Raising a Family on Food Stamps (SNAP)

The most surreal thing happened to me last week.  I was asked to participate in a live, online discussion on HuffPostLIVE called Faces of Food Stamps.  You can view the 1/2 hour program here.  It is so awesome that my post I’m a Welfare Mom has generated so much discussion here and on Everyday Feminism.

The HuffPostLIVE segment was prompted by a woman in Georgia who was harassed at a grocery store for being on Food Stamps (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP).  The guests were myself, Sandi Bachom, who is living on Food Stamps in NYC, Jojo Rhines, who is living on food stamps in South Carolina, and Mayor Greg Stanton, Phoenix, AZ Mayor who spent one week living on a Food Stamp budget (and limitations).  It was a wonderful discussion that brought up a lot of good points about how we treat people on “welfare”.

Is it Hard to Live on Food Stamps?

It was universal the dehumanized way people on Food Stamps are made to feel so in that aspect it is difficult to live on Food Stamps.  One thing I found interesting was that the other guests were talking about how difficult it is to eat on a Food Stamp budget.  A single person seems to get anywhere from $16 to $37 per week.  The national average is $133.14 per month.  I had never broken it down like this and that is a small amount to eat, let alone eat healthily. That’s $1.47 per meal.

I have to admit that I have found Food Stamps to be more than I used for groceries prior to Food Stamps.  I originally got $768 a month – that sounds like A LOT! – but is $153 per person per month.  The thing is you get economy of scale when you are cooking for a family.  If I make a pot roast I don’t have to buy 5 roasts, 5 pounds of potato, etc.  I can reduce my overall cost by combining and sharing.  Of course, my kids are small so I’d hate to estimate how much a family with 3 teens would need.  However, I still think the amount is high and perhaps the SNAP program could fund increased single-user benefits by calculating in an economy of scale decrease for families?

A couple other things to keep in mind with regards to Food Stamps: it is easy for me to cook from scratch and that is a very privileged position.  I have time, a plethora of tools that I had before going on Food Stamps, and the knowledge from a mother and grandmother that cooked from scratch.  This is not something that all Food Stamp recipients have at their disposal.

I’ve always disliked the image above because it makes a huge white, middle class privilege assumption.  If you are going between two jobs or working double shifts you don’t really have time to cook.  Do you have a functioning oven? A functioning refrigerator to grocery shop in this manner?

I think it is important to realize that everyone does not start with the same tools and opportunities.  We shouldn’t judge what we don’t know.

Are Food Stamp Recipients Lazy?

The other take away I wanted people to get was that many Food Stamp recipients do work.  The Georgia woman can’t work because she’s on dialysis.  Sandra Bechom is on assistance due to disability/age.  It is fitting that the guy who harassed the woman in Georgia gets to live with judging her as lazy when in fact she’s dancing with death.  Judge not, huh?

Here’s the thing though, I don’t like the idea of “well that’s ok because they deserve Food Stamps” implying that others do not.  At no point in our Food Stamp journey has my family been jobless.  Yes, I haven’t went back to work because I’m staying home with my kids instead of working only to afford child care.  My husband worked a retail job during our 5 months of Food Stamps.  He wasn’t lazy he was the working poor.

Food Stamps are available to families making at or under 130% of the Federal Poverty Line.  In 2012 the Federal Poverty Line for a family of 5 is $27,010.  That means you are considered underemployed and eligible for SNAP up to $34,032 (gross) for a family of 5.  Note, at that annual income a family of 5 would get less than $20 per month in Food Stamps so the sliding scale approaches zero quickly at the higher end and definitely does not cover a substantial portion of the needed food budget.

So why should an employed person get help?  For me, the obvious reason is everyone deserves a meal.  Especially kids (note that able-bodied adults without dependent children are normally only allowed Food Stamps for 3 months).  But, Food Stamps and other working poor entitlements like EIC, are often touted as alternatives to increasing the minimum wage.  These programs are designed to make living at a less-than-living wage possible without requiring businesses to shoulder the whole burden.  That is a Republican idea.  Don’t put it all on business and the minimum wage.

The fact is that the majority of Food Stamp recipients either can’t work (elderly/disabled/primary care givers for children or disabled) or are in fact working.  According to Forbes only 16% of recipients are non-working and without children.  A full 30% of SNAP households are working at below a living wage and use Food Stamps to offset the deficit in wages.  The US ranks first in amount of people on Food Stamps and I think this is why: other countries invest in living-wage policies and thus require less food supplementation.

Are you wondering now if you know someone eligible for SNAP who doesn’t even know it?  I bet we all do.  The USDA estimates that 1 in 4 eligible people don’t receive SNAP. During the Bush Administration commercials actually ran to increase enrollment – which worked – increasing participation by 63% (source).  I don’t see any rational reason for avoiding SNAP.  This overblown idea that American’s are “bootstrappers” who “built that” is total bs.  If your country says that increased wages are not possible for x business but this program can supplement your income then why avoid that?  You don’t avoid public schools for those that can’t afford private; you don’t avoid middle-class tax credits like the mortgage interest deduction.

