Mark Speese, Queen of putrescence

This is not a post about government regulations or legal consumer protections.

Nor is this a post about financial education, personal responsibility and helping the working poor to make smarter choices.

What this post is about, rather, is this:

YouTube Preview Image

That’s Margery Mason in The Princess Bride, in a role listed in the credits as “The Ancient Booer.” And I would like to see her greeting of Princess Buttercup here become a relentlessly familiar scene for Troy Aikman and Mark Speese.

Aikman you may know as the Hall-of-Fame quarterback who led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships. These days, he also serves as a pitchman (alongside Hulk Hogan) for Speese’s company: Rent-A-Center.

I don’t care for Rent-A-Center. Their latest TV ads with Aikman and Hogan illustrate why. Those spots advertise Rent-A-Center’s current offer of a 60-inch HD flat television set “Now Only $29.99.”

That price — $29.99 or, for those who prefer honesty, $30 — is of course not the full price of these television sets, but the amount of the payments charged in Rent-A-Center’s “rent-to-own” scheme. If $30 a month seems reasonable, look again. That’s a weekly payment — working out to about $130 a month and $1560 a year.

Rent-A-Center’s ads tout a weekly price in part to disguise that monthly cost and to fog up any attempt by the consumer to figure out what the total ultimate cost of this 5-foot television set will actually be. That hints at everything you need to know about this company — they never give a straight answer to the question “How much?”

The weekly payment plan also provides Rent-A-Center with more chances to do what it does best — charge late fees. When you’re as good at charging late fees as these folks are, it seems a shame to only get to do it once a month. Much more lucrative to get to do it every Thursday.

For a nifty graphic explanation of how Rent-A-Center’s sleazy business plan works, see “How Predatory Lending Works, From Payday Loans to Rent-to-Own.” And then check out the company’s attempt to explain why charging $2,074 for a $1,000 mattress (not counting fees) isn’t a raw deal.

You probably don’t need me to tell you that Rent-A-Center’s big-screen TV offer — “Now only $29.99!” — is a total rip-off. But then you’re not their target customer. Their target customer either isn’t smart enough to figure out that this is a money-gouging scam designed to prey on the gullible and the vulnerable, or else they fully realize that it is but, because they’re part of America’s vast army of working poor, they’re used to that sort of thing by now and have come to realize that such scams and schemes are their only option for buying much of anything — which is why their neighborhoods are filled with Rent-A-Center’s and old-school pawnshops rather than the sorts of retailers who will give you a straight answer when you ask “How much?”

And but so, the point is that this $30-a-week offer is a really bad deal.

I happen to think that this sort of bad deal that ought to be legally discouraged or legally prohibited. I believe this for moral and ethical reasons, and also for some vitally important practical reasons. This sort of deal turns out to harm more than just the particular rent-to-own consumers involved. It tends to cause a good bit of collateral damage as well.

For several decades, the housing and real estate markets were based on exactly this kind of deal. It was lucrative for many years, earning billions of dollars for lenders and loan brokers, but eventually the “hard-money” or “subprime” consumers were sucked dry and their shriveled husks could no longer support the weight of the multibillion-dollar industry built on top of them. If you’re old enough to remember all the way back to 2007, you may recall how this almost destroyed the entire global economy. Banks fell and are still falling. Nations fell and are still falling. And tens of millions of people all over the world who never had anything to do with subprime housing markets lost their jobs, many of them remaining unemployed to this day.

So yes, I think that permitting bad deals like this is not in the public interest and that it is in the public interest to protect consumers and the larger economy from the damage they cause.

But this post isn’t about that, so set that aside. That’s not what I’m calling for here and not what I want to focus on.

That disclaimer likely won’t be of any use to prevent the Randian trolls from crying “Socialism!” here. Once their reptilian reflexes kick in they tend to do what they tend to do, which is to denounce anything short of Hobbesian brutality as a big-government, statist restriction of their freedom to conduct the war of all against all however they see fit. Whether or not it’s the point of this post, I mentioned “consumer protection,” and they will feel duty-bound to condemn any such mention in the name of “personal responsibility.”

They’re not wrong to mention the role of personal responsibility here. The Randroids are wrong —  stupidly, preposterously, sinfully wrong — to regard it as the only factor that matters, but it certainly is one factor in the personal and societal harm wrought by such dangerous deals. Rent-A-Center is counting on the irresponsibility of a certain percentage of the working poor. That’s part of Rent-A-Center’s business model and it’s why they sell extravagances like a 5-foot TV.

