Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Woonsocket, RI: Welfare City

Washington Post journalist Elis Saslow wrote an impressive and yet very disturbing report on the influence of food stamps in local cities.

He focused on Woonsocket, Rhode Island, where one out of three people are living on food stamps.

Elis Saslow

Food stamps put Rhode Island town on monthly boom-and-bust cycle

One of the first pictures on the web page included a picture of a man and wife hugging each other:
WOONSOCKET, R.I. – The economy of Woonsocket was about to stir to life. Delivery trucks were moving down river roads, and stores were extending their hours. The bus company was warning riders to anticipate “heavy traffic.” A community bank, soon to experience a surge in deposits, was rolling a message across its electronic marquee on the night of Feb. 28: “Happy shopping! Enjoy the 1st.”

Woonsocket, RI, Historical Downtown District
The whole city swings and cycles based on the government subsidies through SNAP. Oh snap!

In the heart of downtown, Miguel Pichardo, 53, watched three trucks jockey for position at the loading dock of his family-run International Meat Market. For most of the month, his business operated as a humble milk-and-eggs corner store, but now 3,000 pounds of product were scheduled for delivery in the next few hours. He wiped the front counter and smoothed the edges of a sign posted near his register. “Yes! We take Food Stamps, SNAP, EBT!”
This brazen advertising of food stamps is criminal. Enabling dependence and redistribution of wealth is just unconscionable. Now fast food restaurants are accepting government subsidies. What was the point of food stamps disbursements? To help people in need so that they could get back on their feet.
How is anyone going to get from poor to prosperity spending their money irresponsibly?
This passage in Saslow's report was the most revealing:
At precisely one second after midnight, on March 1, Woonsocket would experience its monthly financial windfall — nearly $2 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Federal money would be electronically transferred to the broke residents of a nearly bankrupt town, where it would flow first into grocery stores and then on to food companies, employees and banks. . .

SNAP enrollment in Rhode Island had been rising for six years, up from 73,000 people to nearly 180,000, and now three-quarters of purchases at International Meat Market are paid for with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.

Even as the economy has improved (however slightly) more people are enrolling into the food stamps program. Since when did individual consumers gather the idea that living off of someone else was acceptable?

An entire city in Rhode Island is turning into a welfare city?

Pichardo catered his store to the unique shopping rhythms of Rhode Island, where so much about the food industry revolved around the 1st. Other states had passed legislation to distribute SNAP benefits more gradually across the month, believing a one-day blitz was taxing for both retailers and customers. Maryland and Washington, D.C., had begun depositing benefits evenly across the first 10 days; Virginia had started doing it over four. But Rhode Island and seven other states had stuck to the old method — a retail flashpoint that sent shoppers scrambling to stores en masse.

In this part of his report, Saslow focuses on one family. The choices they made, and the consequences, highlight the sources of their poverty.

For the past three years, the Ortizes’ lives had unfolded in a series of exhausting, fractional decisions. Was it better to eat the string cheese now or to save it? To buy milk for $3.80 nearby or for $3.10 across town? Was it better to pay down the $600 they owed the landlord, or the $110 they owed for their cellphones, or the $75 they owed the tattoo parlor, or the $840 they owed the electric company?
They had to start making harder decisions for themselves. How much would they spend, and what would they spend it on. Did their lives before economic tumult reflect this conscious decision-making?
They had been living together since Rebecka became pregnant during their senior year of high school, long enough to experience Woonsocket’s version of recession and recovery. Jourie had lost his job at a pharmacy late in 2010 because of downsizing, and Rebecka had lost hers in fast food for the same reason a few months later.
So, the coupled had children before they graduated high school, got married, and got a job. They put themselves onto a slippery slope toward deeper poverty by their choices. James Q. Wilson had analyzed these correlational factors when tracking poverty and its causes. Can they really blame the economic downturn for their moral then financial failings?

Rhode Island Food Stamp Card

She made $8 an hour, and he earned $9. She worked days in produce, and he worked nights as a stocker. Their combined monthly income of $1,700 was still near the poverty line, and they still qualified for SNAP.
They make money, yet they still can't make it. Something is wrong with this picture. Have they considered moving to a better state with stronger economic growth and better opportunities?

Rebecka had read once that nobody starved to death in America, and she believed that was true. But she had also read that the average monthly SNAP benefit lasted a family 17 days, and she knew from personal experience the anxiety headaches that came at the end of every month, when their SNAP money had run out, their bank account was empty and she was left to ply Woonsocket’s circuit of emergency church food pantries.
Even private charities are struggling. Where is the growing outreach to help private and voluntary charity?


Grocery store chains had started discount spinoffs. Farmers markets had incentivized SNAP shopping by rewarding customers with $2 extra for every $5 of government money spent. Restaurants, long forbidden from accepting SNAP, had begun a major lobbying campaign in Washington, and now a handful of Subways in Rhode Island were accepting the benefit as part of a pilot program.
For the record, relatively wealthy Torrance, CA has just implemented food stamp usage at its farmer's market. When I read about this item in last month's city council agenda, I did not know how to react. Did the city have to include this payment option in order to comply with state/federal law?

