SNAP, WIC, EBT — What’s the Difference?

Flickr: National Museum of American History

Historic food stamps at the Smithsonian.

In February of this year, 44 million people received federal dollars for their food budgets– over 4 million more Americans compared to the same month in 2010. The government is issuing food stamps to one out of every six D.C. residents. As DCentric prepares to look into food disparity in D.C., we broke out the differences between terms associated with government-subsidized food and payment methods.

SNAP/Food stamps: Food stamps were renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP in 2008, the goal of the program is to help recipients maintain healthy diets by making relatively expensive items like fresh fruits and vegetables accessible to those with low incomes. Applying for SNAP in some states requires pay stubs, housing information, utility bills, child support orders and bills for child or elder care. SNAP is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These benefits are for food; They do not cover items like pet food or toiletries. A list of guidelines from the USDA on what can be purchased is below.

WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children helps prevent or decrease premature births by supplementing the diets of pregnant women. It is also available to mothers of infants and children up to age five. WIC pays for essential items like milk, eggs and baby formula. WIC benefits are often distributed as specially-designed checks and may be used for a limited list of foods. That’s why, in some cases, families receive both WIC and help from other programs, like SNAP. WIC recipients are required to learn about pre-natal nutrition and breastfeeding.

EBT: Electronic Benefits Transfer cards are a federally-funded payment option offered at participating stores. SNAP distributes funds for purchasing food via EBT cards. EBT cards are more dicreet because of their resemblance to debit cards.

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A $26,000 Student Bus Pass

Art by a special education student from the Bronx.

Flickr: vanessastories

D.C. doesn’t have adequate programs to serve children whose needs cannot be met in an ordinary classroom, so we bus them elsewhere. At great cost, apparently:

The city has 4,000 special-needs students who are served by Individualized Education Programs, and must be bussed to schools around D.C. and as far as Baltimore. This year, the mayor requested $150 million for tuition to those private programs, which is a $7.8 million decrease from last year. And just to get them there, the budget includes $93.6 million for 74 bus lines–that’s $26,000 per student per year.

Which makes leased Navigators look like peanuts.

When to Buy Organic Food (Updated)


Organic fruit.

Remember the organic food post I wrote, “The Privilege of Prioritizing Organic Food“? It was about a jarring experience I had at a local New Year’s retreat, after another attendee asked for advice about eating nutritiously on a budget, only to be rebuffed.

That post generated a lot of discussion; many of you were hungry (heh) for more information, especially practical tips like the ones we didn’t get at the retreat that inspired my essay. Well, get out your grocery lists–I just found a handy chart at LearnVest that may help you choose how and when to go organic. Additionally, there are these two useful suggestions:

* Think Skin: When in doubt, organic is the safer bet for produce with edible skins (like apples and grapes). Most exceptions in the chart above are for produce that has fewer natural pests and therefore tends to be farmed with fewer pesticides.

* Meat: If you have to prioritize your organic budget anywhere, animal and animal products are the best investment, because of the higher risk of contamination in cooking. Antibiotic-free is the most important designation to look for in meats, though ideally you want it all–free range and pasture fed. A huge percentage of the contaminants are found in the fat, so if you must go non-organic, keep it lean (i.e. chicken breasts rather than thighs).

If you know of similar charts, links or resources, please share them!

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Kwame Brown’s Luxurious Black Lincoln

Flickr: Chad Horwedel

A spiffy Lincoln Navigator. Not Brown's.

Budget shortfall. Procuring a luxury SUV. Should a city suffering from the former do the latter? Too late– we already did. Twice. As mentioned in our morning roundup a few weeks ago, our Council Chair Kwame Brown– or someone acting on his behalf– required a top-of-the-line Lincoln SUV, complete with 600-watt sound system and DVD-entertainment, and it had to be here before the beginning of the year.

In the Sunday Post, Mike DeBonis outlines exactly how a city with budget woes purchased one luxurious Lincoln for Brown, only to have it rejected for the trifling flaw of having a gray interior vs. the requested black one. A dealer from Coldwater, Michigan drove a second, more suitable SUV to D.C. to deliver it in time for Brown’s inauguration. Did I mention that the city isn’t exactly flush with cash right now?

