SNAPPED! – Together in Dignity – Medium
By James Abro
New York City — Cutting Food Stamps or SNAP* benefits is in the political air once again. Let me first say that it doesn’t matter who is making policy for the poor: Democrat or Republican, black or white, none of them have a clue about what is actually going on in poor communities throughout America. Like with war policy, their willful ignorance is inviting unintended consequences.
Case in Point:
How SNAP plays out in poor communities throughout America
NYC, compared to other places I know, is generous with their SNAP allocations. Most individuals get vouchers worth around $200 a month, and families receive much more. But there are reasons why a person or family might want to exchange SNAP for cash. They need to buy things you can’t use SNAP for: toiletries, over-the-counter medications, clothes, diapers, hot food including coffee. And if you are an alcoholic or a drug addict, you will probably cash in all or most of your SNAP. That’s just way that goes.
What happens next is, for me, the interesting part. If you are a buyer of the SNAP benefits for 50 cents on the dollar, what do you do then with the benefits you just bought? They can’t be transferred; they have to be used by the recipient with a secure pin code. How can you make a profit? This is not an altruistic enterprise.
The broker takes your card and pin number, along with those of many other people, to a wholesale food distributor who is willing to accept this form of transaction.
In many cases the broker owns small grocery stores or bodegas in the community. He or she then stocks them with all the things you would usually find in a neighborhood grocery: snacks, candy, soda, cold cuts, paper goods, aspirin and cold medication, toiletries, etc.
These neighborhoods are largely populated by people who are destitute. If you are destitute or just released from jail or hospital, the city welfare Safety Net Assistance Programs put money on your SNAP benefit card every two weeks. The broker/grocery store owner then allows people in the community to buy products on credit provided they pay it back on pay days.
This ‘enterprise’ sustains communities like this. So what happens if you disrupt this model of creative independent self-sufficiency because you want to teach people how to be self-sufficient?
You tell me. When I was growing up in the 1960s the Rolling Stones were singing ‘Give Me Shelter’: ‘It’s just a shout away, shout away.’ In times very similar to now, a young Black man was shot and killed by a white policeman in Newark, N.J. Newark shouted out with so much pain and rage that it lit up the night sky with flames, followed by the same in Detroit, D.C., Houston, Watts, Chicago, Asbury Park, Philly,Liberty City, Miami…
When you play with people — impose willfully ignorant policies on them — there are always unintended consequences.
It’s just a shout away.
*SNAP is the US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.