Con artists like to say that “you can never con an honest man.” That’s not true. It’s a self-serving lie they repeat to try to make themselves feel justified and to defend their indefensible actions. But it is a lot easier to con a dishonest man, or an irresponsible, foolish or greedy one. Thus another necessary measure for limiting the harm done by predatory businesses like Rent-A-Center is to promote a greater financial responsibility and financial literacy among their pool of would-be victims.

Again, though, all the personal responsibility and financial education in the world doesn’t change the fact that the working poor aren’t permitted any good smart and responsible options. Yes, you can and should easily do without a 5-foot HD television set, but you can’t do without a mattress, and if you’re among the working poor, then your only option for buying that mattress will involve paying the predatory poverty premium of more than $1,000 above what a rich person is asked to pay for that same-exact damn mattress.

As James Baldwin said, “It’s expensive, being poor.”

But that’s not what this post is about either. I think both consumer education and consumer protection are prudent, just and necessary measures in response to schemes and scams like the one I’m discussing here, but I don’t want to talk about those today. Today I’m focused on something else entirely — something that has absolutely nothing to do with the government, or with regulation, or with maternalistic efforts to train consumers to protect themselves.

What I want to talk about today is just as necessary as both of those, but a lot more fun.

My point here is simply this: People who make a living by preying on the vulnerable and the gullible ought to be reminded that they make a living by preying on the vulnerable and the gullible. They ought to be reminded that others know this about them and that it appropriately influences our opinion of them

They ought to be reminded of this loudly, extravagantly, artfully and almost constantly.

I’ve yet to hear any complaints from the owners, executives, investors or spokespersons for places like Rent-A-Center about the steady stream of insults, condemnations and dirty looks they’re subjected to every time they venture out to interact with the public. That indicates a failure that needs to be corrected.

Please don’t misunderstand me — I’m not talking about harassment. When they’re hiding at home behind the walls of their gated communities, then let them be. Don’t seek them out. But when they venture out to interact with the rest of us in their stores or at the stadium, then they need to be reminded that being uncommonly indecent means that they can’t presume to expect the same common decency due to everyone else.

I realize that any notion of this kind of public shaming sets off alarm bells for those who have seen it used, too often, to keep down the downtrodden rather than being used, as it should be, to pull down the powerful. Shame and opprobrium are like humor, sarcasm, snark, ridicule and satire. These can be righteous, useful and necessary tools when you’re punching up, but they become vicious, cruel and oppressive tools if you’re punching down. (Ideally, I think, shame and opprobrium work best when combined with humor, sarcasm, snark, ridicule and satire.)

There’s a lucrative fortune to be made for anyone who has power and resources and the willingness to put them to use to prey upon the poor and the powerless. As long as that financial reward exists, people will continue to pursue it.

One way to help limit that would be to ensure that such financial rewards come with a social cost.

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  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Just realizing how much it’s going to suck for the next couple of months as I have to park my car and save some money on insurance and gas. I’m not going to enjoy having a round trip commute time of three hours on some days. >_<

  • P J Evans

    If you can, use the time to read or sleep or something else useful to you.

    (My round trip commute time is close enough to three hours – 45 minutes on the train each way, plus another ten or fifteen minutes to and from the station at each end, and, of course, allowing extra for unexpected traffic as well as things like random security checks. I’ve been knitting socks on my commute.)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I can’t sleep for shit on a bus, and I usually do use the time to read. That’s the theory. In practice, when you’re standing up, crushed by oodles of people around you? Not so well-working it is.

  • P J Evans

    Oh, yeah. That I understand fine. (I can sleep, but I’d rather not miss my stop, especially coming home. And some days I end up on the bus going to work because of train fail.)
    When I was going to college, it was a long bus ride (with a transfer) each way. I usually got a seat, but I’d be looking out the windows at the scenery (such as it was).

  • P J Evans

    Oh, yeah. That I understand fine. (I can sleep, but I’d rather not miss my stop, especially coming home. And some days I end up on the bus going to work because of train fail.)
    When I was going to college, it was a long bus ride (with a transfer) each way. I usually got a seat, but I’d be looking out the windows at the scenery (such as it was).

