertising for folk to come in and apply..."even if you own a home, you may be eligible for foodstamps..." The main group of people who would be crippled without the benefit of foodstamps is the American Farmer... Delete Reply

Everyone makes very good points... especially Anon! I guess I never thought about it that way. But I do have something to say to mark about the $200-$300 a month allottments... that's not a grand, but that is a lot of money! If I got $300 bucks a month for food, I'd be overweight too (like our obese children). Delete Reply

what's to be said about DSS in South Carolina only caring about single mothers and no one else, though? single fathers and those of us who live alone get no love. Delete Reply

I agree with most of the content in this blog. I have been a food stamp recipient and understand both sides of the debate. I am the oldest of 7 children, we grew up in a 2 bedroom mobile home, my mother stayed at home, and NEVER used any type of assistance. On the other hand, I have almost 5 children (the 5th being a HUGE surprise) and have been married for 10 years. The company that my husband worked for closed its doors last April. Since then, he has taken 2 temporary jobs, applied to over 250 places, gone to countless interviews and is now delivering pizza. We are on foodstamps, and I am the embarrassed one who slips the card discreetly through the machine. It is embarrassing to enter DFS and have them scrutinize me for my family size versus income. We did not plan that and had more then enough when the company was open. I agree that there are those who need it and those who abuse it. I fear that we may not be able to survive without them. This year alone, we lost our house, van, and all utilities. It is like we are Amish with Food Stamps. My frustration is this: there are programs to assist with childcare, housing, utilities, and other things IF you are single. We do not qualify for those things. Just last week, I traded milk & eggs for toilet paper. Food is all that we can have. AND when we become homeless, which in inevitable if jobs are not created, then we lose those! Something has to give. I think we need to get back to basics, provide only necessary staples, hygiene products and toiletries, and "teach a man to fish." And then LET him fish!!! Delete Reply

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