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Entries in Food Stamps (7)

Wednesday
Sep262012

Ga. Woman Seeks Apology After Being Slammed for Using Food Stamps

Courtesy Cindy Nerger(NEW YORK) -- Is a $15 gift card enough to compensate for public humiliation at your local grocery store? According to one Georgia woman, the answer is absolutely not.

Cindy Nerger, 28, who relies on food stamps to feed her family, said she was brought to tears after being embarrassed by a manager at a Kroger store in Warner Robbins, Ga.

“He said, ‘Excuse me for working for a living and not relying on food stamps like you,’” Nerger said the manager told her.

The man’s comment came after Nerger and two other store employees disagreed over whether her total purchase was eligible for food stamps — the employees had insisted that roughly $10 of her bill was not covered. She said the manager ultimately told the employees to “just give it to her.”

After Nerger then stressed that she had been right all along, the man made his “working for a living” remark, she said.

“I turned around and realized how many people heard him and how many saw that happened and I was so embarrassed… I started crying,” she said.

In a statement to ABCNews.com, a Kroger spokesman said, “We deeply regret our customer’s experience. The comments made were not reflective of our company’s policy. We value all of our customers. Please know that we have taken immediate steps to make sure something like this never happens again.”

The spokesman did not reply to a follow-up message asking for more information, but a local Georgia television station reported that Kroger had transferred the manager at the center of the controversy to another store.

Nerger said the reason she and her family — she is married with a daughter — must rely on food stamps is because her husband’s carpentry business isn’t profitable enough to support the family.

Meanwhile, Nerger must devote 12 hours every night to a dialysis treatment to combat her kidney disease, which she’s struggled with since the age of 11. She’s been on a kidney transplant list for five years and hopes that someday, after a successful transplant, she can become a working member of society. She would like to attend college to major in child psychology.

“There’s just so much stigmatism put on people on food stamps. They’re just some losers who don’t want to work. That isn’t the case in every situation,” she said.

Nerger’s account of her run-in with a Kroger manager went viral after she posted it to her Facebook page, prompting friends to encourage her to post a message to a local television station. The station ended up contacting her and doing a story.

Kroger, meanwhile, responded to a complaint Nerger passed on through the store’s national customer service line by apologizing and offering her a $15 gift card. Nerger said she rejected the offer because she doesn’t plan on shopping at Kroger again.

What she wants, she said, is an apology directly from the manager, whom she also believes should be demoted from his job and trained how to treat customers properly.

She stopped short of saying the man should lose his job.

“I didn’t want anybody to be in the food stamp line with me,” she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep072012

Who's Getting Fat Off Food Stamps?

Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A record number of Americans -- 46.7 million, or nearly one in seven -- now use the food stamp program, according to the Department of Agriculture.  The annual cost of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the food stamp program is officially known) hit $72 billion last year, up from $30 billion four years earlier.

SNAP's swelling size and cost have earned it fresh scrutiny from critics, who say SNAP is making two different constituencies fat -- big corporations and the poor -- the first, figuratively; the second, literally.

Many health advocates, concerned by Americans' increasing obesity, argue that food stamp purchases should be disallowed for items high in salt or fat or sugar -- candy, fatty meats, potato chips and soda.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, who has a particular antipathy to sweet drinks, has urged the Department of Agriculture to exclude sodas from food stamp eligibility.

Makers of these maligned products, meantime, have lobbied Congress and state governments to prevent their products' exclusion from SNAP eligibility, arguing that consumers ought to be free in the grocery store to buy pretty much whatever they want.  The National Confectioners Association, for example, argues on its website that excluding candy from SNAP would prevent parents from enjoying the freedom to give children "an occasional treat" on "Halloween, Hannukah, [or] Easter."