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Just realizing how much it’s going to suck for the next couple of months as I have to park my car and save some money on insurance and gas. I’m not going to enjoy having a round trip commute time of three hours on some days. >_<

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    .I’ve used food stamps at the local in-store bakery without a problem.  Buying store-baked bread, naan, or even something ridiculous like a slice of pie or a fresh-baked cookie is as easy as buying anything else, at least at the local Giant or Safeway (I live in Maryland in a DC suburb).  However, you cannot use food stamps to buy hot foods, salad bar items, or anything meant to be eaten in-store.  So I can get cheesecake from the bakery or cheese from the deli, but not a hot meal from the deli, no matter how much more nutritious it might be than the cheesecake.  If anyone’s curious about official eligible food items, the info is on this page:
    http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/retailers/eligible.htm

    Oh, and as a Maryland EBT card user, I’m laughing at the idea of orange EBT cards.  I’m laughing mostly because I use this one:
    http://dhr.maryland.gov/ebt/images/ind_card.gif

    Yeah.  In spite of the orange, I’ve got no horror stories about using food stamps at any of the big chains–at the two major chains in the area, the EBT card is just as easy to use at checkout as any debit card.  Those stores’ electronic transactions make everything work as smoothly as you could wish, automatically figuring out which items are eligible, subtracting the taxes they had been planning to charge you for taxable food items (candy bars & such are taxed in Maryland, but foods bought with food stamps are never subject to tax; so yes, I’m paying less for that Three Musketeers than the guy behind me is), and then telling you and the store clerk how much cash you need to pay for that package of toilet paper you’re buying.  It’s all very efficient.

    Things can work differently in small chains, convenience stores, and independent stores, though.  Even if I’m dying of bronchitis and don’t have the energy to go to any other store, I’m not sure I ever want to buy orange juice at a 7-Eleven again.  It’s not that anyone was trying to embarrass me, but that the setup was confusing and I wasn’t entirely sure I hadn’t just typed my PIN into a lottery machine.  And I will continue using food stamps at the organic food store I’ve just started going to, but I can tell that the clerks will be confused for a while about how to deal with someone who says “EBT/food stamps” as an answer to the question “Credit or debit?”

    Fortunately, nobody has tried to shame me for the fact that I’m using taxpayer money to buy not-entirely essential things like kim chee and kombucha.  For the moment I can afford to spend benefits on more expensive items since I’ve been using cash to buy my fruits & veggies at the local farmers’ market.  Now, if my favorite farmers’ market were set up to accept food stamps, my spending patterns would be rather different!  I’d also be spending differently if it weren’t for the fact that some of my friends have given me a good supply of canned food, so I can rest in the assurance that I won’t starve even if it turns out that I don’t really like kim chee.  Being poor is a lot easier for people who know people who aren’t poor.

  • Anonymous

    My debit cards are both orange.

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    EllieMurasaki:  Bright orange EBT cards really don’t stand out so much in a world where people use credit cards with cartoon characters on them.
     
    Lori:  WIC is still paper, and still requires someone’s signature on the paper.  Every time I see someone in front of me using WIC coupons, I feel deeply sorry for them for having to use that confusing system… and I wish that I had gotten in a different line, because I know that somewhere in that cart full of groceries will be an item that the purchaser thought was eligible, but is the wrong size or color or flavor or brand or something else that requires somebody to go back to the aisle where the item was found to see if the correct item is available.
     
    Most farmers at my local farmers’ markets accept WIC coupons for fresh fruits & vegetables, though, so there is one (and only one) place where WIC is more useful than food stamps.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

     I feel deeply sorry for them for having to use that confusing system… and I wish that I had gotten in a different line, because I know that somewhere in that cart full of groceries will be an item that the purchaser thought was eligible, but is the wrong size or color or flavor or brand or something else that requires somebody to go back to the aisle where the item was found to see if the correct item is available.

    Exactly. And it’s worse if they’ve got stuff that they KNOW isn’t covered by WIC (which is intended to supplement your food budget, not supplant it), because then they have to do the whole WIC song and dance, and then do the regular grocery store song and dance. Bleh.

