By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

The federal government has increased the average monthly food stamp benefit by $36 per person. Stock photo

Black people know how to make a dollar out of 15 cents, and families in need soon will have more to stretch.

President Joe Biden has authorized the largest permanent increase in the food stamp program’s history. The increase raises average monthly benefits by $36 per person beginning in October. The average per person amount was $121. It still is not much to live on, but to the hungry, every bit helps.

Feeding America estimates 1 in 5 Black Americans will experience food insecurity in 2021.  According to the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance, 109,915 local residents received CalFresh aid via EBT cards last month. Nearly twice as many were eligible.

Sharita Humphrey, an award-winning certified financial education instructor, says budgeting is the “first line of defense” when it comes to household finances. Courtesy photo

“It may not seem like a lot in its entirety, depending on where you live or what your income bracket is, but that additional money that’s coming into the household, if multiplied over 12 months, is quite healthy when it was not anticipated,” said Ms. Humphrey, who once was homeless and on food stamps. She works for Self, a company that promotes financial literacy and boasts a record of helping more than 2 million Americans, two thirds of whom are people of color, to make savings accessible by improving credit scores.

As millions of food stamp recipients across the country await having more to spend on food, The OBSERVER sat down with Sharita Humphrey, an award-winning certified financial education instructor, to discuss the importance of budgeting.

Many food stamp recipients run out of their allotment before the end of the month, leaving people with little to no food or relying on giveaways from local food banks and churches. School meals are all some children get.

Not only will the increase help individuals and families counteract higher grocery store costs, Ms. Humphrey said, they also can go a long way in alleviating stress over paying other bills.  

Planning is key, she said.

“It’s what I like to call your ‘first line of defense’ when it comes to your personal finances and that’s definitely your budget. Once you have that budget in mind and in place, you’re really able to see and evaluate what’s coming in and what’s going out.”

It’s erroneously assumed that people on food stamps don’t budget. People forced to make a lot from a little have no choice but to do so. Ms. Humphrey knows from personal experience.

“As a person who comes from a very financially limited background, I agree that we are the best budgeters because we know that truly, we don’t have any extra expenditures because we have to be able to pay the bills that are right in front of us each and every month,” she said. 

Ms. Humphrey strongly endorses budgeting apps with “built-in” accountability such as Nanci, Mint and YNAB (You Need a Budget) that offer personalized budgeting services on mobile and desktop devices. 

Ms. Humphrey suggested starter accounts and programs such as Self’s Credit Builder Account as ways low-income people can improve their financial profiles.

“You’re showing them that you are bankable, that you’re putting money into their banking institution, and that you’re saving it for a ‘rainy day.’ You may also be in a position where you might need a banking product or service from them later on and you can show that you have a positive banking history,” she said.

Improving one’s credit history and overall financial picture can lead to other opportunities. Employers and hiring managers also look at this information, as do those who decide whether you get the apartment or home you want.

COVID-19 further changed the narrative of the hungry and the working poor. Ms. Humphrey says she has seen greater interest in financial preparedness among clients, which she called an unexpectedly beneficial side effect.

“(People are) starting to become more financially literate, they want the education, they want to be in a position where they are ‘pandemic proof’ because we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last,” she said.

Ms. Humphrey said the freedom that comes with being able to save is game-changing and leads to financial confidence.

“Especially people of color, that is something that we struggle with, because many of us are living paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

Learning to utilize available resources helped change the trajectory of Ms. Humphrey’s life. She was homeless in 2011 with two children and later had another baby when their situation stabilized. Ms. Humphrey also started a business, Change In Motion LLC.

“They get to see mommy move in a different way,” she said. “My little one will never know that life.”