Case Study: $918/mo. in Food Stamps

I gave a challenge last week to anyone on government assistance: send me your story, and I’ll see what entrepreneurial ideas I can come up with. One brave mom of six children, Andrea, took me up on my offer. We have exchanged only a couple emails, but from what little she shared, I can already see opportunities around her.

I do not believe this trend is healthy for individuals or our country.

Andrea and her husband, Adam, have been on food stamps since the birth of their first child 16 years ago. The best thing about this family is that they hate being on food stamps. Half the battle is coming to this realization. She let me know with this comment:

I believe beyond doubt that there are times when welfare is definitely needed, but as someone who is currently forced to accept it, I agree with Chris – IT SUCKS! I DREAM of being off it. Someone constantly treating you like you’re less of a person – or lazy. And it does become a crutch. So Chris, you said you would like to help someone get off it. I accept, can you show a wife whose husband only brings in $380 a week for a family with 6 kids (and said husband has become trapped to receiving it) how to get away from that crutch? I would give anything to be independent. Please help…

Perfect. The will to be free is 1/2 the journey. Andrea sent me her story. You can read a PDF of the email Andrea sent me here. Here are bullet points that sum it up:

  • Andrea is married to Adam and have six children.
  • Andrea was an honors society student in high school, but does not have post secondary education. She held two jobs after high school at a pizza restaurant and a telemarketing service. She has been a stay-at-home homeschool mom for 24 years to her children (aged 16, 14, 12, 7, 3, 1). She prides herself as a veracious organizer.
  • Adam is the father. He spent about a dozen years in the lumber industry before being forced off the job from joint and tendon problems and a significant knee injury. He took a 50% pay deduction to continue to work in a grocery store, discovered a love for customer service, and transferred from California to Oregon for a new job. He then had shoulder surgery, and while on disability he moved the family to Arkansas to be closer to family. He is now a front-end supervisor at a Kroger supermarket. He loves to trade sports cards on eBay, though it is more of a hobby and doesn’t make much money.
  • Adam and Andrea have been on food stamps since the birth of their first child. Today the food stamp program brings in $918 per month for Andrea and Adam. Adam takes home approximately $1,600 per month and some extra money from trading sports cards on eBay. The program threatens a “use it or lose it” disincentive, meaning if they don’t use all the money, they will be cut the following months, perhaps the entire amount.

Adam and Andrea have some obstacles. Neither have their post-secondary degrees. Adam has a history of job injuries. They have a food budget to keep up with to feed their six children.

But there are also opportunities, particularly surrounding Adam’s hobby and Andrea’s skills. They have assets available to them that they have not used nearly to their potential. Actually, I’m quite excited for them.

Question: Read Andrea’s email. Do you have ideas for her family? I’ll post mine tomorrow, but use the comment section below to share yours.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • JDK

    I think the best thing we can do for Andrea is not to judge her.

    • Wow, that’s helpful.

      • JOe

        I really don’t think others should pay so Andrea can stay home and homeschool. Other moms are out working, and paying the taxes that allow her to stay at home. Is that right? We should all pay our own way.

        • Er, I was joking when I called JDK’s comment helpful. Your comment gets the “Most UNhelpful” award.

        • bj10

          If Andrea gets a job and puts the kids in school, her government dependency will only worsen. Around here, the government spends close to $15,000 per year, per child for “free” public education. Do the math and we’ll all see that this family, by only taking less than $12,000 per year on food stamps is saving the taxpayers a mint! An average, two income family in my neighborhood–with their 2 children– are taking taxpayer funds of $30,000 a year. That’s more than twice what Andrea’s family needs to survive, thanks to her willingess to say home and teach her own children. Not that I don’t understand their need to be off assistance altogether, but making things worse is not the answer. Right now, their taxpayer bill is less than $12,000. If they put them all in school, they are relying on taxpayer funds to the tune of $90,000 a year. But for some reason, people aren’t considered government dependent for accepting $15,000 per year, per child for government education. That’s paying our own way? HMMMM. . .

    • JDK- Here is a direct quote from Andrea’s original post. “I agree with Chris – IT SUCKS! I DREAM of being off it.”