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    .I’ve used food stamps at the local in-store bakery without a problem.  Buying store-baked bread, naan, or even something ridiculous like a slice of pie or a fresh-baked cookie is as easy as buying anything else, at least at the local Giant or Safeway (I live in Maryland in a DC suburb).  However, you cannot use food stamps to buy hot foods, salad bar items, or anything meant to be eaten in-store.  So I can get cheesecake from the bakery or cheese from the deli, but not a hot meal from the deli, no matter how much more nutritious it might be than the cheesecake.  If anyone’s curious about official eligible food items, the info is on this page:
    http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/retailers/eligible.htm

    Oh, and as a Maryland EBT card user, I’m laughing at the idea of orange EBT cards.  I’m laughing mostly because I use this one:
    http://dhr.maryland.gov/ebt/images/ind_card.gif

    Yeah.  In spite of the orange, I’ve got no horror stories about using food stamps at any of the big chains–at the two major chains in the area, the EBT card is just as easy to use at checkout as any debit card.  Those stores’ electronic transactions make everything work as smoothly as you could wish, automatically figuring out which items are eligible, subtracting the taxes they had been planning to charge you for taxable food items (candy bars & such are taxed in Maryland, but foods bought with food stamps are never subject to tax; so yes, I’m paying less for that Three Musketeers than the guy behind me is), and then telling you and the store clerk how much cash you need to pay for that package of toilet paper you’re buying.  It’s all very efficient.

    Things can work differently in small chains, convenience stores, and independent stores, though.  Even if I’m dying of bronchitis and don’t have the energy to go to any other store, I’m not sure I ever want to buy orange juice at a 7-Eleven again.  It’s not that anyone was trying to embarrass me, but that the setup was confusing and I wasn’t entirely sure I hadn’t just typed my PIN into a lottery machine.  And I will continue using food stamps at the organic food store I’ve just started going to, but I can tell that the clerks will be confused for a while about how to deal with someone who says “EBT/food stamps” as an answer to the question “Credit or debit?”

    Fortunately, nobody has tried to shame me for the fact that I’m using taxpayer money to buy not-entirely essential things like kim chee and kombucha.  For the moment I can afford to spend benefits on more expensive items since I’ve been using cash to buy my fruits & veggies at the local farmers’ market.  Now, if my favorite farmers’ market were set up to accept food stamps, my spending patterns would be rather different!  I’d also be spending differently if it weren’t for the fact that some of my friends have given me a good supply of canned food, so I can rest in the assurance that I won’t starve even if it turns out that I don’t really like kim chee.  Being poor is a lot easier for people who know people who aren’t poor.

  • Brad

    I got my food stamps, finally, about two weeks before I got a job which necessitated me going on the road. 

    You quickly learn that some places take ’em and some don’t, for example, certain gas stations. And I’m sure you know that you can’t get foods that HAVE to be consumed on the premises, i.e., anything hot. But you can get ready-made deli sandwiches, fruit, cottage cheese and yogurt, juice, etc. I didn’t starve.

    By the way, Taco Bell is agitating the government for the right to take food stamps.
    Story: http://theweek.com/article/index/218984/should-food-stamps-be-redeemable-at-taco-bell

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Huh! I’m guessing Taco Bell figures they can make some money that way. That’s Ok, that’s capitalism. The thing that concerns me is that Taco Bell ihas a reputation among many people I know for seriously wreaking havoc on the bowels, and if someone buys TB and can’t tolerate it they could have trouble for a while.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know: there have been many a times when I’ve driven by Taco Bell because I could find 52 cents for a bean burrito and that was enough to get me through until more food could be found.  If you don’t want to/ can’t eat a Taco Bell than it isn’t going to help you, but it shouldn’t hurt you.  If you can…well, I’ve never used food stamps* but we’ve used it to stretch our grocery budget before.

    *We do qualify for some amount, as a regional first officer pilot** and an inconsistently employed me, something like 50 dollars a month, but I feel bad about taking money from the kitty when we are still breaking even more or less.  Food stamps is so underfunded that I hate to take it from someone who REALLY  needs as opposed to us who could just use it.

    **  Don’t become a pilot unless you really, really love it.  200,000 dollars of college debt between the two of us and last year, between the two of us, we made 30,000 dollars.  Pilots get shit wages. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Don’t become a pilot unless you really, really love it.  200,000 dollars of college debt between the two of us and last year, between the two of us, we made 30,000 dollars.  Pilots get shit wages.

    Gah. That makes me uncomfortable. 

    I think that as a general rule of thumb, there should be a relationship between how much a profession pays and how much we don’t want the person doing that job to be worried about how they are going to feed their family when they should be thinking about their job. 

