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Life In America Fighting For Food Stamps

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EAT to get HIGH

No matter how broke you are, you just can't avoid it - you gotta eat. And now, the U.S. Supreme Court brings you food stamps, in a new, easier-to-qualify eligibility ruling.

At the end of June, the Supreme Court tossed out a Nixon administration ruling that all members of a household must be related in order to qualify for food stamps. (This ruling was intended to keep ' hippie communes, gay households and college students out of the food stamp program.) The Court ruled that Congress cannot discriminate against hippies.

Of course, that doesn't mean that food stamps are easy to get. In fact, the process seems designed to create as many hassles as possible for every applicant.

From the second you walk in the door at the Washtenaw County Department of Social Services (the place to go here for food stamps, 120 Catherine behind the Main Street Post Office), you begin a series of steps designed to humble even the strongest ego around.

"Please take a number and wait over in one of those chairs," says the receptionist. So you end up sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair for an hour or so, until a food stamp counselor gets around to calling your depersonalized number. This waiting process seems designed to make the hesitant change their minds and not bother the counselors.

Even if you manage to patiently persist through this step, the mire of red tape quickly sucks you in, as the counselor explains that you need "a few things to determine your eligibility" and then hands you a list of things that you should have brought covering a whole, typed page. This includes proof of residence in Washtenaw County, (a driver's license, lease or other i.d.); proof of shelter expense (rent or house payment receipt); proof of unusual continuing monthly expenses (medical or dental bills); proof in income (MESC card for unemployment benefits or proof of student loans); and verification of liquid asset (check book or bank statement).

If you are living in a house with other people, but do not live communally, there are some additional hassles. You must bring a copy of your current lease, which shows that you are in part responsible for the total rent. You also needs checks or receipts from the landlord showing that you paid a portion of the rent each month. Naturally, it will take time for them to check this out with your landlord, but if things work out, you are declared a separate economic entity. You can then get individual, rather than household food stamps.

Most likely you will have to come back and wait once again in the waiting room with all your documents in hand. If you are lucky, you will be able to give all the right answers to the counselor's questions, as well as prove that you don't make over the maximum income allowed to receive food stamps, which is as follows:

If you aren't working at all, you must be registered for work with the Michigan Employment Security Commission, and if you turn down a job, you will lose your food stamps. The only exceptions are people with dependent children under 18, students enrolled at least half time in any school or training program recognized by a government agency (like college), or persons already working at least 30 hours a week.

If you succeed in proving that you are a humble soul eagerly seeking work but still without a cent, you just may be lucky enough to have your application accepted. Then you only have to wait two more weeks, and you should be getting your very own food stamps.

-Ellen Hoffman