Consumer watchdog group Eat Drink Politics in June issued a report, "Food Stamps: Follow The Money," which tries to quantify both how much money food and beverage makers (among others) make from SNAP, and how much money they are spending to oppose legislation antithetical to their interests.  It describes SNAP reform bills pending in nine states that would prohibit, for instance, purchases of sweetened beverages (California SB 471), potato chips (Florida SB 1658) or chewing gum (Illinois HB 1480).  It hints that the reason none of these have passed is heavy lobbying by the affected industries.

Hard numbers on what the program buys are hard to come by, says the report, in part because the USDA either doesn't have or does not release certain crucial data.  The Department lacks the legal authority, for example, to require retailers to report products SNAP participants are purchasing.  It knows the dollar value of transactions, but not whether the customer bought Cheesy Puffs or broccoli.

As for the increasing obesity of the poor, data on that problem is readily available, and food stamps' complicity in it is the subject of much debate.

Julian Alston, U.C. Davis professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, has studied the question in depth, producing studies that include "U.S. Food and Nutrition Programs: Costs, Effectiveness, and Impact on Obesity" (for the American Enterprise Institute) and "Likely Effects on Obesity From Proposed Changes to the U.S. Food Stamp Program" (for the journal Food Policy).

In the second of these papers, Alston and his co-authors say food stamp participants are more likely than non-participants to be overweight or obese.  (They don't say food stamps are making them fat.)  The authors then go on to analyze whether the exclusion of certain food items from program eligibility might make participants healthier.

The argument that excluding "unhealthy" items would make participants healthier, Alston tells ABC News, "is not a lay-down hand at all."

Why not?  First, he says, there's nothing to prevent participants from saving up their cash for ice cream.

"You can restrict how people spend their stamps but not change their total consumption," Alston says.

Second, no matter how the program's standards might be tweaked, manufacturers, he says, will tweak their products to try to get around the prohibition.

"They will re-engineer the food," he says.  The revised products will be different; that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be any more nutritious.

Although changing program rules to promote healthier eating could indeed be expected to reduce participants' obesity, Alston and his co-authors say that the effect on food prices overall might be to make "healthy" food relatively more expensive for non-participant consumers (and "unhealthy" food relatively less), thus negating any net benefit to the population overall.

As for companies lobbying to prevent changes to the existing program, he says that while he personally finds the lobbying process "pretty ugly," it's part of "normal commercial practice" and an appropriate exercise of companies' rights.

"It's natural for them to want an outcome favorable to them," he says.  Unless there's actual bribery, "It's not necessarily corrupt."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May092012

Number of Ph.Ds on Public Aid Triples in US

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The life of an academic who pays hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition and lives off stipends and scholarships is becoming more financially treacherous. A skyrocketing number of Americans with Ph.Ds say they are facing a reality in which they are turning to food stamps to survive.

One in six Americans received food stamps or other public assistance last year, but the number of people with a Ph.D. or Masters degree who receive that aid has tripled in the past two years, according to government data.

In a story published by The Chronicle of Higher Education this week Ph.D. holders and students who are teaching on the non-tenure track in community colleges and universities bemoaned their prospects.

Elliott Stegall, 51, is pursuing a Ph.D in film studies at Florida State University while he teaches two English courses at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Fla.

To help support their two young children, he and his wife rely, in part, on food stamps, Medicaid and aid from the USDA program, Women, and Infants and Children (WIC). He and his wife also have worked part-time jobs as house painters and cleaners and food caterers.

"As a man, I felt like I was a failure. I had devoted myself to the world of cerebral activity. I had learned a practical skill that was elitist," he said. "Perhaps I should have been learning a skill that the economy supports."

Various factors, mostly related to the down economy and state and local educational budget cuts, have helped drive educational institutions to rely more on part-time or adjunct professors. They are paid much less than regular professors and get few or no benefits.

Overall, 44 million people were on food stamps on a monthly basis in 2011, compared with 17 million in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The number of people with Ph.Ds who received some kind of public assistance more than tripled to 33,655 in 2010 from 9,776 in 2007, according to Austin Nichols, a senior researcher from the Urban Institute, who used data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor.