  • Brad

    To be fair, it’s not just Taco Bell but all the fast food outlets in the Yum! group, including KFC, Long John Silver’s, and Pizza Hut. (No breakfast?) I can imagine it’d be a great thing for a night out, but it would use up your credits pretty fast…

  • Anonymous

    My girlfriend applied for stamps and didn’t qualify, working 36-39 hours
    a week at Starbucks, with a tiny one bedroom apartment that costs
    almost 1000/mo to rent once you include utilities.

    That’s just wrong.  I don’t know how anyone can read that and think “that’s how it should be.”  I know we’re in bad economic times at present, but that’s just throwing something more basically wrong into stark relief.

    And that goes right along with a depressing thing I discovered at work this afternoon, while on my quest to figure out what people in my job made in the past (I am now even more convinced that they enjoyed a better economic situation than I do.)  I found two wage surveys for my city – one from 1968 and one from 1992.  They did not include library clerks in the jobs surveyed, but I had just enough time on my break to scribble down the secretary weekly compensations from the two books.  Why?  Because, to my horror, it appears that secretary pay has not just gone down in inflation adjusted dollars, but even by dollars of the various times.

    While they didn’t use exactly the same figures, the average salaries for a secretary in 1968 in this Colorado city were $434 a week in industry (with a range of $325-569), $348 in government (with a range of $330-368), and $513 in the military (with a range of $416-607).  In 1992, a secretary 1 had a mean salary of $320 a week, a median salary of $313 a week, and a range of $280-386.  A secretary 2 had a mean salary of $374, a median salary of $378, and a range of $343-410.  (Even a secretary 4, which I don’t think would be comparable to the basic secretary from ’68 only had a range of $456-520.)  This is before one starts adjusting for inflation, etc.  WTF?

    I’m going to have to go back to those two books and look at other occupations.  I didn’t have time to find an occupation that hadn’t gone through some relabling issues.  But it looks to me that in some jobs, the ground lost relative to inflation is far, far worse than in others.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    While they didn’t use exactly the same figures, the average salaries for
    a secretary in 1968 in this Colorado city were $434 a week in industry
    (with a range of $325-569), $348 in government (with a range of
    $330-368), and $513 in the military (with a range of $416-607).  In
    1992, a secretary 1 had a mean salary of $320 a week, a median salary of
    $313 a week, and a range of $280-386.  A secretary 2 had a mean salary
    of $374, a median salary of $378, and a range of $343-410.  (Even a
    secretary 4, which I don’t think would be comparable to the basic
    secretary from ’68 only had a range of $456-520.)  This is before one
    starts adjusting for inflation, etc.  WTF?

    Considering a dollar went 5 times farther in the 1960s, that was a frickin’ good wage for a secretary back then.

    All the jackasses in Conservaland will wax biliously about how lol the market has valued secretaries as less worthy relative to other professions because everybody does their own typing now hur hur, but that’s wrong.

    What really is happening is that our society has gotten to the point where the only way to avoid a sea change in social relations is to purposely lower the standard of living of the vast majority of workers in the advanced nations, and to this extent the trend of worsening income inequality helps this along.

  • Anonymous

    This is somewhat a military town, and I suspect things were booming in the late sixties.  I know there was a fair amount of growth about then – the first malls, housing developments, etc – so that is probably throwing things off a little.  I wish I could find yearly reports.  I know they must exist somewhere, since the 1968 thing is called “Annual *My City* Survey.”  I think I’m going to have to ask someone in reference.

    I’m sure secretaries have been devalued by changes in technology and the like.  (And I admit it would have been much harder to be a secretary in 1968 than 1992 – at least as far as the typing and document formatting goes.)  However, I think you’re also right about lowering the standard of living of workers.  One other thing that’s changed in this fair city is that it has become Conservaland.  (Any Coloradans here probably can guess where I live, if they don’t remember me mentioning it in the past.)  My research also suggests – based on on line sources anyway – that I make well below the national average for my line of work.  (Though with as much as libraries are struggling these days, I’m not sure about that.)

  • Lori

     Any Coloradans here probably can guess where I live, if they don’t remember me mentioning it in the past. 

    You live in the land of no street lights and not enough police or fire fighters? Lucky you. 

