Is your grocery spending in line with that of others?

One of the reasons I'm super-conscious about food budgets is because I used to do social services casework. More specifically, I handled Food Stamps cases (although "stamps" are obsolete in most places that's what most people recognize the program as).

I spent a lot of time explaining to applicants that the benefits program was designed to be a supplement to existing income and not the only source of food (see this info about the Thrifty Food Plan). It would be to them to make what benefits they received stretch for the entire month or they would have to come up with additional funds to cover the gap. As you can imagine I got yelled at a lot. "I DON'T EAT BEANS," they'd tell me. I'd sit there and blink thinking "You must not be hungry, then," but what would actually come out of my mouth was "You don't have to eat beans. You can get protein from a lot of different sources. I have a recipe pamphlet if you'd like one."

Then they'd tell me "I eat steaks."

Okay, then.

Here's the skinny: every year the Department of Health and Human Services updates the guidelines as to what constitutes being impoverished. It's the same set of numbers for every state in the connected 48 (Hawaii and Alaska get some special treatment due to their remote locations). The Food Stamps and Medicaid programs (and others of their ilk) then use those figures to come up with income limits for their applicants. (They've got to draw the line somewhere.)

The Food Stamps program, in general, requires that people make less than 130% of the poverty level. So, $1174 per month (gross income) or less for a one-person household. The maximum a single person can get in benefits per month is $200, and that's assuming they have expenses such as rent, an electric bill and other countable deductions from income (if they don't have any of those they may get as little as $15-$20 in benefits).

So, let's think about a family of three. That family would be eligible for a maximum of $526 of food benefits per month (depending on their household income and so on).

Keep in mind that with that allotment the family can buy any FOOD item in the grocery store that isn't pre-prepared (e.g. sub sandwiches from the deli). They can buy junk food (chips, sodas, whatever) or not.

Think about your food budget. Would the amount of benefits issued by the Food Stamps program cover your entire month of groceries? Why or why not?

Tiffany writes at Snarky Momma and Country Mouse City Mouse.

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