      Your strategy is going to do so much for her dream of getting away from government assistance! Do you really think that the desired goal for these programs should be to keep families on them for more than a year, let alone 16? This is certainly not a judgement against Andrea and Adam, but of the system currently in place.

      Chris, the obvious opportunity is to use Andrea’s organizational skills in order to make Adam’s trading card hobby more profitable! I actually just found out yesterday that one of the guys in my public speaking class has been selling collectibles on ebay for about 13 years. When asked about his highest profit sale he told us that he made $3000 on a collection of vintage movie posters he found at an estate sale/auction in town once. He said the biggest part to having any success is doing the research necessary and finding the right purchase prices by going to auctions.

  • JDK

    Chris, why don’t you take on Antoinette’s case? Her daughter will die without the government assitance they receive. What ideas do you have for her?

  • There is lots of great discussion at my family website’s post (http://jeubfamily.com/2012/09/26/government-assistance-2/), pretty much whether gov’t assistance should or shouldn’t be discussed. Check it out, but take note: this post actually has someone asking for help. Why aren’t the naysayers answering?

  • someone in FL

    Thought I would join the discussion here.

    To add to my previous comment…. When you have no food on the table it is incredibly hard to even “dream”. All you can think about is where you’re next bite is going to come from. The vision is blurred. Figuring out how you will even begin to survive this mess, questions arise like “where is God?” “I thought he was going to provide?” “have I been forsaken?”

    Some, but not all, on assistance have big dreams and goals. They are not looking to stay in the hole. They want so desperately to be out of the mess they are in. I would never say to one stay there because it’s nice to get free money from the government. Absolutely not! I would encourage them to dream big. Tithe and give offerings. Give to those that don’t have. Sow seeds and you shall receive. God loves a cheerful giver. Giving to the poor is a Godly principle!

    Please stop your mocking Mr. Jeub. Jesus does love! And I was never implying that a person on assistance should dare stay there. That isn’t the goal for myself or anyone else on assistance. Dream big! Get off the welfare the moment you can. Strive to improve your situation. But first you have to be able to breathe or get a fishing pole as Mr. Orris had stated on the other website.

    I would encourage Andrea to pray daily for wisdom, knowledge and understanding for yourself and your husband. God does have answers and use whatever talent you have to better your situation. Don’t feel ashamed of your situation. God is ultimately your provider; not your husband or the government. Love and honor your husband and for the time being have to depend on govt. assistance then so be it. But pray, pray, pray for the Lord to redeem you and your husband out of the hole. He is faithful.

    I am someone who is not a bum or do I fit the “stereotype” of one on assistance. My husband and I are both college grads. The word of the Lord is for our children to be homeschooled so this means I (the wife) has to stay home. My husband works hard from sun up to sun down, coming home late. He works in sales and our income has gone up and down throughout the years. In the past 10 years he has had 6 sales jobs including being self-employed (unfortunately this brought us to homelessness). For the past 2 years he’s been back in corporate with an increase in income by 25% a year.

    Many times I have desired to put the kids in school and for myself to go back to work just to get out of the hole, but continually feel this isn’t the best for them. They need me home. We have also had the idea of my husband getting a second job or another better paying job but know it will keep him from being home regularly.

    Unfortunately we recently had to get assistance. A choice we have made to be able to homeschool and have daddy home at night. What?!!!

    Yep….so go ahead and throw the stones for our wicked sin!

    • MrsBrian

      I don’t think that is sinful at all! I think you made a great choice. Let your children be raised by someone else or stay at home and take assistance. Raising your children (with both mommy and daddy there) for the Lord is MUCH more important. There is a season to everything. So don’t despair or beat yourself up. Be a good steward of the assistance and move toward a place financially that you will not need that help. It may take awhile to do that!

    • I have no stone to throw. And I’m not mocking you. Just comparing solutions. It’s all meant to be helpful, not condemning.

      Question: other than “pray pray pray,” what ideas did you offer Andrea and Adam? They are asking for ideas. They’re in a tough situation, and being told that “He is faithful…just keep praying” isn’t helpful. Definitely not understanding. I have been in the “all prayed out” mode, and “just keep praying” is insensitive.
      It’s interesting that your story is similar to Andrea’s. Your solutions are very different, though.

