Fliers threaten to name food stamp recipients

An anonymous antagonist in Portland, Ore., is targeting them as a drain on taxpayers. The same person has challenged the disabled as well.

By Jason Notte Sep 5, 2013 3:28PM
A food stamps sign in a store window on April 14, 2013 (© Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)Trolls don't live exclusively on Internet comments fields.

Occasionally, they like to go out into the real world and cause grief just because they can. In Portland, Ore., occasionally someone carries a rifle, straps on some armor and forces the closure of the Burnside Bridge across the Willamette River for 45 minutes. On other occasions, people will openly carry AR-15 rifles through Southeast Portland just to "educate" people that doing so is legal.

More recently, however, an anonymous individual has been distributing fliers in Southeast Portland threatening to expose the identities of people in that neighborhood who are receiving disability payments. The individual has since shifted his or her attention to people receiving food stamps. The fliers -- signed only by "Artemis of the wildland," a woeful misreading of the Greek deity and "mistress of the animals" who appears in Homer's "The Illiad" -- read as follows:

"There are twenty seven people in this neighborhood who vote and receive food stamps. The names of these people are being posted where they can be seen by taxpayers and the neighborhood can decide who is truly in need of food."

This course of action has just a few problems, beyond the obvious trolling. First off, despite what "Portlandia" may tell you, Oregon is a fairly poor state in which 21% of the population is enrolled in the food stamp program (officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), according to the Department of Agriculture. That's well above the 15% national average and trails only Mississippi's 22%. With that usage so widespread, comparatively affluent Southeast Portland represents a small fraction of the state's food stamp recipients.

Second, public shaming has a nasty habit of backfiring in spectacular fashion. Remember when the Journal News in New York's Westchester County ran a map of all the permitted gun owners in its coverage area just because it could? The ensuing backlash drove home the fact that, even when it's a matter of public record, folks don't like having perfectly legal portions of the private lives placed on display without their permission.

Finally, there's the greater question of the legality of what the flier distributor is threatening. Portland police say it's not likely the person behind the fliers has committed a crime yet, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the follow-through would cross the line.

"Names of recipients are not public records," Brooke Hardison, a spokeswoman for the USDA, told The Huffington Post. "Such information is only to be used for administration and enforcement of the program."

If the troll's only goal was to make enemies and be almost universally hated, then bravo on the world-class trolling. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales' office and the Portland police are now tracking the fliers with the public's help.

The residents of typically laid-back Southeast Portland have been almost unanimously disapproving in their responses. "To just use a broad brush and put every single person's name up there without really investigating any of the situations," resident Lauren Davidson told CBS affiliate KFVS, "I don't think that's right."

More on moneyNOW

Sep 5, 2013 4:54PM
I have no problem with people receiving government subsidized food stamps, etc. as long as they are truly in need of help.  What I do have a problem with are those individuals who are driving new cars and using food stamps, bleeding the system dry,  etc.  That's stealing which is a crime and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Sep 5, 2013 4:49PM

Wouldn't it be nice if we could marshall the forces to uncover, prosecute and publisize those who are taking public assistance fraudulently?


These folks ARE breaking the law and deserve public humiliation.



Sep 5, 2013 4:18PM
Divorce records are public.  Bankruptcy records are public.  Foreclosure and eviction proceedings are public.  Civil filings and judgements are a matter of public record.  Property transactions are public.  Property tax records are made available to the public.  Why not the names of those on gov assistance?
Sep 5, 2013 4:09PM
If they ain't ashamed to use 'em, they should not be ashamed to have their name posted. I think it's brilliant!  Funny, the liberal media had NO problem with the posting of gun owners.
Sep 5, 2013 3:55PM
I have a better idea! Let us distribute fliers with the names of the companies that pay their employees less than a livable wage causing said employees to require assistance in the first place. At the top, list CEO salary and company profit for the year. Taxpayers are subsidizing those companies payroll.
Sep 5, 2013 4:12PM
I think it's a great idea. Too many freeloaders hide behind  anonymity while sucking on the government teat.
Sep 5, 2013 4:30PM
If they are receiving PUBLIC assistance paid for with my tax dollars it is PUBLIC INFORMATION and they should be exposed. Don't like it? Get off welfare and you won't have to worry about it!
Sep 5, 2013 4:05PM
Perhaps the names of those on gov assistance should be made public, at least after a certain period of time.  If I'm paying for someone else's food or shelter, shouldn't I have a right to know who they are, or were?

