Food Stamps

There’s a long
on the front page of the New York Times this morning
about the increasing use of food stamps.

It does mention that it’s been government policy over the last
three administrations to encourage the use of the program, but
completely leaves out (or maybe postpones for another article) the
changes in eligibility requirements that have enabled the
increased numbers of people to use it.

I think the article would lead a casual reader to believe that the
people in Orange County who are getting the food stamps now
could just as well have gotten them ten years ago, except that
they’d have been embarrassed to have their neighbors see them
using the stamps in the checkout line.

I don’t know anything about eligibility requirements in
California, but I looked at the Massachusetts ones 8 years ago
when I ran out of unemployment compensation and was going to
have to start dipping into savings.

At that time, in Massachusetts, you couldn’t get food stamps if
you had more than $600 in a bank account (including an IRA with
penalties for accessing it before you were 59 1/2), or a car
worth more than $2000. $600 is less than a month’s rent for
most people in Massachusetts, and a car worth less than $2000 is
probably going to lead you to miss work several days a year. The combination of the car worth less than $2000 and the less than a month’s rent in the bank is likely to tempt you to put off fixing your brakes when they break.

I was becoming increasingly alarmed as I read the article about
all the counties where nearly half the residents are eligible for
food stamps, so I googled for the current requirements in

It turns out that some time in the last eight years, they’ve
stopped asking you about assets at all unless you’re also
getting certain other means-tested benefits. So I would
probably have been eligible 8 years ago, and all those people getting the food stamps
may well have enough money to pay their rent and fix their brakes.

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