Sunday, January 3, 2010

Food Stamps/EBT

I am now the first person in my family to ever receive food stamps, as my dad so kindly reminded me just before my interview with the Department of Social and Human Services. It's quite an honor, I tell you.

Working with AmeriCorps, my living allowance falls just under the poverty line (a little under $950 a month, after taxes). To me, it feels like a lot of money, compared to a student budget ($15 a week for groceries, and selling plasma for gas money.) But then I look at my debts ($25,000 for school, then another $25,000 my parents took out for me to cover the rest), and I realize I'm in trouble. This is going to take a long time to pay back. Hello, reality.

So I went to a community agency to start the application process. The lady was very nice, and didn't make me feel awkward at all. This agency received funding from the government in part by referring qualified individuals for food stamps and housing assistance.

The next step was an interview at the DSHS, a formidable building with a huge line of people waiting to be served. There was a timed computer sign-in, which counted down the number of seconds you had left to key in your data on a dilapitated touch screen before the machine would start over. Then you had a good half hour wait for your name to be called for the first time. A lady at the reception area would speak to you for maybe a minute, clarifying whether you needed food stamps or medical benefits, before you were relegated to your comfy seat and a another lengthy wait. When your name is finally called (in an hour, if you were lucky), you were led into a cubicle at the rear of the building and mined for data. Woe to you if you forgot to bring a rent statement or second form of ID! Tomorrow you get to start the process all over again.

Finally, after being asked if you are a fleeing felon, you are led back to the dreaded waiting area. This time, you are a number. Thirty minutes and four numbers later, you just might be called to receive an EBT card with food benefits. For me, it was worth it---nearly $200 a month in food benefits! The first month I actually ran out, as I was setting up a new pantry, and didn't even have a container of salt to my name. Those spices really add up!

Within two months, though, two hundred dollars seemed like way too much money to ever spend in a month. I began donating some super cheap sale items to the local food bank. The rest gets rolled over. There is no way I will ever spend it all!

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