Nick Mattos wouldn’t know, clearly…
In August of 2013, plain printed flyers began appearing on doors in Portland, Oregon. Signed by “Artemis of the wildland”, the roughly-cut half-sheets claimed that their author would soon be posting lists of the registered voters in the area who were also recipients of disability payments or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as Snap, or food stamps).
Well, everyone needs a hobby, I suppose. But why should that concern Nick?
Among those names was mine.
As a 29-year-old, university-educated, able-bodied man with no dependents, I am squarely within the demographic that many believe should not have to use Snap food benefits. Furthermore, I have had the good fortune and poor timing of starting my career as a journalist – a field that notoriously leaves most of its workers existing on diets of rice and beans – at the very moment when newspapers across America are going out of business, shrinking their staff, and converting to a freelance-only business model.
These facts didn’t dissuade me from entering the field, but after the looming threat of student loan default and losing my apartment began to weigh too heavily on my mind, I ultimately had to face a hard fact. Per the Department of Human Services, I was actually eligible to receive assistance from the government in order not to be forced to live on a mono-diet of ramen noodles in order to both work in my field and pay my rent.
And feel no shame about it. Why should you? It’s clearly the responsibility, nay, it should be the sacred duty, of every working stiff to chip in to ensure your stupidity doesn’t mean you starve.
Or face reality in any other way.
Last Thursday, 217 representatives voted in favor of House of Representatives Bill 3102, which will cut over $40bn from Snap programs over the next three years. As described by the House rules committee chairman, Pete Sessions (Republican, Texas), the bill includes “reasonable changes” to address the “growing and growing and growing” number of Snap recipients.
The bill was rife with the sentiment that Snap recipients are largely lazy, unemployed, or underemployed, and that the solution to Snap’s expansion was to force its recipients to take jobs.
And how is that different from the picture you present of someone too stupid to realise that his chosen profession is changing and may not be such a good prospect any more?
It’s easy to talk about Snap benefit recipients through the abstract lens of political ideology. It’s seductive to diagnose the 46.6 million Americans who currently receive such benefits with “entitlement mindsets” and to prescribe treatment of hard work in a sub-optimal job. But when we talk about Snap, we are talking about survival – for a diverse array of individuals and families who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads during the great recession whose effects we’re still feeling.
But an ‘entitlement culture’ is just what you’ve described. It’s exactly what you have!
If we are to unravel the stigma that affects those who receive food assistance and ensure that this critical program remains for the Americans who need it, we must break the silence around Snap. So, Artemis of the Wildland, I shall beat you to the punch: I am a voter, and I am a recipient of Snap food benefits. Congresspeople: I am a garbageman’s son, a working-class journalist, a dreamer of the American dream, and in these hard times, quite hungry.
It used to be that ‘dreamers of the American Dream’ worked several jobs to achieve this; now, it seems, they’d rather others worked so they could sit back and pursue their dreams.