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Back On Food Stamps

I am now officially poor, having gone full cycle: from dirty hippie living on food stamps, $42 a month fifty years ago, to landed gentry pocketing $273 a month today. Being a scammer most of my adult life I’m overjoyed to have all you taxpayers helping support me in my dotage. Thanks.

What instigated me to sign up for this welfare aid was my homeowner’s insurance increase from $900 two years ago to $2200 last year and then up to $4000-5000 this year. I was kicking myself practically every day for not taking the reduced rate from Costco a few years ago and needed cash help to subsidize the insurance and break this cycle of regret. (Though they honor existing homeowner policies they are not accepting any new ones in Humboldt County because of fire danger. Still available is their car insurance, called “CONNECT,” which will cut your bill by more than half, FYI.)

Enter food stamps, now called Cal-fresh: instead of sending you a pile of Monopoly money every month you now swipe an electronic card to pay for all the pizza, potatoes, and broccoli.

I had no idea I would be eligible for this sweet handout until I got a letter from my healthcare provider, Open Door in Eureka, where I had followed Dr. Hunter from Redway thirty years ago, asking me if I was food secure and needed help to buy it, along with a number to call. I figured I wasn’t qualified because I had money in the bank making a little interest on top of my paltry Social Security, but it turned out to be a small enough income to indicate poverty, though not abject. (About eighteen grand a year is the cutoff point, with expenses like utilities and health insurance factored in.)

Ah food stamps: I scammed them in my late teens and early twenties in California, Indiana, Michigan, and New York, becoming an expert at filling out the forms and getting paid. The first time was when we were hippies camping out at Nooning Creek and the word was that all you had to do to get them was bring a BLM campfire permit from the fire station in Whitethorn to social services (DSS) at the, soon to be demolished, Lloyd Building in Eureka. 

Later I lived in Mendocino County which didn’t participate in the food stamp program and just handed out nasty “commodities,” sterile packs of white flour and blocks of unappetizing and tasteless yellow cheese. Have no fear, the county line was just a couple miles away and some of us in Mendo used residences of friends and family in Humboldt for our required home visit, and we received the food stamps.

We got about forty-two bucks worth a month which you could live on in those days if you could also make another twenty somehow. (I made some bull rush mats for a while though “Little Stevie” Doyle was more ambitious and went up to the Lloyd Building, told them he had five dependents, made about $250 a month, and when they caught on to him he went to jail for six months.)

What blows my mind now is my fellow seniors on SSI or SSA who are eligible but don’t apply, why? Do they just not have that fighting spirit of the determined scammer? They had been spending most of their lives out here playing the Royal Scam, marijuana farming, so why aren’t they applying for Cal-fresh benefits now that there’s no more weed money and they are broke old timers?

I asked around and one of them, in her early seventies, said she “didn’t want to rock the boat,” maybe meaning she was grateful to have her $1000 a month in SSI plus Medi-cal, and is paranoid she could lose it if she asked for more? 

I asked someone else not getting Cal-fresh food stamps if they wouldn’t feel comfortable swiping a card at Chautauqua, thus revealing their poverty to the checker and others in line? Not me, I’m shameless, and I answered every question truthfully, daring them to deny my claim. (Every item purchased is tracked and stored in a central computer system somewhere meaning my tongue, stomach, and ass I guess are under state surveillance. No, toilet paper is not covered.)

About five weeks after applying, I received my EBT card in the mail and was giddy with delight. I called the automated system to give them my safe word to activate the account, and then some friends to announce my good fortune. 

The online application for Cal-fresh ( is very simple and user-friendly, it even says it’s okay if you don’t have any paperwork, ie tax stubs or other proof of income, you can still apply and use any pronoun or gender you choose. 

California wants to take care of us! (As it reams us out expensively every other way.)

* * *

I had lunch with my former food stamps worker, from 1977, yesterday in Arcata and she put out a tasty spread of beans, homemade salsa, guacamole, salad, and chips. (Gary had said the happiest three words on the phone minutes earlier: “Patricia made lunch.”)

She loved her job visiting the Southern Humboldt hippies in the late seventies at their various cabins, teepees, and caves and approved everyone for food stamps. Now almost seventy-five, she recently couldn’t help herself and bought an original food stamp on Ebay, framed it, and hung it on the wall in the living room where we sat and talked for an hour after lunch. (I wonder if any of her former clients remember their home visits with Patricia?)

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