How To Live On Unemployment and Food Stamps, And Love It?

I rarely shop at Whole Foods because the prices are rather expensive, but during my last visit I saw someone buy several high-end luxury food items with a food stamp card (SNAP – Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program).   We’re talking cheese at $20/lb, a couple of premium beverages, and exotic mushrooms.  With four items, the total dollar amount this young woman rang up could have fed a family for a week.

Am I missing something here?

courtesy of Cedric

I don’t know her whole story; there very well could be a reasonable explanation for her choice in splurging on government assistance.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t like exotic mushrooms, but I think government aid to the unemployed might be better spent in her case.

This exorbitant use of unemployment assistance is apparently not new or unusual.  Salon recently wrote an article about hipsters (young urbanites) shopping for organic foods such as salmon with food stamps and considering it as a normal entitlement.  The blog, Stuff Unemployed People Like, had an article titled Buying Perrier with Food Stamps and noted that some people actually focus on buying as much luxury items as possible on food stamps because the government is subsidizing it.

Surfing the net, I found several other blogs written by people in their 20s and 30s who were enjoying unemployment because they now had a luxurious lifestyle that they somehow couldn’t afford while working.   One woman talked about using food stamps at Whole Foods to make sure that she got bottled coconut water for daily use.  I love coconut water but I never thought to spend $2.50/bottle versus paying $.30/coconut.  One recent news clip I saw on TV had a young man who admitted that he spent food stamps on gourmet cheese.

People were frank in their desire to stretch living like this for as long as they could.   I guess who could blame them in a sense: why work when the government is giving you money to indulge yourself?

So how are they doing this? Simple, many start by tapping their parents for housing and additional support.  They then apply for unemployment, food stamps and every other benefit that they can squeeze out of the Federal, state, local, and private systems.   Many also have severance checks to run through, as well as credit cards and personal savings. Let’s not forget the underground economy too.

But when someone moves to different states just to increase their unemployment benefits I have to wonder.

As for healthcare, they can choose to stay on COBRA until their benefits run out then either go uninsured or apply for Medicaid.  The ER is the primary care choice for many.   It’s no wonder many ERs are cash strapped or have closed.

The corner stone for many is the $27,000 or more they get from the government (Unemployment + SNAP + Other Supplemental Income) per year to spend freely. Unfortunately this “nest egg” may give little incentive for some to return to work.  If you are single, why work until you’ve maxed out all the freebies possible.  I referred a job to someone last week and they passed on even investigating it.   Other business owners have also experienced the same phenomenon with “job seekers” in their 20s and 30s.   Jobs of up to $50,000/year are being turned down.

It’s interesting to note the Labor Department estimates they overpaid $7 Billion in unemployment benefits for 2009.   Meanwhile states are overburden with the sheer amount of cases and cannot always monitor whether someone is actually looking for a job or just in a holding pattern until benefits run out.

I believe in giving a helping hand and providing support to people who are in need and can understand buying organic foods to maintain your health.  I’ll even acknowledge that consumer spending needs to be primed in order to pull the economy out of a recession.  I’m just not happy about paying taxes to fund someone’s experimental cooking with exotic mushrooms.  What are your opinions?

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photo credit: Cedric