Dorothy van den Honert: Not a SNAP for needy


PITTSFIELD Oh dear, The Berkshire Eagle has been accused of promoting "one of the most blatantly dishonest stunts that I have seen in a long time" by a very irritated reader (letter, July 26). As if that weren’t enough, the next day another letter-writer accused The Eagle of not knowing what the word, supplement, means. To prove his point, he looked it up in the dictionary and quoted the definition! The annoyed readers are no more wrong than the well-meaning politicians who are trying to eat on the $4.80 that they think represents the S in SNAP, or food stamps.

First of all, nobody in the government expects people to live on a food budget of $4.80 a day. If you are sufficiently poor and your kids are undernourished, you can go to the welfare office where they will ask you about your income, expenses, family size, housing, and chances of getting a job. If the amount of money you have is insufficient to provide a healthy diet for the family, you can have food stamps of a dollar amount that will enable you to supplement your income with enough money to feed yourself and your kids. This number obviously varies with every family. The stamps are for food only and cannot be spent for anything else.

(Don’t email me. I know there are a few stores run by creeps who will let people buy anything -- even cigarettes -- with their food stamps. The answer is to put the store owners in jail, not let them spoil a good program with their own greed.)

Thus the letter, S, in SNAP means supplemental, as in just supplemental funds and not your total food allowance, as one writer claimed. The definition in Webster says that supplemental means something that is "an addition to." Right.


I wish the irritated letter-writers who don’t think the Eagle owns a dictionary could have seen Ruthie, our housemaid, back in the depth of the Depression. Ruthie did everything for us: cook, serve the meals, clean, and baby-sit. She was happy with her salary of $11 a week because all her friends were getting $8. She, like so many "colored" women at that time, (don’t email me, "colored" was the nice term for black people in those days) she was obese, and of course she became diabetic.

My mother took her to a nice doctor in the Johns Hopkins Clinic who gave her a diet with a list of foods she could eat. I saw her eyes mist up as she said to my mother, "Miz Johnson, how can I do this? I can’t afford fruit and vegetables." SNAP could have supplemented her $11 a week with enough cash to stick to her diet.

In due course, like many diabetics, she got cataracts, eventually had to work less and less, and one day didn’t turn up at our house for two weeks. We found out much later that she had had a heart attack in her third-floor room, laid on her bed alone, and couldn’t get up for two weeks. When she finally had lost so much weight she could stand again, she got up. All for the lifelong lack of fruit and vegetables which the SNAP would have provided.

That was then. This is now. Things are a lot better, right? Sort of. In about 1964 I saw a friend of mine ask another friend whether the second one had anything she could give her kids for dinner, as the first one had no food left in the house. Number two thought for a minute, disappeared into her kitchen and came back with a can of Spaghetti O’s. It was the last thing she had in her kitchen, but her kids had already had dinner. So she gave it to her friend.

Then came President Johnson’s anti-poverty committee and things did improve somewhat. But I believe that the present inexcusable gap between the rich and the poor might be lessened if every member of Congress were required to eat on $4.80 a day for six weeks before taking his seat in Congress.

Dorothy van den Honert is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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