…when he was asked on television why taxpayers should foot the $1,900-a-month lease payments, Brown (D) said he had merely requested a black sport-utility vehicle and was driving the vehicle that the District had procured for him.

E-mails written by members of his staff and city officials – and obtained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act – tell a different story, beginning with a Department of Public Works solicitation in November for a 2011 Lincoln Navigator L series, an extended-wheelbase version of the Navigator. The e-mail specified “Fully Loaded Required” and indicated that the vehicle was being sought at Brown’s request…

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Chocolate City gets Wealthier and Whiter

Flickr: Oblivious Dude

The Georgetown Waterfront. Lazy and uncreative shorthand for "wealthy" and "white"? Perhaps, but it's such a pretty photograph!

Loyal DCentric reader @BelmontMedina used Twitter to point us to this WaPo story from V. Dion Haynes. Haynes says that jobs are “changing D.C.’s income and racial makeup”. Or, to be blunter, the people of D.C. are becoming richer and whiter.

From 2000 to 2009, the District gained 39,000 households with incomes of $75,000 and higher, according to a Brookings analysis of Census data. During that same period, the city lost 37,600 households with incomes of $50,000 or less.

At the same time, the city’s proportion of black residents dropped to 52.7 percent from 59.4 percent, while its share of white residents rose to 33.3 percent from 27.8 percent.

Why such a stark change?

The loss of middle- and low-income residents is likely related to a growing mismatch between the people who calls the District home and the jobs available. A large number of the city’s unemployed may not be qualified for the jobs that are being created — mainly in the federal government and in professional and business services. Some experts say they believe those factors are driving minorities into suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia…

The problem is particularly acute for black D.C. residents, whose unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2010 was 18.9 percent, compared with 2.5 percent for whites, according to the Economic Policy Institute. A large proportion of blacks in the District are undereducated and do not qualify for the jobs most in demand.

And now, two things I want to point out:

1) When the City Paper included this story in their Loose Lips Daily roundup, they noted that the “District is becoming richer and whiter, says new Brookings report—just not on election day!” Zing! One D.C. resident had this to say about that snark wit. I mean, tweet.

Is @wcp trying to provoke? "District is becoming richer and whiter... just not on election day!"
Eric Fidler

2) Speaking of tweets, please feel free to send similar tips or story ideas to us via Twitter. We’re @DCntrc and we are always grateful for the help.

No Representation? No Taxation!

Flickr: Missy Caulk

Republican Congressman (and Freshman!) Allen West.

DCist discussed something interesting yesterday– what if we had no taxation to match our lack of representation? Rep. Allen West (R-FL) is the latest pol to propose the plan:

“I have seen the license plates that say there should be no taxation without representation. I have to do more research on the issue. The District of Columbia was designed to be the home base of the federal government so I would have to see what the Constitution says. If you live in the District, perhaps an exclusionary zone should be set up where District residents do not pay federal taxes,” West said.

The idea isn’t exactly new, having been proposed in the past by everyone from local voting rights activists to one of the District’s biggest foes, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). There’s some obvious pros, but also some distinct cons that would need to be considered.

Scrapping federal taxes would be a huge plus for many District residents, who would suddenly have a good deal more cash to invest in businesses, homes and their families. Of course, any such exemption would make the city a huge draw for just about anyone willing to skip out on paying their share to the feds — most likely the very, very rich. If we think that the District has charged dramatically over the last decade with a relatively stable influx of new residents, how would it change over the next decade when every new resident was promised a break on their federal taxes?

DCPS Bonuses Come With Strings

Flickr: Adam Holloway

According to WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza, “Of DCPS Teachers Offered Bonuses, 40 Percent Say: ‘No, Thanks‘”:

One of former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s signature initiatives was to reward good teachers with bonuses of up to $25,000. To qualify for the full amount, teachers have to score high marks on their evaluations, teach at schools with majority low-income children, and teach a tested grade and certain subjects. Bonuses were offered to 636 teachers, but 40 percent turned down the money…

I read this and immediately wondered why anyone would turn down extra money right now. Well, because:

But these teachers had to agree to give up some job security. For example, they could lose their jobs because of program changes or enrollment declines at their schools.

Diane Terrell, a teacher at Stoddert Elementary School, refused her $5,000. She says a bonus shouldn’t come with strings attached.

