Reps. live on $4.50 daily food allowance, bring awareness as SNAP cuts loom
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 23:09
Last week, Rep. Edward Osienski (D-Del.) and State Sen. Bryan Townsend (D-Del.) lived on a week’s food budget of $31.50 as a part of the SNAP Challenge, a national initiative by the Food Research and Action Center. The initiative provides an opportunity for participants to experience the challenges of living with a limited food budget, according to the FRAC website.
Osienski and Townsend’s participation in the challenge ended the same day Congress voted to cut $40 billion from SNAP over 10 years by restricting eligibility as a part of the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, a part of the Farm Bill. Reports from the Associated Press said President Barack Obama plans to veto the bill.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamps Program, allots Delawarean recipients $4.25 for food each day, coming to $29.75 per week, SNAP Outreach Coordinator for Delaware Matthew Talley said. Delaware’s benefit is slightly less than the average national benefit of $31.50 per week, he said.
On his sixth day participating in the challenge, Townsend said he was feeling less energized and less focused than usual. Townsend said he did not want to “dramatize” the act of undertaking the weeklong SNAP Challenge, and said there should be a more open and honest conversation about the food choices available to people who are on public assistance. He said while doing the SNAP Challenge, he was not “living in starvation,” but it really limited his options, choices and nutrition.
“I can’t stress enough that it’s one week, and I know that a safety net is there for me realistically,” Townsend said. “But it’s still an important week, an important lesson.”
During the 2012 fiscal year, an average of 68,287 Delawarean households relied on SNAP each month, Talley said. The intent of SNAP is to “supplement the household food budget, not to supplant it,” though there are some people who do rely on SNAP for their whole food budget, Talley said.
The SNAP budget has already been cut this year, Talley said. A boost in funding to SNAP as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 is set to expire at the end of October, Talley said, meaning benefit recipients will receive less money starting this November.
The idea behind the boost in the ARRA was that families recovering from the recession would have a slightly more money to spend on food in grocery stores and in the local economy, providing the stimulus effect, Talley said.
Every five dollars in SNAP benefits creates up to nine dollars of economic activity, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.
The reductions this November will cut between $11 for a one-person household to $36 for a four-person household, per month, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Talley said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the effect of politicians’ taking on the SNAP Challenge in their future policymaking. Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) participated in the SNAP Challenge earlier this summer, and he ended up switching his stance on a lot of nutrition programs, Talley said.
“It’s a very divided issue, but overwhelmingly, the population doesn’t seem to want SNAP to go away,” Talley said. “It helps a lot of people in ‘red states,’ actually more than it does in ‘blue states.’ The majority [of SNAP benefits] go to people in so-called ‘red states.’ It’s not a Republican-Democrat issue among constituents so much as it is a Republican-Democrat issue among the [representatives] in Congress.”
Osienski said, as a policymaker, he wanted to participate in the challenge in order to raise awareness for hunger in Delaware.
“I knew we would get some attention, so that’s why I took part in the challenge, to raise awareness and also to raise awareness of the need to support our food pantries, the food bank, meals on wheels programs,” Osienski said.
Osienski spent $31.42 shopping for the challenge and said he bought two pounds of pasta, a jar of Ragu, a whole roasted chicken, baby carrots, a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of whole wheat bread, eggs, milk, brown rice, bananas and two cans of black beans. He said some of the most difficult aspects of the challenge included the careful planning before going shopping and not being able to share weekend meals at restaurants with friends.
On day six of the challenge, Talley said most of his food was starchy and rice or potato-based. He said he was eating fewer fruits and vegetables than he normally eats. Coffee was not in the budget, so he was “dragging a little bit in the morning,” he said.
“It is certainly enlightening to me to kind of see how people who are on such a low food budget have to carefully do their shopping and dedicate so much time to purchasing and preparing meals,” he said.
Townsend said participating in the SNAP challenge was an eye-opening experience and said he would encourage people to try it.
“I would encourage UD students to do it for a week or a few days,” Townsend said. “I know a lot of them live on pre-paid budgets, but I think it’s a really important learning experience to walk a mile in someone’s shoes.”