Think food aid should be cut? Try living on so little yourself

Jun 23, 2013

For the last week, we both ate on $4.50 a day, the average amount a Michigan recipient receives for food assistance. We took this SNAP Challenge to spotlight the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and to oppose the $20 billion in cuts House Republicans have included in their farm bill.

We learned more lessons than either of us expected.

It is barely enough to get by on. Shopping on $31.50 for the week was hard to do. Eating was worse. Neither of us felt full or nutritionally satisfied.

It is hard to eat nutritiously on so little. Admittedly, neither of us maintains a strict diet that balances carbs, proteins or fat. But seldom have our diets seen such a lack of diversity of fruits, vegetables and meats.

Even more compelling than our personal experiences was the personal outreach we received from the community. We were touched by the phone calls, e-mails, Facebook posts and random encounters of people who shared their own personal, often difficult stories with us. Countless people have relied on this vital program at some point to stave off hunger, often too embarrassed to share their hardships with others. We were honored to give a public voice to their experiences.

We better understand the social isolation many people feel, unable to accept a simple invitation to a restaurant or potluck dinner because they don’t have the means to pay or food to contribute.

We got lots of menu ideas and shopping suggestions. Our Facebook pages became a sort of Pinterest board. It speaks to the basic nature of food and the importance of good nutrition.

Finally, while we already knew that 50 million Americans experience “food insecurity,” the meaning of this term took on new significance as we worried about how we would stretch our purchases to last through the week without running short of a meal, and thought about how difficult it would be to have only $31.50, not just for one week — but week after week.

More than 47 million Americans who receive SNAP benefits work every day, raise their kids and live productive lives, yet are still unable to scrape enough together to provide food for an entire month. And many are disabled or too infirm to work.

Economists have found that SNAP is one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus, especially in a weak economy. According to Moody’s Analytics, every dollar increase in SNAP benefits generates $1.72 in economic activity. At the grocery store where we bought our food, for instance, we learned that 20% of the customers use a Bridge card.

During the last seven days, we learned all too well the challenge of putting food on the table for just $4.50 a day. If the $20 billion in cuts that Republicans have proposed were to take effect, more than 2 million Americans would lose even that much assistance. For them, the challenge would become all the more difficult.

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