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Life in the Safety Net

If you have been reading my posts, you know I am among the long term un/underemployed. I was laid off from my then employer in April 2004. I know most economists place the official start of the Great Recession in December 2007 but given their continual “surprise” at how the economy does not conform to their expectations, the reality is a bit different. When I was laid off, I had spent the past seven to eight years working within IT on various State and Local Government social service projects. Unfortunately for me, many states had started cutting back in this area starting around 2001. Declining tax revenues led to cut-backs to contracts led to further declining revenues, etc.
Over the past nine years, I spent my unemployment benefits (I only received 6 months of unemployment benefits since my layoff preceded the official recession and advent of extended benefits.) I spent my savings. I cashed in my 401K and SEP/IRA (the best benefit there was even with paying the early cash-in penalties, I still got to spend more of the funds on myself instead of seeing the balances swirl down the toilet when the market crashed.) In 2007, I landed a part-time, online job that has been a god send.

I finally swallowed my pride in January of 2012 and applied for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps). I was approved for benefits of $200 per month from Florida from February 2012 through June 2012 when I would have to be re-certified. I did not re-certify at that time as I was dealing with my late sister’s estate by June and was able to pay myself a nominal salary. Since then, I have moved from Florida back to my home state of Kentucky. After I wrote this post in early July, documenting my soon to be homelessness, a friend from my hometown of Cynthiana, KY offered me a room in her home for Dan’l (my cat) and me. I am paying a nominal rent, my share of the utilities plus helping around the house. I have since applied for SNAP benefits here in Kentucky. I was initially denied due to lack of information, then approved for $159 per month then after a review after the state had received the remainder of my supporting information, the benefit amount was upgraded to $189 per month starting November 1. I do not know if the cuts to the over all SNAP program will affect my benefits but if there is a cut, so be it. I am fortunate enough to know how to cook and purchase food for myself so I can generally live within the benefit. I most likely would have to cut out the occasional treat of cookies or soda.

At this point, I am just trying to hang on until I reach age 62 next June and can apply for early Social Security. According to the SSA, my benefit for Social Security at age 62 is $1,371, a little above the current average overall benefit of $1,271 (as of September 2013.)

I do not have a car any longer. Maybe next year when I start the social security, between that and my small salary from my online job, I might be able to buy something (and pay the taxes and title and upkeep and maintenance and gas and insurance.) Once I am collecting social security, I will most likely no longer qualify for SNAP benefits and that’s OK as I will have been able to use them to stay alive until I reached the “retirement” point.

Through all of this, I know I am still luckier than most. I have received help from family and friends that has kept a roof over my head. I am relatively healthy having had only a bad case of the flu back in early 2005 that I saw a doctor for, a cut on my hand in December 2005 that required an emergency room visit for four stitches (costing roughly $2,000 out-of-pocket as I am uninsured), and an infected tooth pulled at the dentist’s in January 2013 for $175. The dentist gave me a ‘scrip for free antibiotics to clear the infection before he pulled the tooth.

While I have been fortunate in many ways, I also know I am not alone. There are 900K veterans and 5K active military receiving SNAP benefits alone who will be impacted by the upcoming cut to the benefit level.

We hear all the stories about “fraud” in the SNAP program (and yes there is such a thing) but let me show a quick example. Let’s pretend that one person has been receiving SNAP/Food Stamp benefits since age 18 at $150 per month and is now 70. Let’s pretend this person has been committing fraud all along. If this person has received $150 a month for 12 months a year for 52 years, the total amount of fraud is $1,800 a year and $93.6K total. Compare that amount to the amount of farm subsidies that some members of Congress have been receiving. Which group is costing the tax payer more, my hypothetical SNAP fraudster or the recipients of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in subsidies?

We have workers at McDonalds being directed on how to apply for SNAP benefits and Medicaid through the company’s own Hot line. WalMart is the largest employer in the country yet is subsidized by the taxpayer nationwide paying for various welfare programs for the WalMart Working Poor.

It is not going to get any better anytime soon. The US economy needs roughly 90K each month just to keep pace with population growth. The ADP Jobs Report for October 2013 estimated a whopping 130K jobs for October while revising their September figures downward from 166K jobs to 145K. Add in the effects of the Government Shutdown and Sequester, I am willing to go out on a short limb and predict the official numbers from the BLS tomorrow (Friday, November 1) may well be down around 50K jobs for the month.

Some of the Beltway Village Idiots Politicians, Pundits, and Courtiers like to talk about how the numbers of people on Food Stamps and Medicaid are so high under President Obama while they avoid talking about people like Lloyd Blankfein quoted a couple of months ago at the Clinton Global Initiative:

In another remark likely to generate controversy, Blankfein praised the U.S. for having “accepted a higher unemployment rate” over the past few years, even as it bailed out the banks. Labor market flexibility—reflected in the ability of U.S. companies to fire workers—is one of the reasons the U.S. is doing so well despite many headwinds in the economy, he said.

Yep, there surely is no cause and effect between the rise in the folks using the Social Safety Net and the desire of people like Blankfein to keep unemployment higher so that wages and benefits can be kept lower.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor

Photo from citizenactionny licensed under Creative Commons

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Small town Kentucky country boy lived all over the country. Currently in Ruskin, FL