So, instead of trying to update my blog on everything I've been doing, I'm going to talk about something in particular - I'm going to talk about FOOD STAMPS.
As you may or may not know, Americorps Volunteers receive a very limited stipend. I'm talking 110% of the poverty level of the area you are serving.
Poverty is measured in different ways by different organizations. The Federal Government uses the "Orshansky Poverty Threshold" to measure poverty in the US. Orshanksy, an economist in 1969 who was working for the SSA, determined that the best way to determine poverty was by food. This is the equation she came up with:
$3.60 (the cheapest USDA Food Plan per day for a family of 4) x 3 (1950's studies showed families spent one third of income on food) x 365 = $3,942 (Any family of 4 living on less than this amount was considered poor)
The main issue with this calculation is the fact that it is pre-tax (income tax is about 1/3 of income -there goes your $ for food!). Also, it does not account for the variation of cost of living from state to state and between urban and rural areas. WTF, US government, WTF?
The government does include things like inflation, etc. So the 2009 Poverty Guideline for a household of 1 (ie: me) is $10,830!
So as I said, I am receiving 110% of the poverty level, so I can "live in the community I'm serving". The Americorps does take into account the cost of living for different areas, which is good, but since I'm at the poverty level in Massachussets, I'm elgible for Food Stamps.
Or, as us Mass'ers call it - SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). I recently applied for food stamps online and had to schedule a phone interview with someone from the Department of Transitional Services. I had to tell them my income, how much money I have in the bank, how much my rent is, if I'm paying for utilities, etc etc. So, I did that and now I have to prove everything and send them my lease, my bills, proof of identity, and proof of citizenship.
Once I do that, I'll receive $200 per month (this varies based on how much you are making, size of household and the area you are living in, obviously metro areas will get more, cause the cost of food is higher) that can be used at various grocery and convenience stores.
Now, I'm sure once I use it I will get different reactions. I know there's always been a stigma attached to food stamps, but they no longer look like play money, they look like a debit card:
I'm sure people will look at me and think that I don't look like I should be receiving food stamps, or that I'm taking advantage of the system, but this is obviously not the case.
I think an advantage to being on Food Stamps is that I understand what people need to do to get them. At the organization I'm working with, we determine if a school is eligible to receive our school-supplied filled backpacks if they have a certain amount of students on the free or reduced lunch program. Again, determining poverty by food, only one of the basic needs of people.
As an Americorps VISTA, our mission is to combat poverty, and I suppose the best way to learn how to do that is to live it yourself. You know, walk a mile in someone else's shoes, blah blah blah. Well, I am doing just that - I'm walking a mile by doing a year of service.