ethel’s words

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WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT FOOD STAMPS

Yes, it was a long time ago--indeed--when I was a Neighborhood Worker. I encountered a young woman, Black (you bet it’s relevant and germane), who had a two-year-old daughter and little else. (She was not homeless.)

She had been selling her blood to buy food for her child, but the blood buyers limit the frequency of blood-letting. If they didn’t, every day there would be a couple of corpses right outside their door, so compelling is the need for the procurement power of money.

No blood, no food. She had tried to get food stamps, but was turned down, for convoluted reasons she did not understand. She was attractive and capable; just down on her luck, without a job at the time.

“I’ll take you to Food Stamps,” I said, already un-relaxed.

We walked up to the counter together when our turn came. (I can’t remember the preliminaries.) “This young woman needs emergency food stamps, for herself and this child.”

“There is no such thing as emergency food stamps,” smirked the white face behind the counter.

“She needs stamps right away,” I protested. “She has no food at all for herself or her child.”

“You can come back on Monday or Wednesday between eight and noon [or some such] and fill out a regular application.”

“We want stamps today,” I insisted. The worker had been joined by a male colleague who probably had heard the makings of a confrontation. I gave my attention to both of them: “We are not hostile,” I smiled. “But we are going to stay here until we get food stamps. You can find a way.”

A blank stare from the male newcomer.

They turned and disappeared behind a door. The man returned. “We could give you expedited service”, he explained.

“If that means giving us food stamps, here and now--that is what we are respectfully requesting.”

Ten minutes later we left with an allotment of food stamps and new knowledge. “Expedite”, eh?

I still find it incredible that any two human beings in any setting could be so petty, facing a hungry woman--and more importantly, a hungry CHILD.

The Food Stamp Program is a creature of The Department of Agriculture, and its purpose was to guarantee sales for the oft-failing market for farm products. In the beginning, paper goods or imported food could not be purchased with food stamps. Yet some rules do not favor farmers.

Eligibility workers who deny stamps when the decision could go either way--or wrongly deny--are rewarded; workers who mistakenly give stamps when they could have been denied, are punished (no raise).

Ethel C. Hale