10 Things You Can’t Buy With Food Stamps

I was terrible at home economics in the eighth grade because I didn’t realize how useful the skills would be someday. I wish I knew how to sew. How much money would we save if we could all do simple sewing? I also wish I had learned more about how to cook. I can cook the basics just fine, but I wish I could be more creative, so I could stretch our money without spending three hours on the Internet looking at recipes I don’t understand. I wish I had learned how to shop more efficiently, read food labels, and do other things because it was hard to be on my own in the big, bad world. I’m not the only one.

A February report from the Williams Institute showed that 29 percent of LGBT adults, or 2.4 million people, did not have enough money to feed themselves or their families at some point in the past year. This is called not having enough food or being hungry.

Findings that came out in June 2013 (which was Pride Month!) were also sad:

Food stamps are given to 14.1% of lesbian couples and 7.7% of gay male couples. Only 6.5% of married couples of different sexes get food stamps. Also, 2,2% of women in same-sex couples get cash assistance from the government, compared to 0.8% of women in different-sex couples. Only 1.2% of men in same-sex couples get cash assistance, compared to 0.6% of men in different-sex couples.
Nearly 25% of children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2% living with a female same-sex couple live in poverty. This is compared to only 12.1% of children living with married couples of different sexes. African-American children who live with gay men have the highest poverty rate (52,3%) of any children in any household.
Add to this the fact that the trans community has nearly double the unemployment rate of the average community, and it’s clear that the myth of gay wealth is hiding the truth about how poverty affects the entire LGBTQ community.

Instead of talking about how awful it would be if someone used SNAP (food stamps) to buy soda pop or a steak, it would be great to talk about the things that can’t be bought and think for a minute about how we could get around that. It would be hard even with a great home-ec teacher.

Food stamps can’t be used to buy these ten things.

Toilet paper. Nope. There was no paper at all. After all, they aren’t food. There are no paper towels, tissues, napkins, or anything else. You could use rags instead of paper towels, but you’d have to wash them first. The same goes for cloth napkins and handkerchiefs. What about paper for the toilet? Could you use rags that you could wash? What if your house doesn’t have a washer or dryer? The next thing on the list is laundry detergent. Once more, this isn’t food. But buying decent detergent isn’t cheap. It is cheaper if you buy the biggest size, but then you have to carry it from the store and back and forth between home and the laundromat. When it does go on sale, it’s often a “buy one, get one free” deal, which is great but means more carrying or a special trip, which means more bus fare or gas. But how do you do laundry without detergent?
Toothpaste, a toothbrush, and dental floss. Don’t tell your dentist that dental floss is a luxury item, but the truth is that people without dental insurance are often the least likely to be able to afford these things. Because money is tight, I know people who won’t buy a new toothbrush until they can get one for free. Every time I go to the dentist, they give me a new one because they want them to be changed often. But you don’t get that offer if you don’t have dental insurance.
Another problem is toothpaste. How quickly does a tube of toothpaste get used up by a family of four, especially if the kids don’t remember to squeeze from the bottom and only use a pea-sized amount? But you need clean teeth to do well at school, at work, and in society. This is not just because bad breath is embarrassing, but because dental health is important to our overall health.
Soap. What do you do if you don’t have soap? You could skip shampoo if you had to and just wash with soap. You could wash dishes and clothes with soap, which is not a good idea (also not a good idea). But how do you live, much less thrive, if you don’t have soap? The cheapest soap is usually the worst because it is full of chemicals, scents, and foaming agents but not so many cleaning agents.
Diapers. Even when everything goes well, cloth diapers are expensive and take time. Most daycares won’t take them, so that’s not a good option for most families. Back in the day, my friend Karen would go to one grocery store, buy some food, and get a little cash back. She would then go to another store and do the same thing, and then to the third store until she had enough money to buy a package of diapers. She walked like this all year with the baby in a stroller. Her husband worked. She went to work when the kids were in school (before the baby came along). They didn’t always have enough money to buy diapers. She used wipes she made herself. She learned to use the toilet early. She did everything a person could do, and she still had to spend hours of her day getting diapers.
Pads and tampons. People, especially women, are often surprised by this one. I didn’t know it was true until I was 25. The women who came to the thrift store I ran and asked for rags, which they washed and used instead of disposable items, showed me that it was true. They then burned or buried them because they didn’t have enough soap to wash them again. Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t have five? What would you do if you got your period? What would you do if your 14-year-old daughter got her period on a school night when you had no money for the next two days? I was a little older when I learned that this could be even more embarrassing for people who identify as genderfluid, genderqueer, or trans.
Deodorant. Luxury? Ask the person who works next to someone who doesn’t wear deodorant. Then ask the person if they chose to do it or if they just didn’t have it. No, don’t ask them because it would make them feel bad. When I was in ninth grade, the girls in the locker room were very interested in what deodorants each other used. One girl didn’t use any, and some other girls made fun of her for not needing it because she was too physically immature. In retrospect, I wonder if they missed the mark. Maybe her family couldn’t afford it.
Hair-care products. Despite what I said before, I don’t think anyone should be forced to wash their hair with soap. Do you think about giving hair care products that can be used on different types of hair when you give them away? Again, if you want to work and do well in society, you must keep your hair clean and in good shape. It doesn’t have to be styled or kept to make other people feel comfortable. I’m just talking about ensuring everyone has access to the basic tools they need, like shampoo and conditioner, to keep their hair the way they want so they can function in society.
Products for cleaning. You can’t use food stamps to buy these things. But you need some kind of these things no matter where you live. What do you do? Again, think about how they are moved. How many cleaning supplies bags could you bring on the bus at once? I used to buy cleaner at the dollar store, but it took at least twice as much as store brands to clean. Yes, you can use rags, but some things need a sponge or a mop, not to mention replacement mop heads.
Lotion, powder, lip balm, and so on. These things could be called luxuries. But what if you spend all day outside? Then sunscreen is less of a luxury and more of a health need. Foot powder can keep your feet healthy and make your shoes and socks last longer. What about a jar of petroleum jelly to keep your lips and other places from getting hurt? It can be hard to type all day or clean another bathroom at work when your hands are rough and cracked.

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