Need, not abuse, should be focus of debate on food aid

Does anyone remember the experiment my family did last March called MyPlate on My Budget? My goal was to find out if my family could keep to the USDA Cost of Food at Home Thrifty Budget, and also follow the government’s MyPlate nutritional guidelines.

The answer was yes, just barely, but we ate a lot of farmed fish and potatoes.

MyPlate on My Budget has been on my mind a lot recently because I’ve been wondering about the potential changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

I want to be very clear about my opinion. I do not want SNAP to be cut. I’m about as far from an objectivist as you can get. I’d rather watch the 2013 documentary “A Place at the Table” (which is streaming on Netflix right now) than a D-list movie version of “Atlas Shrugged.”

But … I’ve also been thinking about something I witnessed in March during the last week of my experiment. I was in line at my local grocery store when I heard the cashier say loudly to the shopper in front of me, “EBT? You want to use your EBT card for this? EBT won’t work for that!”

The lady in question was my age and looked horribly embarrassed.

I thought the clerk was being rude, until I saw what the woman was trying to purchase: a six-pack of beer and a bouquet of flowers.

In a split second I turned into the most judgmental person you can imagine. There I was with my cart of potatoes, frozen peas and bananas, and she was buying imported beer? What a cheater!

I was angry all the way to the car, but then I tried to think bigger. Maybe that woman had to bring flowers for Teacher Appreciation Day. Or perhaps she was buying beer for her father-in-law, who had just broken his hip. Who am I to judge?

But seven months later, I’m still bothered. It’s hard to take the generous view without feeling taken advantage of as a taxpayer. I also keep thinking about people who really need SNAP, but who miss the cutoff by a small margin. My heart hurts for the families in our community who struggle to afford food.

According to the Children’s Alliance, up to 400,000 children in Washington state live in food-insecure households. I want all those children to be fed. I want adults without dependents who need longer than three months to find a job to receive assistance, too.

John Adams, our nation’s second president, said, “It is more important that innocence should be protected, than it is that guilt be punished.”

To me, that means that the woman with flowers and beer is not the most important part of this conversation.

Jennifer Bardsley blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.

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