Newark mayor Cory Booker is living on food stamps this week, spending less than $5 a day on his meals. Some critics have suggested that a week isn't enough time to really understand what it is like to rely on modest government assistance to make ends meet, as more than 42 million Americans are doing right now.
We asked HuffPost readers with some experience with food stamps what they would tell Booker if they could.
Jennifer Waldron of Louisiana wrote: "I get the full amount of food stamps for my state and they are usually gone in two weeks. That's with me eating beans and rice twice a week. It is nowhere near enough for those of us with very low incomes."
A reader from Mississippi, who asked that we not print her name, had this to say:
I am a Mississippi resident who receives food stamps, roughly $367 per month (less than $100 per week) for myself and my 4 year old daughter. I can live off food stamps for a week easily enough -- it's making them last through the rest of the month that's difficult. It's almost impossible to buy healthy foods -- fresh vegetables and fresh fruit -- on a food stamps budget. I try to do it, but eventually I end up getting canned vegetables that aren't as good for us anyway. Canned peas aren't as healthy as fresh spinach or kale. Meats like beef and chicken are hard to come by. If I buy a lot of meats or fresh foods, I usually run out of stamps about 2.5 - 3 weeks in. It's why Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation, is also one of the most obese. People here cannot afford to buy and eat healthy food, especially people dependent on food stamps. Ending obesity needs to start with ending hunger and poverty. It sounds ironic, but it's true.
The stigma attached to receiving food stamps in the ultra-conservative south is awful. People think the only people who get food stamps are lazy welfare queens, but that's simply not true. I have a bachelor's degree and a law degree, and yet I need food stamps to survive. I'm working a part-time job because I can't find a good legal job in this economy and cannot afford to relocate right now. The University of Mississippi recently started a Food Bank for students who are going hungry but are ineligible for food stamps. These are college students working hard to better themselves. I am grateful for the food stamps I receive each month -- were it not for them, I wouldn't have enough money for myself or my daughter to eat after paying the rest of the bills. But it is not easy to stretch my food stamps from month to month and meet all the requirements for continued eligibility. No one stays on food stamps because they like it. They stay on food stamps because they need them to survive. End of story.
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Kit Cottrell from Kentucky wrote in to tell us:
I feel there is a fairly large difference between "living on food stamps" and surviving off food stamps. It would be comforting to have the fore-knowledge, as is the case with Mr. Booker, that I would be relegated to only using food stamps for one week with the understanding that I would return to a life of relative ease and the money needed to provide for me and my family. It is vastly different to know and understand that the funds could easily be stripped away at will by the powers that be; further, that your very survival depends on it month after weary month to keep making it to the next year. Additionally, there is the emotional and mental burden of realizing that the prospect of a better life does not likely lay ahead.
It is also highly probable that, unless or until a living wage is initiated, corporations return jobs to America, and the root causes of poverty are addressed and redressed, this way of life will be passed on in its seemingly never-ending cycle to your children as well. It was my swaddling cloth and it is wound tightly into the fabric of my life and my children's lives now, just as it is with most food stamp recipients. As a long-time citizen of poverty, the whole event smacks of self-promotion on a political level, although I do not wish to take away anything Mr. Booker may be trying to accomplish. A few practical pointers -- Target does not accept food stamps, so prepare to be embarrassed at checkout if you shop for any food there. Most people do not sell food stamps for drugs or otherwise, as they only fetch half-price at best. Ramen noodles are hot, cheap, and make you feel full. No hot deli foods for you! And don't be surprised if you get cursed or lectured along the way.
And a reader from West Virginia told us:
Although I applaud the Mayor's efforts, a week is almost laughable. I would love to see him do it for an entire year and get a dose of reality.
I live on $882 a month in Social Security Disability and currently $44 a month in SNAP benefits which comes out to about $1.41 a day based on a 31-day month. His less than $5 a day is far from my reality but then I live in West Virginia as opposed to New Jersey.
Being diabetic I try to maintain a healthy eating style but it is a near impossibility on that amount which will cover about a week's worth of groceries. I know what it is like for myself as a single male to try and get by on that little amount every month. I can just imagine what it is like for a family with children.
Editor's note: Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.