- Associated Press - Thursday, February 20, 2014

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Someday, down the road, Gary and Amanda Johnson dream of owning their home and not being dependent on food stamps.

For now this Hutchinson family of four relies on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to put food on the table, The Hutchinson News (https://bit.ly/1fBBywh ) reports.

“The day we are off food stamps I will rejoice,” said Gary Johnson.

The couple has set goals to ensure that day will eventually come.

Gary Johnson has a full time job with USD 308 as a head custodian at HMS 8, but still his family is part of the 13.2 percent of Reno County residents receiving food stamp assistance. They are also part of the one in seven Americans, according to The Associated Press, who are now covered by SNAP. Economists are warning that simply having a job may no longer be enough for self-sufficiency in today’s economy.

Currently they are a one-income family after Amber, 25, lost her job last spring when Quiznos closed. She has found it cheaper to stay home rather than work and pay for day care for Taryn, 5, and Baylee, 2.

“It’s a catch-22,” she said.

She could work and make the same amount of money that she would with food stamps, because of the cost of paying for day care and gas to get to work. Instead she stays home with their daughters, and relies on food stamps for the food on their table.

Gary makes $9.89 an hour working 40 hours a week. Their expenses each month, not including food, are $1,100 and from that they pay $375 rent, utilities, car insurance, phone and items such as shampoo and conditioner. Amanda even made her own laundry soap in October and it lasted for several months. They currently receive $380 a month in food stamp assistance; it was cut by $100 in November. When broken down their food stamp allotment allows them a little more than $10 a day for their family of four. They make sure to buy meat bundles at Berridge IGA, in Nickerson, that last about 22 days. It also helps that Taryn, who is in all day kindergarten, eats breakfast and lunch at school.

Despite budgeting, “I always fear that we will run short,” said Amanda.

“The days that stress us are the months with only 28 days,” said Gary, because there are fewer days to earn money.

Back when Taryn began with Reno County Early Head Start Program, the family learned about InterFaith Housing. They visited with Lorna Moore who directs the Creating Assets, Savings and Hope program, known as CASH.

“Thanks to Lorna we have found a cheaper way to live,” said Amanda. They rent their two bedroom, newly remodeled home from HIS.

As participants they must commit to three parts of the CASH program: attend six hours of financial education, complete four life-skills workshops, and save for a minimum of six months with a minimum deposit of$20.00 per month.

They automatically have $60 withdrawn from Gary’s paycheck every month to go into their CASH account. That will eventually be used to buy a home or for a college education.

“Despite their limited income they have been saving every month,” said Moore.

Both Gary and Amanda were raised in families that used food stamps. Amanda was removed from her home and placed in foster care living in a series of both happy and unhappy homes. But when she turned 18 she aged-out of the system, and went to Hutchinson Community College on a tuition waiver for foster care recipients. She has her associate’s degree with a focus on social work. Taryn was born before Amanda met Gary on an on-line chat room. They hit it off and he flew from his home in California to Kansas to meet her. They were married at the Reno County Courthouse on Feb.14, 2012.

“I don’t like taking and not giving back,” said Amanda, who does volunteer work at the Reno County Early Head Start Program.

“They have been very kind,” she said.

Gary says food stamps can be a helpful tool for those who desperately need it and a necessity at the moment for his family. But he knows that people abuse the system. He also knows there are extreme misconceptions by others.

“People look at me using my vision card and see my iPhone,” Amanda said. It makes her feel like they are judging her, but the iPhone was a gift. Others see their shiny black Honda in the driveway and wonder how they can afford such a vehicle. But it was a gift from Gary’s mother.

According to Mariah Ehmke, an agricultural economist with University of Wyoming, she has graduate students who use food stamps, students who have small children or families and need help for a few years as they get through college.

“There is a lot of research on how long people remain in poverty. Sixty to 70 percent of the people in poverty today won’t be in a decade.

“I don’t see the abuse. It is not something people brag about being on food stamps. It is pretty shameful thing,” Ehmke said.

On average, Kansans spend about 26 months on food stamps, said Sandra Kimmons, benefits director for the Kansas Department of Children and Families.

The Johnsons are well aware that food stamps are not a permanent solution, but a temporary fix. They can see a bright future where they are stable and food stamp free.

“I want to go on with school,” said Amanda. “I have a passion to work with foster kids.”

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