For those on disability, wouldn't it be better if their neighbors could identify them, you know, just in case they miraculously recover long enough to mow their own grass or prune their own trees or carry a bunch of cases of soda into the house.
Sep 5, 2013 4:25PM
Sep 5, 2013 3:48PM
Fact is, there are plenty of wealthy folks living off the Government. Folks need to be careful about crying about who's on what less they find out that they themselves have been living off the Government. The US Government sends a ton of money to states. Farmer being subsidized and bogus Defense contracts are rampant throughout the Nation. Big Banks handed free money by the Global FEDS. And on, and on.
Sep 5, 2013 4:49PM
if the names and salaries of government employees are public record, then all governement payments should be.  Citizens have a right to know how their tax dollars are spent.
Sep 5, 2013 4:34PM
So let me get it straight:  It is OK to make a map of all the people who own guns with name and address info on it and publish this in newspapers and available online, yet this would be illegal.  I agree it would be in bad taste, but still, the 2nd Amendment is a right just as important as privacy.  There are many truly disabled people who need these benefits, yet the article overlooks the large #s of people who take advantage of the system.  Over 5.9 million people were added from January 2009 until September of 2012.  I smell a teensy bit of fraud.
Sep 5, 2013 4:48PM

Simply being on a welfare program shouldn't draw so much criticism as it does. Millions of hard working adults receive government aid because employers refuse to pay a livable wage. These people don't deserve the embarrassment of a public listing. The true freeloaders in the system are the people who refuse to work yet they still receive assistance. These people deserve to be listed and kicked off of assistance if they can't prove due diligence in looking for work.

Sep 5, 2013 4:41PM
It would appear the trolls are the writers of MSN MONEY. Your comparison of registered gun owners and those who use public welfare and disability, is hollow. The gun owner has not requested the generosity of there fellow citizen.  
Sep 5, 2013 4:43PM

If someone is accepting public assistance, it should be available on public records.   If they don't want their name out there then they can choose not to accept it.  They are in control of the situation.


Too many people are trying to make excuses for why anyone accepting public assistance should remain anonymous.   Talking about the US Gov sending money to states.  As individuals we have no control over what the Gov funds the states and most of us will not see any of that money anyway.   The argument about people earning less than a livable wage....... come on.  No one if forcing them to work that job.   At some point, people need to take some personal responsibility for their situation.  Enough excuses already.

Sep 5, 2013 5:49PM
I will admit I receive disability benefits. Does that mean I don't feel well enough to carry my own groceries or mow my own yard as brutus suggests? Not at all because I do both of those things. The key is I do them slowly, in stages and medicated. And by the way brutus, after working and paying into the system for not quite 40 years; at the current rates I will have to receive benefits for 15 years before they have to use one dime of your contributions. And another thought for those of you who see people like me as a drain to society. As a divorced person with an adult child. If I don't live long enough to recoup in benefits what I paid in when I was working I can't leave the balance to my heirs. The government considers that a donation. So brutus.........you can go suck an egg.
Sep 5, 2013 4:39PM

Post what you want..If I get them its because I need them. I could care less what someone else thinks of me if I were in that situation.

FYI- They've been posting names of those on the take since the very beginning.. It's called the U.S. Government.

Sep 5, 2013 4:25PM

Who knew this country was so full of worthless, spiteful trolls?  Brutus625 clearly has a mental problem - he thinks his miserable contribution is paying for someone else's food.  Wake up idiot.

You've had your clock cleaned by Wall Street and the Pentagon and you think it's the poor that are stealing from you.  What a moron!!

Sep 5, 2013 4:26PM
the rich live tax free why not the middle class we pay for it all...
Sep 5, 2013 4:05PM
Go right ahead, as long as you put your own name and address on the flyer, why not?
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