The recent article "Uncovering the Secrets of Food Stamps" from the Los Angeles Times, and reprinted in the local daily, was both informative and disheartening. While the authors do not seem to hold a completely negative view of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, they do little to dispel falsehoods or offer solutions to the supposed "problems" associated with food-stamp recipients.
The myth that food-stamp recipients are jobless poxes on the system taking advantage of it is just that, a myth. A simple Google search to locate the Cal Fresh website lists one of the requirements to be eligible for food stamps: "Work Requirements: All able-bodied persons (ages 18–49) without dependents must work 20 hours per week (monthly average 80 hours) or participate 20 hours per week in an approved work activity. . . ." Exceptions are only made for the aged or the disabled.
The second question brought up—"How much of the SNAP budget is going for fruits and vegetables and how much for soft drinks and snack foods?"—implies that food-stamp recipients are spending on these things. This image is further pushed by the American Medical Association's suggestion of a ban prohibiting recipients from buying these items. Of course, many who don't use food stamps are overweight and have poor eating habits. This is an epidemic stretching across all classes.
Instead of government restrictions on what drinks people can buy, we should instead ask what can we as a society do to help. Instead of criticizing those whose only option for feeding their families is at the local quick stop, encourage city planners to equitably distribute grocery-store chains around town. Create laws requiring retailers who accept SNAP to have healthy options. Farmers markets can be held year-round, and can easily be put together using local vendors who would likely be just as eager to promote their products.
The benefits to this would not stop at the individual, but could help foster a sense of community in cities everywhere. SNAP recipients won't be helped by more restrictions, but they can be helped by the solutions that we all, as a community, come up with.
Bianca May is a graduate of Sonoma State University and self-described feather-ruffler living in Rohnert Park.
Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write firstname.lastname@example.org.