But SNAP recipients at International Meat Market were allowed to spend their money only on uncooked foods — nothing hot or pre-prepared, no paper products, pet food, alcohol or cigarettes. A line formed at Pichardo’s register, and he lifted one heavy cardboard box of meat after the next.
A part-time janitor came through with a meat pack, vegetable oil and canned tomatoes. “That’s $132.20,” Pichardo said.

California Food Stamp Card
Those limits also exist in California. I was serving a customer, who arrogantly complained that it was "stupid" she could not use her EBT card to pay for hot soup. This entitlement mentality is sickening. There should be no discussion about government assistance usage for anything but bare essentials.
California EBT cards have a SNAP Food and SNAP Cash option, so that food stamp uses can spend the cash portions on anything, including alcohol, cigarettes, and other non-food items like paper.


Nearly 150 cars filled the lot, and stray shopping carts edged into the adjacent road. The sign in front of the store advertised “Impossibly, Incredibly, Inconceivably Low Prices.” A city bus had stopped at the entrance a few minutes earlier to drop off 30 shoppers before turning back to pick up 30 more. The residents of Woonsocket had petitioned for the route in 2011, but now buses suffered from overcrowding on the 1st and drivers enforced a limit of seven grocery bags per person on the way home. A line of opportunistic cab drivers had begun waiting outside Price Rite on the 1st, ready for customers with more than seven bags and with $4.75 for the fare.
The public transportation has fallen into the welfare web as well. Wow!
Final Thoughts
Welfarism has become a way of life for millions of Americans. This is not the American Dream;  these life-style choices are not a living example of the Preamble of the Constitution. No one can secure the blessings of  liberty while depending on bare-necessity government handouts.
Now, entire cities are getting warped into this cycle of government subsidy and servility. Woonsocket is an easy target, as is the entire state of Rhode Island because of its size and reputation for government expansion and corruption. One in three residents of Woonsocket depend on the government to get through the month, and the new normal has turned the first day of the month into "Check Day", with slow decline to follow. Young families should look forward to something better in their lives.
Yet no one should contend that welfarism is only a Woonsocket, or a Rhode Island problem. How bad has this EBT Mentality infected communities in other states?
In California?


  1. I get food stamps because I lost Everything through an ugly divorce, I thank God every day for them, if I didn't have them I'd already be dead from starvation

    1. So sorry to hear about your economic situation. Do you believe that you are stuck staying on food stamps in Rhode Island, however?

  2. As a former Woonsocket resident, I know this info is true. There are more people on Medicaid than ever in RI. Some folks move to the state because they call it the good Welfare State!!

    1. Are you kidding me?! Wow! That is terrible!

    2. I also had resided there. It is true. Only one third of the residents work and the other two thirds have to pay. Way too many social dependents, subsidized housing, housing projects, absentee landlords, drugs, and thugs. Glad I'm out of that ghetto.

  3. "Obama Obama The Great One ! Beseech us in transfer of payments from those who get off their kistas and go to those who blame them for being lucky and not look into the mirror and blame themselves for bad decisions they made in life".....Look, I am frrom Woonsocket and my parents came from Canada WITH NOTHING. EDUCATION was ket and attended St Anes Schhol,metc. Was VERY poor while going to college with three jobs. Now, I have more than anything I've ever ask for in life - I was NOT lucky. When people AWAYS VOTED DEMOCTRAT claiming to save those in poverty - were doing so for over 60 years....and there is even more poverty in Woonsocket than ever before. Hence, The Welfare Capitol of The World.

  4. Well thought article. I enjoyed that you noted both the faults of the society as well as those living in it. Tracking who started the downhill roll is a "chicken or the egg" question, but the future solution to this issue is only harder to grasp. The cycle is revolting, and mindset can't heal all wounds. Unfortunately the people of my hometown want an easiest-path-to-success, and they find SNAP to be that path. Working for money will never be easier than being given money be signing paperwork. By limiting SNAP use to essentials, it forces the community to get up and find jobs. Again unfortunately, those jobs will probably lie in other cities that will pay higher, thus continuing the cycle. Is there a fix? What other cities have experienced this cyclonic effect, and how did they pull through (if ever)? This is a roller coaster, not a bottomless pit, so is it worth forcing the community to leave the city residents to leech elsewhere? Is it worth companies losing customers due to governmental restriction? What options does a city have in this situation?

  5. I don't think the problem is that they get welfare, the problem is that they don't get OFF!

    1. Agree. Generational welfare. Woonsocket is only 9 square miles. It is the same families, generation after generation after generation that are tax burdens. With a small city, you know the family names and where they live.

    2. You are very wrong about that. This is mostly imports from other places. I challenge you to name one 3 generation family.

    3. I am not wrong about that. I went to school with a few of them. Now their grandghildren are tax burdens themselves. It's a way of life for them, knowing nothing else. I won't disclose the names because they are minorities. And you know what happens when you disclose anything about're called a racist.

    4. Please contact me directly through email. I would like to get more information about the demographics and the cultural chances in the city.

