Twenty-six members of Congress will live off of a food stamp budget this week to draw attention to House Republicans cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The program’s eligibility requirements already leave out 50 million food insecure households, but another 2 million Americans would lose access to food stamps in the proposed changes for the Farm Bill.
The SNAP challenge means that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and 25 participating members must try to live off of under $4.50 per day for food and drink.
Lee detailed the tough decisions she made grocery shopping — butter and milk were outside her budget and a McDonalds value menu item will count as her midweek break — in a blog post. “What I’m thinking about most during this trip is that I’m shopping only for myself,” she wrote, comparing the difficult decisions now to when she needed public assistance as a single mother. “When I was a young, single mother, I was on public assistance. It was a bridge over troubled water, and without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I spent hours debating what to buy and what to skip, all the while keeping my sons in my mind.” Many Americans receiving SNAP benefits are under 18 years old and live in working households.
On Wednesday, the participating Democrats chronicled their trips to the grocery store, where they poured over coupons and attempted to buy a week’s worth of food for about $30:
— Rep. Dan Kildee (@RepDanKildee) June 12, 2013
Other officials have attempted to live off of food stamps for short periods of time. Newark Mayor Cory Booker took the challenge earlier this year. When Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton participated in the challenge, he found he was “tired” and it was “hard to focus” by day four. “If I were doing this with no end in sight, I probably wouldn’t be so pleasant,” he wrote. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who recently participated in the SNAP challenge, found “I’m hungry for five days…I lost six pounds in four days.”
Compare these reactions to the arguments made by conservatives, who pan food stamps as government dependency. “Unfortunately, the rapid growth of this program has only increased dependency on government and added to our federal deficit,” 25 Republican members wrote in a letter Tuesday. Last Thanksgiving, a Fox News host joked she would look “fabulous” on a food stamp diet.