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Blog: Preparing for the SNAP Food Stamp Challenge

Jun 13, 2013
Blog Post

From Thursday, June 13, to Wednesday, June 19, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-02) will participate in the SNAP Challenge and live on the national weekly average food stamp benefit of $31.50 (or $4.50 a day) for one week. Pocan is participating in the SNAP Challenge to shed light on the efforts by Congressional Republicans to cut $20.5 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) funding, which would kick 2 million people off the food stamp program and reduce access to free school meals for 210,000 children.

At this very moment, more than 47 million Americans, including 800,000 Wisconsinites, are receiving federal assistance in order to afford meals for themselves and their families. About two-thirds of those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) benefits, previously called food stamps, are either children, elderly or have a serious disability. With some of my Republican colleagues proposing to cut more than $20 billion from SNAP, I wanted to highlight this vital program by taking the SNAP Challenge and living off a food stamp budget for one whole week.

My task? I could spend no more than $31.50 on all of my food intake for a week—the average national weekly benefit for a SNAP recipient. If you’re doing the math, that comes to $4.50 on food per day, or about $1.50 per meal. The challenge is not only purchasing all of your food within that budget. It’s also can I do that and still try to stay healthy as well?

The first big obstacle: grocery shopping. Before I went to the store, I spent a fair amount of time researching the prices on a variety of items. I knew I wanted some sort of fruit, but a lot of items were way out of my budget. Peanut butter was a must—could I also afford some rice? And being from Wisconsin, I knew I would need some dairy!

On Wednesday, June 12, a day before I began the challenge, I went to a local grocery store in D.C. with some of my fellow Congressional colleagues who are also participating in the challenge. I started  by looking at the coupons and discounts found at the front of the store. Then, the search was on. My first stop was the frozen food aisle—Boca Burgers, a member of the Oscar Mayer family, were on sale! Two boxes of four burgers for $6. Every dollar, scratch that, every cent, made a difference. I went through three different loafs of bread before I found one at the best price.

After almost 45 minutes, I waited, somewhat anxiously, at the register for my items to be rung up. My final tally: $27.01. Right at my goal—I have $4.49 left to purchase items I may not realize I need yet. Here’s what I’ll be (mostly) subsisting on for the next week: Crunchy peanut butter, Mac & Cheese, cereal, Big Cup Noodles, Low fat milk, Boca Burgers, a loaf of bread, and oranges.    

What have I already learned? $1.50 per meal requires extreme discipline. And it was extremely difficult deciding between items that were healthy, but often more expensive, and food that I thought could last me for a full week. As I begin this challenge, I’m a bit nervous, but also determined to succeed and stand in solidarity with all of my constituents who rely on this vital lifeline, not just for a week, but every day. Check back at this blog for updates on my progress.

--Mark Pocan