The Food Stamp Dilemma

I went to an inner city market here in Cleveland, and as I moved over to the fresh fruit and veggie area, the women were fighting over apples. Then I learned that on the second and third of every month, it gets as ruthless as any Black Friday sale.

Why such a crowd? Because these families won’t get another chance until next month to get the same produce that any family needs to be healthy. This picture is a sad reality for families on the food stamp program, where 70% of the business for food stamp-accepting stores is done on the first 7 days of the month.  

It might seem like a bad dream, but because of the hustle and bustle of the first week of the month, grocery stores avoid setting up shop in areas where food stamp users exist in high numbers, to cut profit losses due to these irregular shopping spikes. This is why “food deserts” exist.

Food deserts are places that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods essential for a healthy lifestyle. Smaller local grocers have closed in areas where food stamp users live because it would be impossible to do business in such an irregular way. Food stamp users run out of food by the end of the month; their food diaries show famine, and charities and soup kitchens often see these same rushes at the end of the month.

So, why aren’t food stamps offered more often? Here is the rub: If bigger chains further away from food stamp users exist more predominantly, it would cost more to transport individuals, say, four times a month rather than once to get their food. Transportation costs for those using food stamps are not economical. Individuals in need? A problem.  A system designed to help, but creates devastating dilemmas instead? I’d say, an even bigger problem. 

Let’s give distributing food stamps twice a month a try.