      • Emmie Dahl

        My idea for them would be to continue getting assistance and go to school. My husband and I are both in school and working, and we trade schedules around so no daycare is needed. I work and go to school from home, so that flexibility is there. Unfortunately, we live in a world where a good education is needed for most people to get a job that will bring them above poverty. So take the help and make a plan so that you can take the help for as short of a time period as possible!

    • Andrea

      Here is a saying my daughter put on her facebook “If God seems far away, guess who moved”. I have been praying for the Lord to help us get away from aid for 16 yrs. What I am asking now is maybe we haven’t seen God’s signals because we were too afraid to let go of the crutch. Maybe too afraid to trust God. I would hardly call it stone throwing when someone is asking for the help. Many blessings.

    • Tuesdee

      I love that you mentioned to sew and then you reap the benefits. People often forget that a harvest doesn’t come up quickly, so depending on what you are sewing will depends on what you reap and if you have a good harvest.

  • Peggy C.

    I would tell Andrea to offer her organizational skills to others for a fee. Not sure how big the town she lives in is, but people everywhere have a need for organization! Offer to help someone re-organize their office space or their laundry room or their bedroom. And being a mother of 6 and living on a budget, I assume Andrea has a knack for living frugally. Use that frugality to create an organized room on the cheap!

    She also says she loves teaching and crocheting. Offer your tutoring services. Again, I’m not sure how your area is, but Craig’s list is a huge advertising asset here. Open up an Etsy business selling your crocheted items. Open a daycare in your home, and switch your home school hours to evening.

    I opened my own daycare in July and am making more now than I was at my desk job, AND I am on the Child Care Food Program so I get reimbursed for their meals. And because I am a frugal and savvy grocery shopper, the money they give me for the daycare children covers the entire grocery expense for daycare and my family!

    Is there any way Adam could pick up a second job as a cook since he has a gift for it? Nights and weekends? That would depend on his hours now, but it sounds like his time is being wasted on his baseball card hobby. Ebay is an unprofitable waste of time for most people. My mom tried selling kids toys for a year on Ebay and the fees and time she spent did not make it profitable for her.

    Just recently I discovered a side business for myself. I love going to garage sales and I can never resist looking at the kids clothes. And thanks to my mom, I know a good deal or how to get a good deal when I need to. So I started buying kid’s clothes to resell on Craig’s List. I buy super cute brand-name clothes for 25-50 cents a piece, and resell them for $1-2. The profit margin isn’t anything to sneeze at, but I figured if I’m going to go to garage sales every Saturday anyway, and since I have 2 1/2 hours at nap time every day to kill, why not keep making money? I profited $40 my first week last week with only having 7 lots of clothing posted. Not too bad for how little work I did. I strongly feel the more I work at it, the better it will get. And like I said, if I’m going to garage sales anyway, I might as well make money doing it!

    My husband and I are experts in the side-job area. He has recycled scrap metal for years and years and there’s many different ways to do it. Pop cans, washers, dryers, stoves, and cars. He’s even gone so far as to collecting all of the junk metal plates and nails that were thrown out at the lumber company he worked for. He now works with cars and will recycle the car parts they throw out. He is definitely an ideas man. He presents to me a new “business idea” every week! LOL 🙂 But I love him for his initiative and drive.

    Sorry this got so long!

    Find something you love to do, and make it profitable. 🙂

    • You get the “This Comment Totally Rocks” award.

      • Peggy C.

        Thanks, Chris! But I owe a lot of my “business idea-ness” to my husband. When we first met it used to drive me crazy because every 2 weeks he would come up with ANOTHER small business idea and he would never stick to them. Now I realize he was just brainstorming until he finally found one he loves. We are in the process of opening a used car lot, which is awesome for him because he just loves cars!

    • JDK

      If you are on the Childcare Food Program, isn’t that government assistance? Who is reimbursing you for the children’s meals?

      • Hey everyone. “Jim” is also “JDK” and a lot of other names. He (or she) enjoys changing his email and IP address to make himself sound like a lot of people. He’s a troll. My guess he’s unemployed and on welfare and has little to do but surf his free Internet, but that may not be true. All that said, ignore his ridiculous and unhelpful advice.

