Are stores making bank off food stamps?

Mother Jones • Apr. 22, 2014

A longer version of this piece appeared on; all published in conjunction with the Food and Environmental Reporting Network.


How much of Walmart’s revenue comes from its shoppers’ food stamps? The store isn’t required to say. But a January Court of Appeals ruling could change that. If the unanimous decision by the 8th Circuit’s panel of three judges holds, the United States Department of Agriculture will be required to release data indicating exactly how much of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s $80 billion in annual sales is paid to specific retailers and individual stores. Continue reading “Are stores making bank off food stamps?”

Hey USA: Thanks for paying for my SNAP. Now:Where’s my thanks 4 paying 4 your road-water-phone-air-school-retirement?

Interestingly, after publishing this piece on GourmetLive about using food stamps for a year, I’ve gotten a smattering of email from folks whose response can be summed up by this particular email I received on Saturday:

email: ta******@ta*.com
textarea: Hope you enjoyed eating the food that I payed for!
Submit: Submit

I’ll leave aside any bleeding heart crap about helping one’s fellow man. Let’s look at the facts:

(1) I paid for my own SNAP.

As is pretty clear in most of my biographical materials, widely available online, I’ve been working since I was 14. That puts me at 21 years in the workforce. I’ll need to contact the Social Security Administration to make sure on this, but I suspect that the $2400 I made use of via the SNAP program is a fraction of what I personally have paid into the federal tax base over the course of my lifetime.

(2) Will you thank me for paying for your roads?

Similarly, just as I’m grateful for the help I was able to access, I trust that “Taxpayer” and his/her friends are grateful to me for all the public services my taxes have paid for: clean air and water; paved roads; traffic lights; minimum wage guarantees; public parks; library systems; public schools. While we’re at it, I hope Taxpayer also appreciates the contributions my grandparents made to rural electrification and clean water infrastructure.

(3) Food assistance is a miniscule part of the federal budget. 

If we’re gonna get finicky about whose paying for what when it comes to taxes, it’s worth looking at what we spend our money on. In fiscal year 2012, we spent about $73 billion  on food and nutrition assistance, out of a budget of $3.816 trillion, or about 1.9 percent of the budget. Highway subsidies got $35 billion (.9 percent of federal budget); police got $32 billion (.8 percent); social security got $748 billion (19.6 percent). So unless “Taxpayer” doesn’t ever get in a car; has never needed the services of a police person; and has single-handedly supported and cared for his/her parents throughout their old age, I’d appreciate a thank you acknowledging my subsidization of all those things, too.

how did I miss this? 1/4 of party stores w/SNAP in Detroit sell expired meat?

In the hubbub of book publication and tour, I nearly missed this survey of Detroit corner stores holding both liquor licenses and SNAP certification. Done by the Restaurant Opportinities Center Detroit (full disclosure: They are sponsoring a book event with me on Thursday) in conjunction with Doing Development Differently in Detroit (D4) and Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES), the report analyzes a survey of 207 corner stores visited in Detroit and finds — somewhat surprisingly, at least to me — that expired food is quite common in these stores: 22 percent sold expired meat, and 38 percent sold expired food.

One of the most frequent responses to complaints about the lack of grocery stores in low-income areas, and the corresponding abundance of what we here in Michigan call “party stores,” is that people in these communities don’t “demand” better food. The corollary of that is that the market perfectly reflects what IS in demad — and I have a hard time believing that 22 percent of Detroiters “demand” expired meat, and that 38 percent are asking for expired food.

Putting the Cart Before the Market

City Limits Weekly • Dec. 24, 2007

Bushwick – > City officials last week announced that they would be boosting the number of street food permits by 1,500, with a healthy catch: The new food carts will have to sell fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods where residents consume them at low rates.

Going by the name “Green Carts,” the project is being backed by the city’s Food Policy Task Force, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Permits will be good year-round, and could be available as early as summer 2008, with 500 going to the Bronx and Brooklyn each, and the remainder divvied up between the other boroughs. Carts would be required to sell only unprocessed fruits and vegetables, or pre-packaged fresh produce that is already peeled or cut. Continue reading “Putting the Cart Before the Market”

State Hits Record Welfare Low — With a Catch

Daily Intelligencer • April 18, 2007

New York State has a new record-low welfare enrollment. There were 541,503 on the dole at the end of February, the lowest number since 1963, as state welfare officials announced neatly in sync with tax day. While the city has been posting similar trends for the last several years, this marks the state’s first big milestone. The state secret? In addition to benefiting from welfare shrinkage in the five boroughs — the city makes up the bulk of the state’s welfare cases — state officials are pointing to $665 million paid out via the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which is available to working poor filing federal or state taxes, plus a new state credit for low-income, non-custodial parents up-to-date on child support. Continue reading “State Hits Record Welfare Low — With a Catch”

New Directions Seen in Aid to City’s Poor

City Limits • Sept. 5, 2006

City officials are considering a move away from the strictest elements of New York’s poverty policy over the last decade, most notably by creating easier procedures for the poor to receive government aid and considering new ways to help needy people living above the federally-defined poverty threshold.

The Mayor’s Commission for Economic Opportunity drew attention last week after an internal memo detailing its likely recommendations, including targeting resources toward three specific demographic groups, was written about in the New York Times. But a closer look suggests that broader shifts are afoot. Continue reading “New Directions Seen in Aid to City’s Poor”