    5. I think a huge problem is that they also have a cell phone account as well as a balance at a tattoo parlor..... Those are not necessities and for people that are struggling and relying on assistance, they should not have them, plain and simple.

  6. How lucky you must be to not live on assistance so you can look down on those who depend on it! It doesn't matter why people are on it or what they did or when. Not everyone is as lucky as you. There are PhDs on assistance. There are people who got dealt crap cards in life. The actual amount of people who are "choosing a welfare lifestyle" are fewer than you think. Poor people don't want to be poor.

    But you go right ahead begrudging someone hot soup because they're not as fortunate as you.

  7. But if you don't work,.. You have plenty of time to make your own soup....

  8. This article is so correct about Woonsocket. My step son's mother is a classic example of this with her 4 other children (my step son lives with us). My sister in law as well. It irritates me to see this as my spouse and I are 2 very hard working blue collar Rhode Islanders who struggle to pay our bills, put food on our plates and a roof over our heads. We try to move outside the city but other areas are too expensive for what we can afford so we are basically forced to live in this city. We are unable to seek financial assistance to raise my step son from his mother as she is one of the welfare recipients described in this story, yet she can drive around in a newer Cadillac SUV. We also make just over the poverty limit to qualify for any assistance from the government (FOOD/CASH/Housing/Etc.). To make matters worse when you need to go to an ATM, supermarket, or corner store around the 1st or 16th your "S.O.L." as all the ATM's are empty, markets are packed and the corner stores are just as busy.

    1. Wow! That is awful! I wish that the author had reported on the plight of Woonsocket residents not living on welfare!

  9. Woonsocket 15 years ago is nothing like it is today go to the projects Fairmount Morin heights and the others and all you see is a bunch of bums sitting on there stoop smoking cigarettes looking at there new cars parked in front of there government paid apartments with there numerous kids they keep popping out but can't afford. Go to Walmart and watch who pays with a ebt card and follow them outside 9 out of 10 jump in a real decent car that I the taxpayer basically bought for them. It's sickening to see these leeches of the system spend my tax money on candy smokes new cars gold and everything else I don't have and can't afford . It's my opinion that as of late people come to this country to plain out exploit it and get what they can because they are to dam lazy to work . And what's the real kicker is they say they hate this country so much and there's is so great when they fly there flags on there nice cars that the taxpayer pays for , well if it's so great back in your country and so bad over get the hell out , but o wait they don't give free bees over they you have to work for your money so they won't go back. Do us all a favor get the hell out so I can save some money on my taxes and maybe my property value might go up

  10. My issue with the snap program is that yhe people who arent working are getting WAYYY to much money. Mom of 2 on snap gets almost 500 dollars a month. But only gets 400 in cash. So now shes selling her food stamps to get by. Or ive heard stores excepting snap for paper or otger products. It depends on the machines. But then i working family now make a gross income of 1200 a month but only sees 900 after takes is now living in an apartment thats 800 dollars a month for rent and now needs a car to get back and forth so gas and insurance. Now there is no money left over for food. And snap only gives you 50 dollars because you now make to much.

    i also agree if you can afford jordons and tattoos and to go drunking every night chances are you dont need any need for food stamps. But if you qualify for food stamps and or cash then what arent you telling the government because i know that those 2 things dont go hand in hand.

    although i dont understnd the housing issue. How can some chaege anyone over 1000 to rent a crappy apartment per month and not need assistance. Specially when companies are continuing to only hire part time employments. And if ur a full time they look for reasons to ternminate them.

  11. This is a multi-generational problem. Sadly, I know of a few families that are now 4th generation. There are no easy solutions but we can do better. I am all for doing a bi weekly payments...hell, it is the way all the working folk have to budget. Plus it is way easier to budget for 2 weeks then plan for the whole month.

    As far as farmers markets, they should get an incentive to spend the money there. Healthier eating benefits everyone.

    I am definitely not liking the idea that money can be used to buy cigarettes. $9 a pack, $9 feeds a family of 4 a pretty decent meal.

    Not everyone is lazy, some have fallen on hard times, this is in place for those people. But for the people that see all the benefits of not finding a job because they make out so much better...well human nature...the system needs to change.

  12. A city is only as corrupt as it's people want it to be. Woonsocket has always voted Democrat. A party that believes in keeping people in chains to get their vote. Woonsocket's favorite son, Former Congressman St. Germain, is the father of subsidized housing. See what is brought. Woonsocket is a welfare town. Always will be...ME

  13. The female rebecka.... also spends her money on alcohol and drugs (i know shes my sisters friend) and she popped out 2 more kids with another father..... trashy people lead trashy lives its sad

  14. I would like to point out that $17 per hour x 160 hours is rather more than $1700 a month. I would like to point out as well that at least some of the businesses in the subject city produce a profit for the owner/operators but that food stamps rarely produce a bank account for recipients. Take away the SNAP and EBT programs and see what is left in many small towns and cities in the US--especially in Red states. The profits run back and forth from producer to consumer and woe to those who will disrupt the flow.