Eating on $4.30 per day
A young girl enjoys breakfast at a local farmer's market. (Photo by Margaret W. Nea)
by Eric Bond
How much will you spend on food today?
For breakfast I ate two bananas (40 cents each), a handful of almonds (let’s say $1.00), a whole wheat bagel (65 cents), two eggs (21 cents each), and a cup of coffee from the corner café ($1.79). Having spent a total of $4.68, I felt thrifty, and I ate fairly well. I also broke the SNAP budget for an entire day.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) allots about $4.30 per person per day. Figuring out how to purchase 2,000 nutritious calories on that amount is a test of creativity and resources.
Try stretching those dollars when you live in a food desert, miles from a well-stocked, economical grocery store. What if you haven’t got any cooking appliances or the money to power them? What if you are working full time, earning barely enough to cover the rent? Would you have the time and energy to search for, purchase, and cook enough food to sustain yourself on $4.30 per day? Somehow you would have to find a way.
This is reality of the farm bill—which funds SNAP.
When policy makers talk about cutting back domestic food programs, they are not talking about eliminating budget bloat. They are not talking about eliminating extravagant meals. They are talking about hungry people facing greater hunger. The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $731 and assets of $333. An extra $4.30 per day for food would not go far, but it might keep hunger at bay ... barely.
It's safe to assume that most of the representatives debating this issue spend more than $4.30 just on their lunches each day. The Capitol Market, which serves the U.S. House of Representatives, offers reasonably priced meals: a main course costs between $5.25 and $6.95. But purchase a drink with your meal and you will have spent the equivalent of two SNAP days. How long after your Capitol Market meal would the hunger start to gnaw? Could you go for another 48 hours? Perhaps our policy makers should try it.
To bring home the reality of SNAP, some organizations and communities take a SNAP challenge. They try to limit their food spending to the SNAP benefits budget for a period of time: a day, a week, a month. Whether or not you decide to try a SNAP challenge, take a minute now and think about how your life would change if your food budget were $4.30 per day.
Now that you have imagined trying to feed yourself on $4.30 per day, imagine what will happen if SNAP is cut back. Imagine trying to feed yourself on $0 per day.
This summer, the House Agricultural Committee approved $16.5 billion in cuts to SNAP, which would result in as many as 3 million people being removed from the program. However, the House was unable to reach an agreement on the farm bill, and Congress will continue to wrestle with the issue in September.
Here at Bread for the World we have been fighting for Congress to create a Circle of Protection around programs like SNAP that provide just the slightest protection to families stalked by hunger. We are calling for no cuts to domestic nutrition programs.
Please join your voice with ours while you can.
- Get the latest news about domestic nutrition programs on our mini campaign page.
- Bust myths about SNAP.
Eric Bond is managing editor at Bread for the World.
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