The Pet Food Stamps program, a privately funded New York non-profit, was created to fill the void in the federal food stamp program that excludes the purchase of pet food and supplies.
After years of experience in the corporate world, Mark Okon, a stockbroker and business consultant, founded this non-profit after a friend admitted she sometimes fed her cats before herself.
"I've been around enough shady businesses and surrounded by salesmen-types who were always talking about the deal," he said. After working for a firm that sold questionable medical benefits to seniors, Okon was ready for a change.
The six-staff organization has been flooded with applications since the site’s conception in February. Anyone already receiving government assistance is eligible for the program, which means that Pet Food Stamps could potentially draw from an applicant pool of 47 million Americans. Most applicants include stories of their hard times.
"I just heard from a lady in North Carolina who has an autistic son whose only companion is a Jack Russell Terrier," Okon said. “It’s cookie cutter sadness,” but no less significant.
Last week, the National Center for Public Research revealed that taxpayers subsidize about $4 billion worth of soda each year, yet pet food is ineligible for federal food stamp coverage. The Center complained at Coca-Cola’s annual shareholder meeting that the company lobbies heavily to include soda on a list of wholesome items eligible under federal aid, bringing to question the validity of other products.
Energy drinks with nutrition labels and expensive cuts of steak both qualify for aid, according to the USDA.
"The people in power were put there by fat cats, who have money and control," Mr. Okun said. "I see it getting worse and worse, decade after decade. I don't know what's going to change."