Why would Members of Congress commit to spend only $4.50 a day on food and live on the budget of the average SNAP recipient? The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called Food Stamps), is an essential lifeline that helps put food on the table for 47 million hungry Americans, and it is under fire. Republicans have called for over $20 billion in cuts to SNAP, which would leave millions of hungry families and children without a steady source of food. We can't let these cuts go through. This isn't who we are as Americans. We need to protect our vulnerable, not cut them out of a budget.
So, almost 30 of my colleagues and I are taking the SNAP Challenge -- spending, on average, $1.50 a meal to highlight how critical this lifeline is for so many families.
This morning, I went shopping for the week on the SNAP budget. Getting your budget down to $4.50 a day is complicated. You need to try to make sure you have enough protein, limit your sodium, and find good vegetables. If you have special dietary needs, like diabetes or an allergy, there's even more to think about.
First, I went straight for the crackers. They're cheap, they last a long time, and they're portable. Having a baggy of them in my purse at all times keeps the day moving. I found a no-salt, store brand box, also the cheapest, and moved on to the next item on my list: peanut butter. I prefer chunky peanut butter and pick up the reduced fat version. The store brand, again, is a little cheaper, and there's a sale going on. Sales and coupons are key.
Next, I find canned tuna, canned peas, and a box to make tuna noodle casserole. You can buy the noodles separately, but the boxes are cheap. But, most of them require butter and milk, two things I don't have a budget for. I read the back of every box and find one that only needs water and is also in my price range. A casserole like that will last several days and is fairly balanced.
Beyond that, I find eggs with six to a carton, not 12, which is helpful, as well as a sale on yams, and get one for $.49/lb. That's a pretty good deal. I'm calculating in my head as we go what will last past one day, what will actually be good, and what I can add hot sauce to to make things more interesting.
I made sure to add an apple (the smallest one in the bunch, they're calculated by the pound), a small onion, and a can of lima beans. I try hard to get some more fresh fruit and vegetables, but they're out of my price range. Canned vegetables have too much sodium, but they're cheap. Canned fruits have too much sugar, but they're cheap. Shopping carts can be filled with good, nutritious food if you have the money for it. If not, you have a recipe for diabetes and hypertension on your hands.
Finally, I make it to the register (don't forget taxes), and am actually about $1.00 under. I think quickly about what I can maybe get at the McDonald's value menu as a mid-week break.
What I'm thinking about most during this trip is that I'm shopping only for myself.
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. I could go without breakfast; my sons couldn't. I went through the grocery store today thinking about what I wanted, not what my sons would eat, but that wasn't always the case. I would have bought ground beef and white bread for them, not yams, and certainly not tuna.
Up until the Farm Bill comes to the floor next week, Members will be tweeting, blogging, and adding their thoughts to a growing chorus of people all across the country who are deeply concerned about these unconscionable cuts to SNAP.
Will you join us in the SNAP Challenge and add your story?
Learn more at FRAC.org. To be involved in the Storify account, make sure to use the hashtag #SNAPChallenge.
Follow Rep. Barbara Lee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RepBarbaraLee