“You think you can come and wave money in front of us and we will give up everything to you. I could not do that,” she says.

Two teachers were eligible for $25,000, the maximum amount. Both accepted the money.

Going in Debt to Take, Then Change Classes

Flickr: maxwellgaines

Should we require a degree (and the debt that comes with it) for things like massage therapy?

As the child of a nurse and someone who feels like I’m never going to be free of my student loans, I’m extra interested in this piece: “Nothing for Something: Does pushing higher education for everyone actually make it tougher for poor students to enter the middle class?” by Monica Potts over at The American Prospect. I frequently meet people in my neighborhood who are taking on brutal amounts of debt to study at for-profit colleges and the like:

by requiring college courses in trades like heating and air installation and massage therapy that were once learned through an apprenticeship, students — especially poor students — end up wasting a lot of money and taking time out of their careers for little added benefit. If traditional colleges and universities aren’t teaching all students generalized, high-level skills that enable them to adapt to whatever working environment they find themselves in, then it’s hard to see what the value of obtaining a college degree is. We either need to start making sure all students leave college with those skills, or re-evaluate why it’s important for some career-oriented programs to be part of a college course and not an on-the-job training program…

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Losing a Home Thanks to a Meter

Flickr: vpickering

This is not a Ford 500 in Columbia Heights. It is a Lincoln in Georgetown. I have Flickr-failed you!

Once I left my building and tried to hail a cab, I realized it was too cold to be outside without a scarf or gloves. I’ve lived here for 12 years, but my California roots are easily misled by bright sun. I was extra relieved when a cab driver waiting next to CVS waved me over to his “new-fashioned” cab. When I think of a “Taxi”, I think of massive American sedans, like Crown Victorias, their Mercury-twins and old Lincolns. Any smaller, more modern car, whether it be a Toyota Camry or a Ford Taurus feels “new”. This cab was so “new” I couldn’t even identify the model. I slid in.

“Boy, am I glad to see you. I’m cold!”

He smiled and quietly asked, “Where to?”

I told him my destination and looked at the front, passenger-side visor. For once, it was flipped downwards and the driver’s name and photograph were perfectly visible. Nine times out of ten, when I am in a cab, I notice (with great annoyance) that such crucial information is deliberately obscured by other papers or cards, paper-clipped on top of helpful details like the name of the cab operator. This name looked French.

“D’où venez-vous?”, I asked hopefully. I usually don’t have a language in common with Cabbies in D.C. besides English; in a different city to our North, whenever I splurged on a big yellow ride, I practiced everything from Punjabi to Greek .

The question was a catalyst for transformation in the front seat. The man who had cordially agreed to make a left on Park, and take Reno road to blah, blah, blah was brought to life.

“I am from Haiti!” he exulted. He did not ask me how I knew French, which filled me with childish delight. I looked like I might speak French! Zut alors! He did ask me, “How did you know?”

“Your name. Jean P____.”

“Yes! That is my name!” He sat up straighter in his seat, eyes twinkling in the rear view.

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Welcome to D.C., our Rent is High

Flickr: NCinDC

Isn't hunting for an apartment the *worst*? And now, it's even more difficult!

Bad news for renters in D.C. via the Washington Post– our median rent is the third-highest in the country…right after San Jose and San Francisco. Oy.

Those from more distressed areas who have come here chasing jobs find waiting lists, more stringent credit checks and rents triple what they left behind.

In local apartment buildings, rents jumped 8.2 percent — about twice the long-term average — to $1,643 this year as vacancies disappeared…The area’s vacancy rates are the second-lowest in the nation, after New York City.

“There’s been a structural shift from owners to renters in this country in the past few years,” said Gregory H. Leisch, chief executive of Delta Associates. “It’s the most rapid shift I’ve ever witnessed in the 40 years that I’ve been in this business.”

While the high foreclosure rate helped push more people into rentals nationwide, that factor was less influential in the Washington region, many economists said. Instead, the local rental market is thriving mostly because the area added jobs more quickly than the rest of the nation during the recession, luring newcomers who were unable or unwilling to purchase a home here.

I know some might say we’re already “there”, but I hope D.C. doesn’t become an enclave for just the wealthiest and the luckiest (here’s looking at you, Manhattan).