Nancy Amidei’s Food Stamp Diary, Week 2: “This week’s bread is cheaper, but less filling.”

Greg Kauffman, who writes for The Nation, just published a scathing article on Bill Moyers’ website entitled “Why Is a Senate Democrat Agreeing to Another $8 Billion in Food Stamp Cuts?”  Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, and is a leading negotiator on the Farm  Bill (the huge piece of legislation that determines farm subsidies as well as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance  Program (SNAP), aka Food Stamps).  Stabenow is reportedly poised to agree to billions more in cuts. Kauffman describes the political landscape, in which Senate Democrats, as well as conservative House Republicans, are proposing devastating cuts to this basic support:

Despite the fact that the Institute of Medicine demonstrated the inadequacy of the SNAP benefit allotment and that a child’s access to food stamps has a positive impact on adult outcomes, the program was just cut by $5 billion on November 1. The average benefit dropped from $1.50 to $1.40 per meal. The Senate Agriculture Committee’s previous proposal to cut yet another $4 billion from SNAP would have led to 500,000 losing $90 per month in benefits, the equivalent of one week’s worth of meals.

“That was the first time in history that a Democratic-controlled Senate had even proposed cutting the SNAP program,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “The willingness of some Senate Democrats to double new cuts to the program…is unthinkable.” {emphasis added}

Food Stamps were never designed to meet all of a person’s or family’s nutritional needs. However, as we have seen federal and state cuts to programs benefiting people who are elderly, disabled, children, unemployed, or underemployed, Food Stamps are a significant part of a family’s food budget. It is hard to imagine a more worthwhile program, or one that is more targeted to people who are clearly poor and hungry in our nation.

There are currently 47 million Americans who turn to food stamps to help make ends meet. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 72 percent are in families with children and one-quarter of SNAP participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. Further, 91 percent of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes below the poverty line and 55 percent to households below half of the poverty line (about $9,500 annually for a family of three).

In other words, Food Stamps not only help poor and vulnerable people – they help our neighbors who are extremely poor and vulnerable. SNAP helps people put food on the table, and their modest purchases in turn bring millions of dollars of food purchases into local economies across the United States.  Deeper cuts to Food Stamps will produce more hungry and malnourished children and seniors, with devastating near- and long-term effects on the health of the American people.

Our friend and long-time homelessness and anti-hunger advocate, Nancy Amidei sent us the latest installment of her diary about eating on $4.20 a day, what the average person receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Food Stamps now receives.  She is urging Washington’s Congresswoman Suzan Del Bene, who is a member of the conference committee, to join her.  Please join Nancy in letting Rep. Del Bene know that we are counting on her to protect SNAP.  You may call Rep. Del Bene’s local Bothell office staff at (425) 485-0085, or send an e-mail via her website.

WEEK TWO – Post-Thanksgiving.  I admit:  I cheated.  I took a “Thanksgiving break” from eating on a “food stamp diet.” So, as my second week on $4.20/day begins, that means I also start  out abundantly well-fed.  All last week I was conscious of how much my family had of everything. It wasn’t just the heaping plates of meat and vegetables during meals, there were all sorts of nuts and cheeses before meals, and afterward — we’d have dessert!

Day One: Went shopping today, calculator in hand, to figure per-meal-costs of every item. One result:  shopping took a LOT longer.  I bought what I hope is a week’s worth of food for $29.68.  And that was only possible because I had some coupons from my daily newspaper. Even so, I could only afford two vegetables:  carrots, and potatoes. (The green ones are all too pricey.)  Also missing:  fruit, something sweet.

Day Two:  At a mid-morning meeting, a colleague bought me coffee – full-strength!  YEA. But this week’s bread is cheaper, and already I’ve learned:  it’s also less-filling. V-8 was on sale so it’s my lunch-time vegetable this week (at half the recommended portion).  Dinner will be the same as last night.  But I know I’m lucky.  If I didn’t have a fridge or was living in my car, making it on food stamps would be impossible.

Day Three: I ran into a woman who’d read about what I was doing.  She said after getting groceries for her family, she checked the food stamp amount for a family of their size, and — despite being careful — found she’d just spent nearly three times that.  Meanwhile, by mid-morning, my stomach was growling.  But, I found a couple of apples in the back of the fridge… had it in small amounts (to stretch it out). Very exciting. Dinner – same as last two nights.  Plus, I miss chocolate.

Day Four:  Had a lunch-time meeting at a restaurant. With tips and tax, lunch equaled nearly 5 days’ allotment. Even though I brought half of my lunch home (to stretch to two meals), and eating out can be avoided, not all high costs can be.  What if I had diabetes? or other special diet needs?  or was being treated for cancer?

Day Five: Confession:  last night I found, and ate, some chocolate.  Even so, when I weighed in this a.m., I’d lost another 1.5 pounds.  And, I notice that my lower-cost breakfast cereal leaves me hungry by mid-morning.  Very grateful I don’t have a waitress or maid’s job involving lots of moving/hauling/energy. Today’s menus are like all other days this week. Still eating the chicken cooked on Day One; it’s a bit old, but it’s dinner… and appreciated.