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Believe It or Not, You Need Food Stamps

Posted: 06/05/2012 3:26 pm

Recently we lived on a food budget of $31, spending less than $1.50 per meal, the same amount as the average food stamp recipient. We did this because Congress is currently threatening to cut billions of dollars from the Food Stamp program over the next ten years -- a program that is the single most important investment we have in the fight to end hunger. That's money that would directly help the poorest among us. And now it could be taken away.

To put those cuts into perspective, we spent one week on the current allotment of food stamps: $1.48 per meal. This opened our eyes to hunger relief on a whole new level. We had grown accustomed to accessing quality food at any time, and though we have spent countless hours working with and volunteering at soup kitchens and food pantries, neither of us quite grasped how much we take our hunger-less lives for granted.

While at times we felt angry over our limited choices and lack of good quality food, it was important for us to share stories with those who live on food stamps out of necessity. Many of them reported having less than $31 in benefits for the entire month, and some of them were seniors and families of military personnel. They were angry for a very real reason: their hunger was not based on a challenge but a very real life circumstance.

While it's clear that living on a food stamp budget for one week doesn't come close to the daily experiences of those who rely on food stamps to put food on the table, our goal was to get a better idea of how it can be done. And believe us. It wasn't easy.

We planned our meals meticulously for the week and shopped in multiple markets to find the best value at the lowest prices; a time consuming and difficult endeavor. We learned that most coupons are for items with an abundance of sodium. Forget about eating what we wanted. Fruits and veggies were suddenly sparse to nonexistent. Living within a food stamp budget for one week was a challenge for both of us, but that challenge has ended. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for millions of others.

One in seven Americans rely on food stamps. That means that for 46.2 million of us, the ability to put food on the table is a daily struggle. In a country as wealthy as the United States, it shouldn't even be a topic of debate. Food ought to be a basic human right. We have fought for laws and programs that provide food to the neediest among us, but as these programs face funding threats, that basic right may become even scarcer. That's why it's so important for us to act now. If we don't, we will be removing a lifeline from millions of vulnerable families.

In reality, we need more money for this vital program, not less. Millions of Americans strive desperately every day to find healthy and nutritious foods that are affordable enough to fit within a food stamp budget. Some families don't have access to fresh foods in their own neighborhoods. For others -- especially for people with dietary restrictions -- inexpensive foods are hard to come by.

The average household of food stamp recipients currently receives $277.70 in benefits per month. If the proposed cuts go through, those households would receive $90 less per month. That's a devastating blow. With budgets already stretched, it will likely mean that families will have to eat less and sacrifice on the quality of food they consume. Sadly, a decrease in food stamps would hit low-income women and children harder than any other group. In fact, they make up 80 percent of food stamp recipients. That should be unacceptable.

Foods stamps support more than a family; they support entire communities and cities. Every $1 billion spent on food stamps enables 14,000 jobs, mainly in food-related industries. In New York City alone, nearly 50,000 people are able to work each year when food stamp recipients redeem their benefits. If the cuts proposed in the House budget bill are passed, the result will be the elimination of 2.3 million jobs across the country. Those are jobs that we cannot afford to lose, particularly in today's economic environment.

Most importantly, food stamps provide a little bit of relief, in a dignified manner, for the people who need it most. While the relief is necessary, food stamp benefits are both targeted and temporary. The average recipient only uses food stamps for nine months, and most food stamp recipients have jobs and household earnings. Unfortunately, given the state of our economy, their earnings just aren't enough to make ends meet. Contrary to what certain politicians espouse, Americans are not cheating the system. We're cheating our fellow Americans.

While a final vote on the Farm Bill is still months away, the legislation proposed in Congress to strip food stamps must be addressed now. To underestimate this vital program would be a mistake. Any cuts to food stamps will have a lasting affect for years to come.

 
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