  • Anonymous

    Why yes.  Actually, being the land of no street lights (though most have been turned back on after that whole debacle) probably makes my city of residence identifiable to most of the US.  *sigh*

    I both love it here and hate it.  It really is a beautiful place to live, though the years of not enough money in the city coffers are beginning to take their toll.  And my dad grew up here, and I have fond memories of visiting here when I was a kid.  But the local conservatives seem determined to destroy civilization.  At least they have yet to get my workplace.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     One other thing that’s changed in this fair city is that it has become Conservaland.  (Any Coloradans here probably can guess where I live, if they don’t remember me mentioning it in the past.)

    Ah, I think I know.

    Is the city still asking volunteers to mow the parks since they can’t afford it?

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure.  I know there are volunteer groups still working in some of the parks to keep them functional (Which leans toward “yes.”  As does the fact that the city can’t afford much of anything – though there’s been an odd outbreak of roadwork).  Reading the daily paper here is painful, so I don’t do it as often as I probably should.

    We’re also about to have more unemployed people, thanks to Focus on the Family and Memorial Hospital.  I want to know when the powers that be are going to admit this is a fairly serious depression.  And I don’t mean just here in the Springs.

  • http://www.nightphoenix.com Amaranth

    Ugh, WIC.

    The hubby and I managed to get on WIC for a while when I was pregnant, and yeah…it was a pain. We were thankful to be able to get food…but it was annoying having to get all those gallons of milk, cubes of cheese, and cartons of eggs that we just could not chew through every two weeks, and not being able to get pasta and chicken and *stuff we actually eat*.

    I remember one instance in a checkout line where we’d only gotten one gallon of milk (WIC check has 2 gallons). The checkout lady gave us a really, really hard time about it, and when we tried to explain that, no, we honestly didn’t think we’d be able to drink 2 gallons of milk within 2 weeks and we didn’t want to have to throw it out…she then implied that if we didn’t get exactly what was on the check, they might stop putting those items on the checks in the future. Thereby implying that we would be personally ensuring that other people couldn’t get milk through WIC anymore. With a heavy dose of “How DARE you turn down what is so graciously offered to you, you stupid ungrateful no-goods?? You’d better put your head down, stop thinking, take what you’re given and be HAPPY about it!” in the undertones of every word she said.

    And ironically, we stopped qualifying for WIC when we’d gone so many months and my husband still couldn’t find a job. Because apparently, you MUST have some sort of income in order to qualify. Because obviously people only need aid when they aren’t making enough money, but if they aren’t making any money at all…eh, screw the lazy bastards.

  • Lori

     And ironically, we stopped qualifying for WIC when we’d gone so many months and my husband still couldn’t find a job. Because apparently, you MUST have some sort of income in order to qualify. Because obviously people only need aid when they aren’t making enough money, but if they aren’t making any money at all…eh, screw the lazy bastards.  

     

    If you make too little to qualify for WIC wouldn’t you then qualify for food stamps? 

  • http://www.nightphoenix.com Amaranth

    “If you make too little to qualify for WIC wouldn’t you then qualify for food stamps?”

    We probably did, but at the time we were being almost completely supported by my father (we were living in his house), and…we weren’t actually going hungry. WIC was helpful but I think we subconsciously felt like since we had that support from family, we didn’t *need* food stamps. And I admit, there was some embarrassment on my part at the thought of being on food stamps, which feels really stupid in retrospect but meh.

    Thankfully, within a few months my husband finally found a job, and we were able to afford our own place not long after. Now I think we make a little too much to qualify for food stamps, and our son will be 6 in February…but we make do most months.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    I remember one instance in a checkout line where we’d only gotten one gallon of milk (WIC check has 2 gallons). The checkout lady gave us a really, really hard time about it, and when we tried to explain that, no, we honestly didn’t think we’d be able to drink 2 gallons of milk within 2 weeks and we didn’t want to have to throw it out..

    I  don’t know how it is elsewhere, but here, my wife asked the WIC councellors to take the cereal off our checks (because we never eat it). We’re getting tofu instead of some of the milk, and we’re getting lactose free milk (which, in retrospect, was probably a mistake, and we’ll change it back to 1% on the next visit). I think we’re getting tortillas instead of bread, too? There is a little flexibility, if you know to ask for it.

  • Anonymous

    Gary Paul Nabhan, in his book Why Some Like it Hot, describes helping a friend of his on the Pima Indian Reservation to distribute government commodities.  Specifically, a group of Pimas were getting together for a baseball game:  they needed powdered milk to pour out as baselines, so the players would be able to find the infield. 

