“You don’t deserve a steak,” Woman tells a single mom using SNAP benefits to pay for her groceries

Mary Duncan

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a friend who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.*

When I was younger and my daughter Tori was in elementary school, I was laid off from my office job and luckily was able to collect unemployment until I was able to get back on my feet again. At the time Tori and I were living alone together in a trailer park and when I lost my job I was terrified of what might happen to us. I quickly budgeted out all of my money, cut back on all of my expenses, and applied for every bit of aid I qualified for to ensure that we could stay where we lived so Tori could stay in her school district.

Because of this layoff and loss of income, I qualified for SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. I am not sure if it is the same in every state, but in Connecticut, SNAP will pay for any food items anywhere it is accepted, and I mean anything.

Unlike WIC, another nutritional assistance program intended for women, infants, and children which limits what you buy to certain brands of “healthy” items like eggs, milk, peanut butter, and cereal, there’s no restriction on what you buy or how much of your SNAP money can be spent. If you want to spend your SNAP benefits on steak and shrimp, or cookies and ice cream, that’s your choice and your right.

Some people are in serious disagreement about people being able to have this right.

I’ll be honest. When I was on SNAP, I indeed bought cookies, snacks, ice cream, and other things considered “junk” along with my healthy items. For one thing, I wanted them, and for another, I wanted to keep my daughter’s life normal and not have to tell her that she couldn’t have Oreos because mommy was poor. However, this didn’t make me any less apt to hide my SNAP card when I went to pay.

There is a stigma around taking government assistance, of course. I was thankful that the SNAP card looked like and could be swiped like a regular credit card and you didn’t have to alert a cashier that you were using one on a pin pad, thus also alerting everyone else in line around you that you are on the dole.

My friend Patty realized this horror when we worked together at a restaurant. She was divorced and had a teenage son, Matt, and her single income as a waitress made her qualify for SNAP benefits.

When I arrived at work one afternoon she came right up to me and launched into one of her: “You won’t believe what happened to me,” tirades that often ended in hilarity like the time she ran herself over with her own car.

Patty proceeded to tell me that she had gone to the grocery store with Matt that weekend, his birthday weekend to be precise, and told him he could choose whatever he wanted to have for his seventeenth birthday dinner.

Being the growing teenage boy he was, Matt decided he wanted steak and potatoes for dinner, with a homemade ice cream sundae for dessert. Patty was happy to provide that for him, as he didn’t ask for much else and his big gift of a used car was coming from his father.

She and Matt were in line at the grocery store to pay for their night’s provisions. Two steaks, a half gallon of ice cream, some hot fudge, whipped cream, and candy - along with her other grocery items - were lined up on the conveyor belt.

As Patty raised her arm to swipe her SNAP card through the reader, she heard a gasp from someone standing near her and looked over to see the face of a horrified woman standing behind her in line.

“Are you okay?” Patty asked.

“You seem to be the one with the problem,” the woman answered Patty. “Shame on you for using welfare to pay for steaks and candy!”

“Excuse me?” Patty said, putting her hands on her hips. Patty was a tough chick, and this lady did not know who she was messing with.

“You don’t deserve a steak if you can’t afford it!” The woman shouted at her.

Patty then looked at the young cashier who stood mortified in front of her, and she waved her thumb at the lady behind her, telling the cashier:

“You’d better call your manager now to get this woman out of my grocery line, or else you’ll have to be calling the police soon because she's harassing me.”

Trash,” the woman hissed at Patty, and then backed her cart out of line, abandoned it, and hastily shuffled out of the store.

“I don’t think my boss would want her business anyway, acting like that,” the young cashier apparently told Patty as he helped bag her groceries.

How would you have reacted if you were Patty? And do you think people on SNAP deserve steaks?

Hi, I hope you enjoyed this story! I am a freelance writing single mom trying to create a better life for me and my daughter through words. If you enjoyed this, please consider leaving a small donation: https://ko-fi.com/maryduncan

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I write about the weird complexities of relationships to make a better life for me and my daughter through words. https://ko-fi.com/maryduncan

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