    • Peggy C.

      JDK,
      No, it’s reimbursement. Every responsible, licensed childcare provider
      is a part of the Childcare Food Program. In fact, in order to accept
      people who receive assistance with childcare costs, you HAVE to be a
      part of the food program. It ensures that children are being fed
      well-balanced meals and not just Cheetos and pop for every meal. I keep
      records of every meal I feel the children and portion sizes and ensure
      they get the appropriate food groups for breakfast, lunch, and snack,
      and in return I am reimbursed the cost of what the children eat.

      Go find any licensed daycare provider in your area. I guarantee they are
      on the food program.

      • Peggy C.

        OK, I figured out how to describe it. It’s just self-employment income. At the end of the year I still have to report that I received $XXX from the Food Program. How that plays into my taxes, I have no idea because I’ve never done it and I’m not an accountant, but I still have to report it as income.

      • Emmie Dahl

        So you accept both tuition and food payments from the government but are against both?

  • Sharon

    Has Andrea ever done extreme couponing? I know it may sound silly but if she is a good organizer it might be just the thing. I know a family of 7 who spends less than $200/month on food and other groceries. Since the food stamps are a use it or lose it progr she could start her couponing using the food stamps to pay for the food part (depending on the rules of her state). Because she will be saving so much she can use the extra food stamp money to buy items for a local food pantry. When she is ready she can begin to use less of the food stamps to buy for her family and more of them to buy for others until she can completely cover her family’s expenses out of their own budget.

    Sharon in Texas

    • I’m usually not a big fan of couponing, but in this case, yes. Andrea’s organizational skills may be just the reason.

  • MrsBrian

    I know feed a troop can be very challenging. I would just suggest that they look at their life and spending as a whole. Is there somewhere else they can cut? Do they run too much – gas is expensive? Can they find a place that gives out used clothes so they can use that money for food? What are their most expensive foods they eat – can it be substituted with something else? (meat beans) Water is cheap, we cut out a lot of other things that we drank and it saved quite a bit of money. Food pantries might be an option. Can they garden and can? I know over the years we have looked at all this stuff. And I know that when things are tight, the Lord provides in the most creative ways! Never fear, Jesus is here!

  • Rebecca

    I would encourage Andrea to consider becoming an Avon rep. Unlike may home based businesses with high start up costs, it is only $10 to become an Avon rep. It is something she can do from home or with her children as she does not have to host parties. I am a homeschooling mom of five and I do very well with it. Besides making money, I am able to purchase products the family needs anyway such a shampoo and body wash at a deeply discounted price, therby saving us money as well. My children learn business skills by assisting with it. If Andrea or anyone else would like to contact me privately for more information about how the Avon opportunity can benefit their family, please contact me at avoninrutlandvt@aol.com

    • And there are a lot of “rep” businesses available. I’d stay away from the multi-level marketing, the programs that sell things that no one wants (or shames people into buying them). Avon isn’t one of them. Women want good makeup, so there is demand.

      • Andrea

        Agree on the multi-level marketing, did Amway for 4 yrs, wound up worse off.

  • The couponing idea is wonderful! I feed our family of 6 (going on 7, and this includes diapers) for LESS than $200/month! Sites like http://www.forthemommas.com are a great resource for beginning couponers. With Andrea’s organizing skills, she should be able to pick things up quickly! Also, I was thinking like it sounds like a second job is in order. Anything really. My dad delivered newspapers from the time I was 5 until just a few years ago. THAT was their grocery money/extras money. I have to commend Andrea for desiring to get out of government assistance! What a blessing she is for her family!

  • Tuesdee

    I don’t think worrying about how to cut food expenses is the issue to discuss first. Since if they don’t use it, they can lose it, which will cause great strife. The first concern is how to boost income so they can then implement food saving strategies (which they can learn but not utilize until they can come off food stamps). My husband lost his job back in 2008 and we got on food stamps for that short time (about two months) which was the most embarrassing experience I have ever had.

