In Oregon, food stamps will buy you Starbucks frappuccinos

Ever read a personal finance advice column with regularity? It’s usually just a matter of time before the columnist posts a piece headlined something along the lines of “Five Easy Ways to Save Money This Season.” Inevitably, the first of the “five easy ways” is to forego the specialty Starbucks drinks. Save $3 a day — or more than $1,000 a year! Invest that money at 5 percent compound interest and, in 10 years, you’ll have $1,628.89!

It’s all very tedious and plenty of folks would rather just have the caffeine fix now, as Starbucks’ success attests — but, the point is, most people who indulge in custom frappuccinos with any regularity know they’re overpriced and probably leave the coffee shop feeling vaguely guilty for having splurged yet again. My compromise: Buy the glass-bottled four-packs at Walmart. Still pricey, but not outrageously so.

But, if I were on food stamps in Oregon, I’d indulge in a luxury coffee concoction far more frequently than I do. Why? Because my Oregon Trail card would cover it. Sure, taxpayers would be on the hook for my caffeine addiction, but I wouldn’t think about that.

Fox 12 in Oregon reports:

With the help of Jackie Fowler, who has a “supplemental nutrition card” or Oregon Trail Card, Fox 12 visited an in-store Starbucks within a Safeway in the town of Salem. Fowler purchased a tall Frappuccino and a slice of pumpkin bread — and paid for both using her Oregon Trail card.

“It’s crazy,” Fowler told Fox 12, showing off the receipt for $5.25.

“They’re overpriced as it is,” said Fowler of the specialty drink. “That’s money that somebody could be eating with — a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk.” Fowler, who made the purchase only for the purpose of Fox 12’s story, says she thinks it’s a huge misuse of the food assistance program.

On a serious note now, this report makes me thankful for folks like Jackie Fowler. Actually, if I were on food stamps in Oregon, I would want to be just like her. But, sadly, it’s all too true that many people spend other people’s money more easily than they spend their own — and, if a system can be abused, some people will abuse it.

A spokesman with the Oregon State Department of Human Services said they will look into the matter. I hope so. Stories like this one — however small it seems in isolation — help to explain why so many people have so little faith in government programs.