I mean think about it: The government is saying that homeownership is difficult and they want to help people make that happen.  Instead of sending everyone a check for a down payment they decided to allow an interest deduction.  Does anyone say “well I’m not going to take that because I’m a self-starter and can do it on my own!”?  No way!  So if you are working in one of the millions of jobs that the government has decided is not paying a living wage and they are pointing you to this program to help you why is that stigmatized?

Well the stigmatization ends for me.  I refuse to hang my head for supplementing my husband’s income with SNAP.  My husband does an important job keeping the electricity running in this country and the government says we get a little help based on the pay he gets.  I’m taking it!  We aren’t lazy.  We aren’t irresponsible.  If he didn’t do that job then someone else would need to.  They should be able to have a family too.  I’m taking the mortgage deduction.  I’m taking the EIC if I’m eligible.  Maybe some day everyone will get paid a full living wage.  Until then I’m using the programs that are available for me and my children.


He’s where the wild things are


My Homeschooling Philosophy: Part 2

If you haven’t watched it yet pop over here to see my first post in this series about defining holistic education.

Today I want to look at three types of pedagological styles.  A pedagogy is a style of teaching so the focus is not on the things being taught (curriculum) or the way of learning (learning philosophy).  You can right away see the problem with this because looking at pedagogy in a vacuum is pointless.  Teaching, in even the least holistic manner, is a two person (at least) relationship.  However, as used by college teacher preparation programs pedagogy allows a focus on methods of teaching.  Some of the major schools of pedagogy are creative pedagogy and critical pedagogy.

Any teaching experience can fall into one (or more) of the following three categories:


This is a unidirectional teaching style that assumes the teacher has a packet of knowledge that she is handing off to the learner in a direct transfer.  The role of the teacher is expert. The learners only role is to accept the transfer.

[box type=”info”]For example: “green is made up of yellow and blue”[/box]


This is a teaching style where the teacher engages the learner in an exploration of learning.  Instead of handing the knowledge off an event is specifically designed to allow the learner to see the information.  This is the gold standard for most traditional education because it actively involves the learner.  You have probably heard of this in “hands-on” curricula and experiment-based learning.  The role of the teacher is facilitator.

[box type=”info”]For example: “what happens if we mix these two colors?” while students have paints in front of them to try it out.  Learners see that yellow and blue make green.[/box]

Another example would be transfering knowledge that some native americans make rain sticks and the transaction would be creating your own rain stick out of a paper tube, toothpicks, and beans.  In this example there is some type of transaction happening that requires a back and forth relationship with the teacher and learners.  The learners can ask questions, experiment with different methods of making a rain stick, and generally have a deeper appreciation of (and more sticky memory of) the lesson.

Where these methods of instruction fail is in deeper topics that include not just intellect but emotional, creative, and social aspects.  For example, a lesson about racism: you can transfer facts about instances of minority discrimination and you can create a meaningful experience (transaction) to embed the learning (for example, students practice finding similarities and differences in classmates and create a collage like the one here by the Australian organization Prejudice. No Way!).  However, neither of these things will create the type of meaning making that someone who has experienced racism will know.

The question is how do we create a learning activity that moves beyond knowing and understanding into meaning.


The goal of transformational learning is that the teacher and learner embark on a journey that facilitates a change in views and beliefs in the learner.

Say what?

In transfer and transact senarios the goal is learning a new fact or skill (or learning skill like the scientific method) while in transformational learning the goal is learning a new perspective, frame of reference, or habit of mind.  In other words the goal is assimilating information and knowledge into a broader understanding of self, community, or nature.

We are most familiar with transformative learning when it is prompted by a crisis (called a “disorienting dilemma”).  For example, a cancer scare that makes you change your profession in order to more fully enjoy life.  However, educators can create scenarios that lead to transformation without the crisis event.

Transformative learning (TL) is largely the work of Jack Mezirow, Emeritus Professor of Adult and Continuing Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and as such is largely talked about in reference to adult education.  Certainly the full cadre of TL is for older teens and adults because children have a more legalistic (black and white) view of morality that makes full transformation impossible.  However, Mezirow states, “Frames of reference are primarily the result of cultural assimilation and the idiosyncratic influences of primary caregivers” and I believe that an adaptation of TL in childhood would prime children to become transformational thinking adults.  He elaborates;

Children commonly acquire a foundation of the specific learning required to think autonomously. This includes the ability and disposition to (1) recognize cause-effect relationships, (2) use informal logic in making analogies and generalizations, (3) become aware of and control their own emotions, (4) become empathic of others, (5) use imagination to construct narratives, and (6) think abstractly. Adolescents may learn to (7) think hypothetically, and (8) become critically reflective of what they read, see, and hear.

These 8 foundational skills are a normal part of most elementary curriculums and/or parenting philosophy.  I have talked before about awareness of emotions and empathy in toddlers. While TL builds on these in adulthood;

In adulthood, the task is to strengthen and build on this foundation in order to assist the learner to understand new subject content, but, in the process of doing so, to become (1) more aware and critical in assessing assumptions—both those of others and those governing one’s own beliefs, values, judgments, and feelings; (2) more aware of and better able to recognize frames of reference and paradigms (collective frames of reference) and to imagine alternatives; and (3) more responsible and effective at working with others to collectively assess reasons, pose and solve problems, and arrive at a tentative best judgment regarding contested beliefs.