"While on average higher learning still results in higher salaries, the promise of that financial payoff isn't materializing for some," Sara Hebel, senior editor with The Chronicle of Higher Education, said. "And for growing numbers of people with advanced degrees, they have not been insulated from financial hardship for a number of reasons."

Of the 22 million Americans with master's degrees or higher in 2010, about 360,000 were receiving some kind of public assistance, according to the latest Current Population Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau in March 2011.

The number of people with master's degrees who received some kind of aid grew to 293,029 from 101,682 over the same three-year period.

The average salary for U.S. professors is $82,556, according to an annual report from the American Association of University Professors, released in April.

"People off the tenure track now make up 70 percent of faculties. People in those positions often have working conditions that can be tough, including not knowing from semester to semester how many courses they might teach," Hebel said.

That leads to an inconsistent income for adjunct professors, which is often much lower than a tenured faculty member.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov232011

Fake Food Stamp Websites Prey on Poor

Photodisc/Thinkstock(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- In a new twist on Internet scams, federal officials say people desperate for government assistance are being taken in by food stamp sites that promise to get them benefits.

Phony websites complete with data, current food stamp news, and information submission pages have been flagged by the Florida Department of Children and Families and the U.S Department of Agriculture.

Joe Follick, communications director for the Florida Department of Children and Families, tells ABC News the scam was first brought to their attention last year when an applicant said they stumbled across a website that allegedly required a fee in exchange for information on applying for food stamp benefits, now known as the national SNAP program – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Soon after some dozen websites including getfoodstampsnow.org, govbenefitsonline.org, and foodstampsnetwork.net as well as many pop up ads tied to Google searches with phrases such as "Florida food stamps" were discovered. The Florida Department of Children and Families along with the U.S Department of Agriculture oversees and funds the national food stamp program – SNAP. Both government agencies contacted the Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorney General's Office and alerted them about these sites.

With over 45 million Americans depending on government food aid from SNAP, the Florida Department of Children and Families says the only way to apply for these benefits is directly through their state's department website or through local government assistance agencies. It's the same procedure in all 50 states.

Florida currently has over 3.2 million residents receiving food stamps -- that's 1 in 6 Floridians. The rate of increase has slowed but there has been an increase since last year nonetheless.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center which works in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White collar Crime Center has not received complaints of such food stamp websites, but they urge people to go to their website and be clear and thorough when providing information so that the FBI can establish trends and provide public awareness guidance on scam alerts.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep072011

Fast Food Chains Getting into the Food Stamp Act

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In an ever-growing number of states, if you crave a taco or fried chicken from a fast food restaurant, you can pay for it with food stamps.

Food stamps -- known more formally as the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program --  have been in use for grocery staples, such as bread and milk, since 1934, but now, for the first time, they can be used for fast food in four states across the country.

The number of businesses -- including convenience and discount stores, gas stations and pharmacies -- that have been approved to accept food stamps has increased by a third over the course of three years from 2005 to 2010, USA Today reports, and fast food chains are working hard to get a cut of the federal dollars in Florida, California, Arizona and Michigan.

The funds allocated to the food stamp program have increased exponentially, from $28.5 billion to $64.7 billion in that same time frame, according to USA Today, and at a time when people have less money to spend, the bump in federal dollars can mean a lot to the fast food industry.

Yum! Brands, based in Louisville, Ky., which operates a string of restaurants that includes Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver’s and Pizza Hut, are among those applying for inclusion in the food stamp program, saying that elderly, disabled and homeless people have difficulty preparing meals, ABC affiliate WHAS reported.

Here’s a quick list of fast food restaurants in states that already accept food stamps for restaurant meals:

Michigan:

Church’s Chicken
Kentucky Fried Chicken
McDonald’s
Subway
Grandma’s Famous Chicken
Eight Mile Pancake House
Mr. T’s BBQ
Vito’s Pizza

California:

Jack in the Box
Subway
El Pollo Loco
Papa Murphy’s Pizza

Florida:

KFC
Taco Bell
Pizza Hut
Papa Murphy’s Pizza

Arizona:

Domino’s Pizza
Golden Corral
Southern Cuisine
Rally’s Hamburger

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug042011

Economy, Alabama Storms Push U.S. Food Stamp Program to All-Time High

USDA(WASHINGTON) -- According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), some 45.8 million people collected food stamps in May, up from 44 million in April.

