Food Stamp program needs to increase the amount it allots for the first time since 1975
Compass Associate Editor
How much do you spend on groceries a day?
The 26 million people who received food stamps last year, got an average allotment of $1 to spend for each meal or $21 a week.
How much food will $3 a day buy? Not much, according to four members of the U.S. Congress, which will consider the Feeding America's Families Act (H.R. 2129) later this year. And Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass) know exactly what $21 buys. The four took the Food Stamp Challenge on May 15. For seven days, they lived on food they bought with $21.
For Ryan, that was pasta, garlic, tomato sauce, cornmeal, peanut butter, jelly and bread. By the middle of the challenge, he was so famished that he "snuck" a pork chop before a commencement address in New Hampshire because he feared fainting. McGovern lost three pounds in three days.
The challenge included rules against eating any other food, including at receptions or free coffee in congressional offices.
Food Stamps were established in 1939 as a safety net for the poorest in society. Benefits have not been raised since 1975. The current law - which H.R. 2129 would change - requires recipients to spend all their savings before receiving stamps, driving families deeper into poverty and making them unable to save for retirement or education.
It gets worse; while the average benefit is $21 a week, the minimum benefit is $10 a month. (H.R. 2129 would triple that.)
McGovern in an address to Congress on May 15 said that "The food stamp program is not a government handout, but it is a true safety net program that provides access to food for people who cannot afford to choose between rent, medicine, child care and transportation."
Over 80% of food stamps go to families with children. The USDA Food Pyramid recommends that we - especially growing children - get 1 to 2 cups each of fruit and vegetables a day. Yet Congressman McGovern learned a sad truth when he went shopping. "No fresh vegetables. We were looking for the cheapest of everything," he told The Washington Post. "It's almost impossible to make healthy choices on a food stamp diet."
H.R. 2129 will most likely be attached to the 2008 Farm Bill, legislation that directly affects the Dairy State. Perhaps we need to take this food challenge ourselves, learn how it works on food stamps and then talk with our congressional representatives. As Congressman Ryan, a Catholic, wrote in his web log (http://timryan.house.gov/): "Our Food Stamp Program NEEDS to address the malnourishment that many children and families experience on food stamps."
Perhaps it would really bring it home if we'd consider what $3 a day would buy for a Packer tailgate party.