On Friday, the Senate advanced a farm bill that would take $4 billion out of SNAP and the House is considering cutting the program by 2.5 percent and leaving some two million families without food assistance. In response, more than 26 members of Congress are taking the “SNAP Challenge,” living off a food stamp budget for a week to draw attention to the inadequacy of the average benefit of $4.50 per day. Forty-seven million Americans are currently enrolled in the program.
But an aide in Stockman’s office claims to have “debunked” their effort and is accusing Democrats of “intentionally buying overpriced food and shopping at high-priced chains to make it appear the cuts go too far”:
Donny Ferguson, who serves as Stockman’s communications director and agriculture policy advisor, 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.
“I wanted to personally experience the effects of the proposed cuts to food stamps. I didn’t plan ahead or buy strategically, I just saw the publicity stunt and made a snap decision to drive down the street and try it myself. I put my money where my mouth is, and the proposed food stamp cuts are still quite filling,” said Ferguson.
“We can cut the proposed benefits by an additional 12.4 percent and still be able to eat for a week,” said Ferguson. “Not only am I feeding myself for less than the SNAP Challenge, I will probably have food left over.” [...]
“I didn’t use coupons, I didn’t compare prices and was buying for one, instead of a family. I could have bought even more food per person if I were splitting $126 four ways, instead of budgeting $31.50 to eat for one” said Ferguson. “I could have bought cheaper vegetables instead of prepared red beans and rice, but I like red beans and rice. Folks aren’t buying fast food instead of vegetables because of benefit limits, they’re buying fast food because fast food tastes great and vegetables taste like vegetables.”
Stockman’s office appears to misunderstand the challenge. Rather than impulsively buying food, participants plan for nutritious meals, akin to actual families enrolled in the program. And with the average cost of food at home far exceeding the SNAP Challenge allotment, families often struggle to afford meals.
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.” Since food prices vary across the nation, “SNAP participants who live in locales with higher food prices find it difficult to meet their needs with the current benefit,” the IOM concluded.
Indeed, as Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) — one of the members participating in the challenge — pointed out, “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,” she wrote.
The latest poverty data show that SNAP lifted 4.7 million households out of poverty in 2011.
Ferguson confirmed to ThinkProgress that he is only eating the food he bought and is “feeling great” and has even gained two pounds. “As for criticism, liberals issued a challenge and I took them up on it,” he said. “It’s not my fault it backfired on them. Reality has a way of mocking liberalism.”