During the week of September 8th my wife, Laura, and I took the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge - try to eat as healthfully as possible on $4.80 per person per day. That is the amount a person receives under SNAP.
We decided that since the seventh day of the week was Yom Kippur, which included a 25-hour fast, it would be unfair for us to spend 7-days worth of money when we were only going to eat on 6 of the days. Therefore, we reduced our weekly food budget (for the two of us) to $57.60 (6x $9.60). With that money, this is what we bought for the week:
Item Quantity Cost
Yogurt 12 $4.68
Olive Oil 1 $2.59
Eggs 2 Doz. $2.78
Oatmeal 1 large cylinder $2.29
2% Milk 1/2 gal. $1.69
Wheat Bread 2 loaves $1.98
100 Tea Bags 50 $0.95
Bananas 2.93 lbs. $1.29
Apples 4.5 lbs. $4.49
Grapes 2.00 lbs. $1.99
Peanut Butter 1 $3.99
Jelly 1 $0.99
Pasta 3 lbs. $2.64
Tomato Sauce 1 $1.19
Brown Rice 3 lb. bag $1.95
Black Beans 1.5 lbs. $1.50
Salsa 1 $1.69
Cheddar Cheese 2 lbs. $6.58
Frozen Broccoli 1 $1.09
Frozen Peas 1 $0.95
Ice Cream 1 $2.10
Peanut Bars 4 $1.72
Almonds 12 oz. $4.99
Popcorn 1 bag $1.49
Most days breakfast consisted of a bowl of oatmeal, two eggs over easy, a piece of dry toast, a banana and a cup of hot tea. Lunch was usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with iced tea. Some days popcorn or an apple would be an afternoon snack. Dinner was either a bowl of beans and rice mixed with spicy salsa sauce, or a pasta dish. On a few nights we were able to have some ice cream for dessert. On other nights an apple might serve.
While we never were hungry during the week, the menu was on the boring side. From time to time I had a hankering for fresh vegetables and some protein other than eggs, pasta, oatmeal, or beans and rice. I can only imagine what it must be like to have to live on SNAP for more than a week.
Also, we take for granted that we can alter our weekly menu on the fly - decide we don't feel like eating what we had originally planned and pick up something different at the store. Last week, we had to stick with our pre-determined game plan because in the interest of stretching our budget as far as possible, we carefully planned our menu and spent all of our money on the first day.
We recognize that we had the advantage of having a car, which enabled us to shop at different supermarkets and take advantage of sales and specials. Many people on SNAP do not have a vehicle and live in a "food desert." Many have no choice, but to shop at small overpriced bodegas.
I also want to acknowledge some of the disadvantages we imposed on ourselves. We did not go to any food pantries or soup kitchens since we did not want to deprive people truly in need. People on SNAP obviously can and do go to food pantries and soup kitchens.
Likewise, we did not go to a Mobile Foodshare site to supplement our menu with fresh fruits and vegetables. I really would have enjoyed having an onion and some tomatoes during the week to add more flavor to some of the dishes. Those are the types of vegetables Mobile Foodshare distributes to those who need it. Had we taken advantage of a Mobile Foodshare visit, we probably could have afforded a small amount of some meat or juice or greater choices in selecting other types of food.
All in all, it was a great experience I never want to have to do again. It gave me better insight into life on SNAP and made me appreciate all the more my good fortune.
P.S. I have copied below information sent out by End Hunger Connecticut!, which essentially says that House Republican leaders want to impose substantial cuts to SNAP. Please go back and look at our shopping list to see what you might cut if you were on SNAP and the benefit were reduced.
WE STILL DON’T HAVE A FARM BILL…
Just to recap...
On June 26th Congress rejected a Farm Bill that cut SNAP by $20 Billion but then on July 11th narrowly passed a version that removed the nutrition component entirely. However, that bill has not yet been acted upon in the Senate AND President Obama has promised to veto.
We still do not have a Farm Bill.
What's in the works?
The Center for Budget and Policy Priority and FRAC report that the latest activity in the House is the disclosure by House Republican leaders that they plan to move a bill in early September that doubles - to $40 billion over ten years - their proposed cuts to SNAP and immediately cuts $2-4 million more low-income individuals from the program.
The new cuts come primarily from eliminating waivers that states can use, during periods of high unemployment, to ease the severity of a harsh rule that limits SNAP to three months of benefits out of every three years for people aged 18 to 50 who aren't raising minor children and are unemployed, regardless of how hard they are looking for work. The individuals in question are among the poorest people in the United States- their average income just 22 percent of the poverty line, about $2,500 a year for a single individual.