The role of the teacher is provocateur challenging learners to define their assumptions and frame of reference.

[box type=”info”]For example, learners design a role play skit where they imagine life as a settler (given information learned through transfer and transaction).  Emphasis on teamwork to make the skit and post-activity reflection on feelings about the topic, the process, and working with others.[/box]


A deeper look into transformational learning is definitely neccessary but I hope this introduction brings the three different styles into sharper focus.  Here is a summary table comparing the three styles;

[table id=1 /]

My next post in the series about developing a homeschool philosophy will focus on creating learning goals.

[box type=”info”]

My Homeschool Philosophy Series

Part 1: Introduction Holistic Education

Part 2: Transfer, Transact, Transform

Part 3: Unschooling

Formula Safety: 7 Tips To Minimize Risks

This week a new study was published in  Environmental Health Perspectives that found alarming levels of arsenic in baby formulas.  The amount of arsenic in one organic formula was 6 times the recommended threshold for adults. This is so distressing to a mom giving her baby formula (like I currently am).  You try to do the best for your baby and the industry just seems to totally fail us sometimes!


But this news is hardly exclusive as a reason to avoid formula.  There are all kinds of scary things going on in formula (bug parts anyone?) and the evidence that breastfeeding is so far superior from a health perspective is enough to make a mama scream!  Formula feeding is not always avoidable and until society puts a premium on milk bank breastmilk so that it is affordable many of us will be using formula.  Here are my 7 tips for avoiding the major risks of formula.

1. Don’t use soy formula.

I really feel soy formula should only be given by prescription.  It is horrible and only needed in less than 1% of babies (with a true milk allergy) and yet in the US up to 50% of babies are getting soy formula.  Unfortunately soy’s reputation as a health food makes conscientious parents think it is better than cow’s milk formula.  I avoid soy in all forms and if I must have some it must be organic.  Soy is the most genetically modified and heavily pesticide drenched crop in the world.  Besides that soy is naturally a phytoestrogen meaning it has a compound that mimics the hormone estrogen in the human body increasing rates of breast and ovarian cancers and causing infertility.
If your baby isn’t tolerating cow’s milk well it is to be expected since cow’s milk is not ideal for human digestion, however, your child is probably not allergic to milk.  Try a hydrolyzed formula instead (see #6).

2. Don’t use fluoridated water to make formula

Ever.  Reconstituted formula “contains 100 to 200 times more fluoride (1,000 ppb) than is found naturally in breast milk (5-10 ppb). In fact, while breast-fed infants receive the LOWEST body burden (mg/kg/day) in the population, they receive the HIGHEST body burden if they receive fluoridated formula(source).” Fluoride is a toxic substance that can cause tooth deformity (called fluorosis), cancers, and decreased cognitive skills in children.  Remember, even if you a pro-fluoride for tooth decay it is only beneficial when applied topically NOT when ingested.

The CDC has a website called My Water’s Fluoride where you can search for your city’s fluoride levels.  However, there didn’t seem to be any data for my state at all.  I did find Ohio Fluoridation levels with a Google Search. If you have well water have it checked for fluoride levels.  The levels could be low or high as it varies from well to well even in the same area. Get a reverse-osmosis or activated alumina water filter.  Your average Brita does not remove fluoride. Bottled water has fluoride in most cases.  Bottled spring water is best but just because it says “spring” on the label doesn’t mean it is from a spring.  Besides, bottled water creates a landfill nightmare.

3. Use organic formula if possible.

This avoids pesticides as well as genetically engineered products like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).  The recent arsenic scare was in organic formula using brown rice syrup so until better regulation I would avoid that ingredient.

4. Give a probiotic supplement.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help in digestion.  Babies get probiotics from their mother through vaginal birth and through breastfeeding. In formula fed babies the introduction of cow’s milk throws off the delicate balance of gut flora.  A probiotic introduces the good stuff.  I personally like Udo’s Infant Probiotic.

5. Give an omega-3 supplement.

Omega-3’s help the development of eyes, brain, and immune system and can also stabilize mood. I recommend a cod-liver oil and to avoid some of the junk on the market like Flinstones that have HFCS, artificial dyes and flavors, and less bio-available omega-3.  I use an adult norwegian cod-liver oil where I break the gel-caps and pour the liquid directly into the formula.

6. Consider hydrolyzed formula.

I don’t use this because there isn’t currently an organic option on the market but if your child is having trouble with regular formula this provides milk proteins that are pre-broken down and easier to digest.  There is even some evidence that are showing a long-term benefit of decreased allergies, asthma, and eczema when compared to whole-protein cow’s milk formula.

7. Practice gentle, responsive parenting.

This is good for the immune system and brain development two things that breastfed babies have a leg up on.  Practicing gentle and responsive parenting will bathe your baby in oxytocin the love hormone that breastfeeding releases.  This will enhance brain development and develop a wonderful attached relationship with your formula-fed baby.