    Among Native Americans beyond childhood, you see, the incidence of lactose intolerance is nearly 100%.  And yet the government kept shipping cartons of powdered milk onto the reservation, even though the people who were supposed to benefit from it literally had no use for it beyond pouring it onto the ground at baseball games.

  • Lori

    In Indiana the gross income limit for 1 person is $1174/month and the asset limit is $2k. (The $2k is a household limit, the income limit goes up about $400 per person in the family.)  A person working full time at minimum wage here makes less than that. 

    I can’t find the list of things you can’t buy with food stamps, but I seem to remember that it’s no prepared food from the deli (sliced meat & cheese is OK, but other stuff is not) and nothing from the bakery. I wonder if that varies by state? 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Two thou…. WHAT?

    A car is worth more than that most of the time.

  • Lori

     Two thou…. WHAT?

    A car is worth more than that most of the time.  

    The $2k limit is in liquid assets. Your car doesn’t count, although I believe you can be turned down if it’s worth more than a certain amount & was purchased too recently. Equity in your house doesn’t count either. 

    The bad part is that I do think the $2k limit includes things like your retirement accounts.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Phew, okay. Well, the law isn’t as mean-spirited as I thought it was but it’s still a bum rap for anyone trying to save up for their old age.

  • Anonymous

    On the Taco Bell thing, if you’re only cooking for one it really isn’t any more expensive to eat fast food. I can get a burger at In-N-Out for 3 dollars and it’d cost me as much or more to make at home if I want to actually use vegetables on it. The meat and bread are easy to freeze but the vegetables have to be used pretty quickly, which is hard to do when you’re the only one eating.

    Same with a sandwich at Subway. Six dollars for two meals (splitting a foot long into two) with something that at least has all the food groups is pretty good. Of course, the chains in the Yum food group are pretty much the least healthy options around, so the point kind of gets lost a bit. Still, if you’re willing to sacrifice some intestinal integrity for a quick, cheap bite…

    During poor periods, I’ve had a difficult time bringing my weekly grocery bill under $20, even eating simple things like spaghetti, sausage dogs, and burgers. Any cheaper and I’d have to sacrifice nutrition pretty badly. It generally works out to the same eating prepared food, even at nicer fast food chains like Panera and Corner Bakery, because portions are so large a meal can often be split into two. Cooking for only yourself is also depressing as shit, and between that and the time crunch…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I was received EBT while on dialysis. The Ohio card was blue and white, much less garish than my orange debit card. I only ever used it at grocery stores, of the type where the customer slides their card and inputs data, so using it was no different than using my debit card.

    JJohnson, seconding what you’ve said about depression so much. Eating healthfully is difficult for me, because so often microwaving something pre-made is an accomplishment.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I purposely had my unemployment checks mailed to me; I wasn’t fond of the idea of letting the Canadian government other than Revenue Canada having my banking info. (>_<)

  • Emcee, cubed

    We’re also about to have more unemployed people, thanks to Focus on the Family

    I don’t wish unemployment and hardship on any one, and I hope those people soon find jobs with organizations that aren’t trying to wipe me out of existence. But if FotF has to lay off its last 650 employees and shut its doors for good, I can’t say I’ll be too upset…

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I have zero attachment to FotF myself.  (More like the opposite.)  But every FotFer laid off is another person competing with my out-of-work friends for what few jobs there are.

    Also, I find the idea of something like FotF laying people off to save money really repulsive.  They’re theoretically a Christian group, and I’m pretty damn sure that the answer to “Who would Jesus lay off?” is “no one.”

  • Brad

    This is interesting – farmers’ markets in Michigan give you double your purchase on food stamps!

    http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/a-double-win-for-fresh-food

  • Lori

    That is so cool. Yeah for Michigan. It’s nice to see my home state doing something good instead of horrible and/or embarrassing. 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    What bothers me about things like Atlas Shrugged is that, rather than trying to fix an unsustainable system, the “heroes” just go “Screw you guys, we’re outta’ here!”  It just hardly seems very, well, heroic for them to do so.  

    Who is John Galt?  

    He is the pied piper.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    What bothers me about things like Atlas Shrugged is that, rather than trying to fix an unsustainable system, the “heroes” just go “Screw you guys, we’re outta’ here!”  It just hardly seems very, well, heroic for them to do so.  

    Who is John Galt?  

    He is the pied piper.  


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