That's an all-time high, up 12 percent from a year ago and an astonishing 34 percent from two years ago. Comparing May 2010 to May 2011, more than 20 states have seen double-digit percent growth in individuals seeking food assistance benefits.

"The rise in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) indicates that the economy is still in tough shape and for a lot of people the recession has not ended," Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist for ConvergEx, told ABC News.

Alabama saw a dramatic increase in food stamp recipients after deadly storms tore through the area, leading some residents to seek disaster relief, according to the USDA. Of Alabama's more than 4.7 million residents, 1.7 million are receiving assistance for food, according to the agency. The figure has more than doubled from May 2010 to May 2011 for the state's residents.

Throughout the years, the cost to maintain SNAP has risen due to inflation, and an increase in demand as the program sheds its stigma -- and as the economy continues to suffer.

In 2010, the program cost U.S. taxpayers $68 billion, compared with $250 million in 1969 when the program began, or $1.4 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

With Congress set to trim trillions from the federal budget over the next decade, some are speculating that the USDA may face cuts.
 
While the SNAP program could turn into a political topic, "the food stamp program does run much more directly to childhood hunger than an unemployed single program," says Colas. "If a politician wants to propose cutting food stamps they're going to run into the 20 percent of Americans using it."

Overall, 1 in 5 people in the U.S receive food stamp assistance and the average household receives $284 a month from the program.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May182011

Recent $2M Jackpot Winner Still Uses Food Stamps; Some Aim to Disqualify Him

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(AUBURN, Mich.) -- Leroy Fick hit the jackpot. The Michigan man won $2 million in the state lottery's "Make Me Rich" contest last June. With the $850,000 he took home after taxes, Fick, 59, used his winnings to purchase a new home and a used Audi convertible. But to buy groceries, this lottery winner is still using his Bridge Card, Michigan's version of food stamps.

How can a man who won millions in the lottery still use food stamps? His lawyer says it is perfectly legal.

"He's not trying to cheat the state," said Fick's attorney, John Wilson. "Based on his income, he's eligible."

"He specifically called the Department of Human Services and said, 'Can I still use the Bridge Card?' and they said, 'Yes,' because he is eligible," said attorney Wilson. "He's done everything right in the eyes of the law."

Michigan uses federal guidelines that base eligibility for food stamps solely on income. Fick's attorney said his client is unemployed and lives on Social Security disability benefits, so his income qualifies him for the Bridge Card.

The $850,000 lump sum lottery payment is considered an asset -- not income. So, under state policy, Fick can legally get food stamps -- even if he has hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank.

"This angers me. It really makes me angry," said Rep. Charles Brunner, who represents Fick's hometown of Auburn in Michigan's 96th District.

He is one of a number of lawmakers in a state battered by high unemployment and a whopping budget deficit now fuming over Michigan's lottery loophole.

"The thing that really bothers me is [that] in our state we have so many people out of work...so many people in need of assistance, and for a lottery winner to get food stamps" is unfair, Brunner said. "If it's a glitch in the law, we've got to fix it now."

On Wednesday, Brunner introduced legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives calling for the state to factor in the assets of food stamp applicants, not just their income.

Fick's attorney said his client will stop using his Bridge Card if Michigan changes its policy, and doesn't feel bad about using the taxpayer-funded program because Fick just paid more than $1 million of his lottery winnings in state taxes.

"He feels like he's paid into the system," Wilson said.

Even though his client won more money than many people earn in a lifetime, Wilson said Fick is not living like a millionaire.

"He lives a simple life," Wilson said. "He doesn't even have the Internet."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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