Here’s a hotly debated question: Should people relying on food stamps be able to use them to buy pet food?
On top of that, should people relying on assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) really even have pets? After all, if they can’t afford to feed themselves, should they be in charge of caring for another living being, too?
From the outside — and especially if you’ve never hit a rough patch in life before — this question might be hard to answer.
You might have even seen people on the streets with scruffy dogs sleeping next to them and wondered about this already.
Pets Are Family
Is it fair to subject a pet to poverty when they have no control over the matter?
To people like Edward Johnston Jr., there’s no question at all. Pets aren’t property — they’re family.
To him and countless others, the thought of not being able to care for a dog or cat is simply unthinkable. In fact, Johnston routinely shares his own food supply with his dog because the food stamps he relies on don’t cover pet food.
Johnston hasn’t always relied on SNAP, though, and his petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture brings that statement to light. In his attempt to change the governmental food stamp program, Johnston reminds readers,
“Some argue that people should not keep pets if they cannot afford them, but the fact is that an individual or family’s financial status can change at any time. Should someone be forced to give up a pet they’ve had for years just because they hit a financial rough patch? Or should they be able to utilize federal aid to continue feeding their pet? Pets are also important for emotional support. Being poor is hard enough without being expected to give up your companion. For most people, pets are considered family, not property.”
He makes a good point.
Imagine you lost your job today, and at the same time, got hit with a serious medical bill that soaked up any extra resources you had. Would you give your pet away to lessen your financial burden?
My guess is, you’d probably hold them even closer every day, thankful to have such a loving creature in your family during a rough time.
Can You Buy Dog Food With Food Stamps?
No. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t include dog food or any pet food in the description of SNAP, which only covers “foods for the household to eat,” like bread, cereal, meat and dairy. Other household items aren’t included.
When the Food Stamp Act was introduced to the United States in 1964, it defined “food” as being for human consumption.
According to the Wall Street Journal, changing that definition would take congressional action, which is logistically and financially difficult. In other words, it’s not likely to happen, even with hundreds of thousands of signatures on a petition.
How to Get Help
While the effort to change the rules and include pet food under SNAP is encouraging, it’s not enough to make any immediate changes.
And unfortunately, there are still countless people unable to feed their pets without sacrificing their own food.
There is, however, an alternative. Pet food pantries are a saving grace for many people living below the poverty line and trying their best to care for pets.
They operate similarly to regular food banks — they’re a place people can go for monthly supplies of pet food, treats, bones, toys and more. Many even offer free or discounted veterinary services.
Some pet food banks base their help off a person’s governmental assistance status. Or, in other words, if someone is already using food stamps, they’ll easily qualify for help with pet food, too.
Other food banks simply ask for an application and proof of income level.
Pet food pantries aren’t the answer for everyone because they’re not in every city and town. They are, however, a step in the right direction. To many, they keep families together.
Helping Those in Need
The question still remains: Should pet food be included in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program?
To me, it warrants an easy answer: Yes.
The thought of losing a pet you consider family is heartbreaking, and going through difficult financial times shouldn’t be the cause of that heartbreak.
To provide immediate help to those in need, reach out to your local animal shelter. They’ll be able to direct you to the nearest pet food bank, where you can donate food, that dog leash you never ended up using or even your time.
Governmental programs might progress at a pace too slow for people who need help now, but you can take action right away.