Junk Food: “The Government’s Paying for It”

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Some colleges have started to encourage students to apply for public assistance to buy food. The recession touches everyone.

But maybe Michigan college students are using food stamps to buy junk food! A piece in the Lansing State Journal indicates that a lot of people think college students misuse the state’s assistance program, called Bridge Cards, that provides food assistance to low-income people. According to the article by John Schneider:

Asked recently what they thought of Bridge Cards in the hands of students, three members of the Michigan Avenue QD [a convenience store] staff let out a collective groan. Money meant for milk and bread, they said, routinely gets spent on mixes for liquor and junk food. Said clerk Easlick: “They fill their carts with Red Bull, jerky, Doritos. … They tell their friends, ‘Throw in whatever you want … the government’s paying for it.’ ”

Grant Thompson, co-owner of a 7-11 store near the MSU campus, estimated that his Bridge Card-driven business is up 50-fold from what it was just a few years ago.“It’s good for me as a businessman,” he said, “but as a taxpayer — not so much.”

While that does look like some questionable buying practices, who cares? Technically 7-11 doesn’t sell anything that’s good for you. Food is food. And if one qualifies for food stamps, there’s no requirement, or even expectation, that one shop only for inexpensive and nutritious things.

Back in March Jennifer Bleyer wrote a piece in Salon about young, educated people using food stamps to buy fancy food. One art school graduate,

applied for food stamps last summer, and since then she’s used her $150 in monthly benefits for things like fresh produce, raw honey and fresh-squeezed juices from markets near her house in the [Baltimore] neighborhood of Hampden, and soy meat alternatives and gourmet ice cream from a Whole Foods a few miles away.

She and her friends used public assistance to buy costly organic groceries. Well why not go in the other direction, and buy a lot of junk food? That’s actually a very practical decision. It’s normal for most college students, who often eat on the run or while studying or partying, to consume junk food.

It’s not at all easy to qualify for food stamps and, considering the level of disapproval evident in Schneider’s article, not exactly pleasant to purchase food that way. College students buying junk food with food stamps isn’t evidence of abuse; it’s just poor students trying to live normal lives. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer