FoodStampsI read the New York Times article titled “Food Stamps Usage Soars, Stigma Fades.” The article is about the lessening of  stigma regarding the use of food stamps. What comes to mind when you think of the U.S. welfare system, specifically food stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)?

 For me, I remember seeing black single mothers with multiple children (read: more than 3) in the grocery store handing multi-colored slips of paper across the counter to the cashier. Others, like President Ronald Reagan, associate with this program certain women, like Linda Taylor, Barbara Williams, Arlens Otis, and Dorothy Woods. As defrauders of government sponsored welfare programs, these women’s public “transgressions” aided Ronald Reagan to stir the public imagination and create the “welfare queen. ” In his most famous of quotes regarding the welfare queen, He said:

Ronald-Regan “She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husband. She’s got Medicaid, getting food-stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.” 

This is the Welfare Queen image that became popularized under the Reagan Administration. Although many liberals tar and feather him for this term, some of us recognize that the concern behind the term is well founded. To use Summer’s language in a more readily understood context, I reject the term as a sexualized racist term. However, I agree with the underlying concern that there are those who would pimp the U.S. government and by extension her people.
foodstampscardsRegardless of the sexualized racist image of the welfare queen, we have to acknowledge there is a need for this program. Approximately, 12 percent of Americans receive Food Stamps. 28 percent of black America receives food stamps, which means more than 1 out every 4 black Americans are recipients. Respectively, 12 percent of Latino Americans and 8 percent of white Americans are beneficiaries of this program. Moreover, the United States Department of Agriculture reports that the program is expanding at a rate of 20,000 people per day! Undoubtedly, many detractors of this program are now finding themselves to be recipients of this public benefit.


At a minute 2:20, we are introduced to Mike Martin’s family and himself  who have become familiar with the stigma of being food stamp recipients. The startling reality is that many who once begged for the dismantling of this program are now beholden to it. The global recession coupled with the loss of jobs has left “self -sufficient “ working folks recanting their words. Many of the people that are coming to this realization are ashamed of their dependency on this program. In the New York Times article, Greg Dawson from Martinsville, OH said “ It’s embarrassing…I always thought it was people trying to milk the system. But we just felt like we really needed the help right now.” Greg is a third generation electrician with five children and a wife, but when his overtime hours got cut at his job. He found himself on Food Stamps.Increases in the unemployment rate has caused a growing number of American families to become dependent on food stamps. This United States Department of Agriculture’s program currently has 36 million Americans enrolled, which is roughly one of out of eight Americans. Moreover, this interactive website claims that roughly 1 in 4 of the United States children are currently beneficiaries of Food Stamps.

So as the Country wades through the fallout happening from this Great Recession, we are witnessing a reshaping of economic classes:

food-stamp09Map“Growth has come equally from places where food stamp use was common and places where it was rare. Since 2007, the 600 counties with the highest percentage of people on the rolls added 1.3 million new recipients. So did the 600 counties where use was lowest.

The richest counties are often where aid is growing fastest, although from a small base. In 2007, Forsyth County, outside Atlanta, had the highest household income in the South. (One author dubbed it “Whitopia.”) Food stamp use there has more than doubled.

This is the first recession in which a majority of the poor in metropolitan areas live in the suburbs, giving food stamps new prominence there. Use has grown by half or more in dozens of suburban counties from Boston to Seattle, including such bulwarks of modern conservatism as California’s Orange County, where the rolls are up more than 50 percent.”

In an article from the Huffinton Post, I think James Weill, president of Food Research and Action Center, said it best that “there are just very large numbers of people who rely on this program for a month, six months, a year. What I hope comes out of this study is an understanding that food stamp beneficiaries aren’t them – they’re us.”