    We found when he began work which was at decrease in income, we were dependent on food stamps. Granted he has a trade so he makes more than many average non-educated (meaning no post secondary education, not meant to be rude) people did. So, we knew while I was going back to school, he had to too. So…our solution was he go back to school (he chose engineering and goes online).

    With an income as low as Andrea’s and eight dependents total, they will qualify for a pell grant. Even colleges like Penn State and UNC offer tons of online degree programs. If that doesn’t interest them. He can go to a one year certificate program for a trade. Maintenance mechanic, IT, etc…It may not matter for a while what he is passionate about until he can increase his income. He can go to school on a pell grant, and not owe a dime in school loans if he finds an inexpensive school.

    Otherwise my solution would be to make an impressive resume, shoot for much higher income and move where the jobs and income are at. When my husband and I married, he brought home about $400/week unless he got overtime. Now in 2012, he brings home $900/week after 401k, $2000/yr in flex spending, insurance and taxes. All because we moved from where we were raised to anywhere he could get a higher paying job. We devoted several years to boosting his career. Now he is two years shy of his engineering degree and is a Maintenance Manager making $70/yr before bonuses. Which is certainly not his cap or goal.

    I say two jobs or education is the key. Good luck Andrea! People who use food stamps and hate it, hate it rightfully, people look at you like you are “less than”.

    • First concern: boost income. That’s good advice. And $918/mo. I think is doable.

      • Tuesdee

        I completely agree.

    • They may not qualify for any grants because of their ages…I think I heard that.

  • Jim

    Perhaps Andrea should give up homeschooling. It may be a luxury that is costing her whatever she could make each year.

    However, you really cannot make suggestions and help them out of poverty without knowing the extent of Adam’s injuries.

  • Worth The Shame

    Andrea getting a job is the best option. She can get one where she works opposite shifts of Adam, or she can put the kids in school and work during those hours. The fact that they have to rely on state aid to feed the family is proof that they are in a position where they need to be a two-income family. Hobby jobs are not going to generate the additional funds they need each month. Most home-sales (avon, pampered chef, etc) consultants barely break even, much less earn an income equal to a full-time job. Unless Andrea and Adam feel their desire for her to sahm and homeschool are worth the dependency of the government and shame of using foodstamps.

    • Tuesdee

      I don’t think that is the only option. Never seeing your husband is extreme. His income needs to increase and when her kids are all in school she can work.

      • Putting kids in a government-run school infiltrated and run by non-believers is probably the WORST thing the family can do. Sure they could make some money, but at what cost? That is precisely what is wrong with our country right now – too many Christians handing over their children to the unGodly to be raised and educated against all reason and morality.

    • bj10

      If Andrea gets a job and puts the kids in school, her government dependency will only worsen. Around here, the government spends close to $15,000 per year, per child for “free” public education. Do the math and we’ll all see that this family, by only taking less than $12,000 per year on food stamps is saving the taxpayers a mint! An average, two income family in my neighborhood–with their 2 children– are taking taxpayer funds of $30,000 a year. That’s more than twice what Andrea’s family needs to survive, thanks to her willingess to stay home and teach her own children. Not that I don’t understand their need to be off assistance altogether–I am praying for them to be free of this unwanted “help”. But making things worse is not the answer. Right now, their taxpayer bill is less than $12,000. If they put them all in school, they are relying on taxpayer funds to the tune of $90,000 a year. But for some reason, people aren’t considered government dependent for accepting $15,000 per year, per child for government education. For some reason, there’s no shame in that. HMMMM. . .

  • tereza

    She got 2 teenagers at home that probably have gifts, talents and interests that are been overlooked. She could brainstorm and see if there isn’t a home business that they could start together.

    With her organizational skills maybe the could offer cleaning services, or sell used items at yard sales, offer baby sitting services??? Has she thought of maybe starting a blog offering her knowledge in reading: maybe book reviews or book lists for homeschoolers?

    I have a friend who homeschools and they have 3 kids. They are an one income family and they don’t make a lot of money. On the side her husband cooks on the weekends for families they know: sells barbecued meat. She began raising chickens and sells eggs.

    there is also the idea of having a garden at home to supplement their food. I began one at my house with raised beds and the initial investment was like $200.00 and you can make your own compost once you get it going.

