Public Officials on Taking the SNAP Challenge
By Sarah Godfrey
It has been said before, but it bears repeating: a weeklong challenge cannot replicate the daily struggles of the roughly 45 million Americans who work to stretch the dollars they receive each month from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps).
Still, the exercise can be instructive. When celebrities, such as chef Mario Batali and West Wing actor Josh Malina, attempt to feed themselves on about $4.30 per day (that's an average daily benefit), it highlights the difficulty of living on a fixed income and the importance of federal safety net programs that help keep people from going hungry.
While celebrity SNAP challenge participants bring attention to the program and the need to protect and increase food stamp allotments, when elected officials participate, the hope is that their involvement won't just inspire conversations, but actually affect decision-making.In the past few weeks, several public officials across the country have taken SNAP challenges. Along with the usual statements about the difficulty of eating healthily on such a tight budget, fighting cravings, and the relative high cost of buying produce, several officials have also said that the experience has inspired them to work to change policy.
Lorena Gonzalez, Secretary-Treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, took the challenge late last month and her food diary outlines the trouble she had sticking to her $4.90 daily CalFresh budget. At the end of the challenge, she said, "I will not hesitate to stand up for protecting and increasing CalFresh food stamp budgets every chance I get.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton also spent a week last month participating in a SNAP challenge. Stanton had just $29 to last him an entire week. He talked about living without indulgences and treats, and empathizing with families dependent on SNAP, but also said the week had made him "a better policy maker."
This week, a group of local Washington, D.C., officials is taking a SNAP Challenge at the behest of the non-profit D.C. Hunger Solutions.
The group, including D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, and Dr. John Thompson, executive director of the D.C. Office on Aging, started the challenge yesterday. On Monday night, they bought their groceries for the week, and a couple of news crews followed them as they did their shopping.
During the shopping expedition, Councilmember Cheh told one reporter that the experience had already changed her thoughts on the D.C. city council's budget priorities.
"The next time we have some hard choices to make about where we might spend money, we might think about nutrition and food and giving the basics to people who don't have it," Cheh said.
It's great when celebrities can use their fame to put SNAP in the news, but it’s even better when SNAP challenges can be used to convince elected officials of the importance of federal nutrition programs.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.
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