The aide, Donny Ferguson, accepted the challenge in response to dozens of Democrats who lived off the program for a week to draw attention to the inadequacy of the average benefit of $4.50 per day.
In a press release issued by Stockman’s office, Ferguson initially bragged that he “was able to buy enough food to eat well for a week on just $27.58, almost four dollars less than the $31.50 “SNAP Challenge” figure.” The list, which is posted on Stockman’s website, included prepared foods like red beans and rice, peanut butter, and even popsicles, but no vegetables. “That is my diet for the week and I’m not eating outside of it. Feeling great and I’ve gained two pounds,” Ferguson told ThinkProgress on Wednesday, adding,”Reality has a way of mocking liberalism.”
But days later, it seems that the challenges of living on just a little more than $31.50 a week caught up with Ferguson.
The Dallas Morning News reported on Monday that the communications aide had to buy additional food after embarking on an unexpected trip. Since he was unable to carry his canned purchases onto the plane, “Ferguson limited himself to $9 in meals while traveling” and ended up “going about 14 percent over budget.”
As the paper notes, “While it could be assumed most SNAP recipients don’t have to worry about flying and carry-on charges, unexpected changes in plans can happen to anyone. Someone who relied on the program might not have had the cash to buy additional food if they faced a similar situation.”
Indeed, Democratic lawmakers who took the SNAP challenge highlighted the difficulty of eating on the program, observing that they were “tired” and found it “hard to focus.” “I’m hungry for five days…I lost six pounds in four days,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) described the experience as “Hardest shopping trip in memory. Two small bags of groceries, not a lot of food.” A study published earlier this year by the Institute of Medicine found that “low-income and minority populations are more likely than other groups to experience limited access to supermarkets and other large retail outlets” These families also lack the transportation to access quality food and don’t have “sufficient time to produce healthy meals from scratch.”
Ferguson, however, remains undaunted, saying he will donate the additional food to a food bank and is now referring to himself as the “Undisputed Snap Challenge Champion.”
Forty-seven million Americans are currently enrolled in SNAP and the GOP has repeatedly sought to slash the initiative. The House voted down a proposed 2.5 percent reduction in SNAP that was included in the Farm Bill, but the Senate advanced a measure that will take $4 billion out of the program.