    Also her teenage kid might be able to get a part time job and help out.

  • Tina

    Adam and Andrea, I would not dismiss Ebay as an option, My husband and I supported our family of 10 (at the time) with Ebay sales as our only income for a year an half. We sold antiques and collectibles, mostly dolls. If you are a good organizer as you say, are decent enough at math that you can figure out your cost and ensure you are making a profit, then I think it is a viable option. The key is to find something you love, find a place to buy it cheap and market it people who wan to buy it. Even with all ebay’s changes over the years I think it is the least expensive market place reaching the largest group of buyers in the world. It was not easy, my husband and I both put it in more hours than a full time job but we were together and able to continue schooling our children at home, we were blessed during the time the Lord had has doing it and we always had food on the table that we knew came from our Heavenly Father each and every day

    • My son Micah is beaming today. Yesterday he found a pair of Oakley’s for $1 at a second-hand store. They’re selling for $150 on eBay. You can’t beat that kind of markup.

  • Ruth Nolastname

    I don’t know if I count as a “naysayer”; but, I want to share my opinion.
    One, Andrea’s organization skills are a GREAT thing to focus on. However, how realistic would it be for her to create and run a business when she is responsible for the care and education of six children at home (one who’s, presumably, still in diapers)? We can all see the potential in other people and suggest ways for them to escape their current situation. However, it can’t stop there..unless one of us is willing to go babysit her kids while she’s putting energy into a business, it’s not very helpful.
    Two, having been in the situation where you have nothing, I second the opinon that it’s very, very hard to “dream” when you’re surviving.
    Three, work ethic and opportunity are key. One without the other does’nt work. I have struggled and scrimped to put myself through school and now I’m working two jobs, in a field I didn’t major in, and living in a 100 square foot trailer, because I want to avoid debt. I am proud of my little trailer and how far I’ve come. But, I do wish that public assistance had been available to me at many points in my life. It would’ve made things so much easier.
    My advice for Andrea and her family- if you’re already homeschooling, and you’re good at organizing, perhaps start a resource blog and try to get advertising dollars. If she belongs to a church group with similar beliefs about homeschooling, maybe there’s another mother who wants home day care OR maybe she could start a business coordinating homeschoolers and keeping them on track? I know many homeschooling parents struggle with the organizational parts- if she could create usable systems and spaces for homeschooling, that could be a money-maker.

    Her husband should also consider getting his resume re-done and throwing it out there for anything that pays more. And, as much as I know that it’s important to protect the family bonds, two jobs is sometimes the only way- I know it is for me, at the moment. Even if he only worked two jobs for a year, that’s money in the bank. Live at the same means and save that money.

    • Thanks for posting, Ruth. I’m not sure I agree with your thoughts at the beginning, but your advice at the end is helpful.

  • Tereza has the best idea, imho! Get the teenagers involved in a FAMILY business. They need to learn to support themselves, and with their help, a family business could be a reality. Without it, I can’t see how Andrea herself can find the time to do it (I”m a homeschooling mom of 6, too).

  • Katie Terwilliger

    I definitely know where Andrea is coming from! So here are some things I learned. First, if she wants to get a job, telecommute is best. She can do it when the little ones are asleep. West @Home is a telecommuting call center (get paid by min, NOT by call!). Marriott hotels also has telecommuting options for their call centers. Pay starts around $10/hr. All she needs is internet and a landline. They train and provide the computer. They can be done almost anywhere. Also on the west coast she can help people learn English simply by instant messaging. Good for working nights, as the people live in Europe. I homeschooled 3 kids as a single mom by telecommuting. 🙂 Another thing would be starting a hobby business on ebay, etsy or artfire. The older kids can help make candles, soap, sew, whatever. Next, I would recommend getting a Costco membership. Invest in a chest freezer and load it up. Bread, cheese, meat, soup are all things that freeze well. Costco cut my food budget in more than half. And they have their own coupons! Learn to can and buy fruits and veggies in bulk from farmers markets. Many take food stamps. Buy seeds with food stamps, its allowed. Start a garden. Stock up on the 25 lb bags of flour and sugar at Costco and bake. It’ll all add up. Plus Costco has an awesome anytime any reason return policy!!