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40 Days of SNAP: Figuring Out a Food Budget

'200464129-001' photo (c) 2012, U.S. Department of Agriculture - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog. 

By Ivan Herman

“So, how much do you get in food stamps?” That’s been the question folks have been asking me. Let me be clear:  We’re not receiving actual food stamps or SNAP benefits—we’re just setting our family’s food budget during Lent to mirror the following pretend scenario.

There’s a simple answer and a complex rationale. First, the simple answer: $396 per month.

To put it another way, that comes to about $1.10 per meal, per person for our family of four.

We have calculated that with the federal SNAP Prescreening Eligibility Tool.

The pretend scenario goes like this: We are a family of four. Parents are able-bodied. One parent works full-time earning $11.50 per hour. This is the total family income of $23,000. The Federal Poverty Level for a family of four in 2012 was $23,050. The second parent cares for the dependent children and assists an elderly parent who lives nearby. This parent receives no income from these jobs.

According to the CalFresh (California’s version of SNAP) website, “All able-bodied persons (ages 18-49) without dependents must work 20 hours per week (monthly average 80 hours) or participate 20 hours per week in an approved work activity or do workfare. If not, these persons receive only 3 months of CalFresh benefits in a 36-month period.”

I calculated the rent to be $850 (imagine a two-bedroom in Carmichael, Calif.) with utilities not included. No additional assets, unearned income, dependent care expenses, child support, or savings.  Like many American families, we live paycheck to paycheck.

Under this scenario we would qualify for between $390 and $399 in SNAP assistance each month. This falls in line with many other food stamp challenge budgets.

That is our starting point. But our execution of this discipline and challenge gets still more complicated.

 

Free lunch. Sometimes.

The children are ages seven and three. The older child goes to a local public elementary school.  Families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. For our 40 days of SNAP, we will be asking our daughter to eat school lunch every day. While this will cost us a little extra out-of-pocket ($2.75 per lunch), for the purpose of the challenge, it will allow us to save some money on our food stamp challenge budget. This will likely be the topic of a future blog post, as our daughter does not often eat school lunch (and considers it a privilege). However, there are some school lunches she doesn’t enjoy, but her experience may reflect those kids who have few choices. (For more details of breakfast and lunch in San Juan Unified School District, visit their Nutrition page.)

Any family with preschool-age children who lives under the federal poverty line qualifies for Head Start preschool. Our son, age three, attends a daycare that provides his lunch at no additional cost. Our scenario will imagine him attending a Head Start with free lunch. Here, too, we will save a little on our food stamp challenge budget.

Sometimes.

During Lent this year, our kids have two weeks off of school: Presidents’ Week (a.k.a. “Ski Week”, Feb. 18-23) and Spring Break (March 25-29).  This means two weeks with no free lunch. It should give us some additional insight to the food needs of families that can change week-to-week.

Sundays—Feast Days!

Sundays are feast days, set apart from the season of Lent. As this exercise is primarily a spiritual discipline, we will not be including what we consume on Sundays in our food stamp challenge budget. This means we must make some calculations and adjustments.

There are 14 days of Lent in February (not counting Sundays). Since February has 28 days, our Food Stamp Challenge budget for February will be exactly half of $396.

There are 31 days in March, but only 26 of them are days of Lent ( subtracting four Sundays and Easter Sunday on March 31). Therefore, we will use the following calculation to figure out our March food budget:

26/31=.83871 x $396 = $332.13

$332.13 will be our budget for the month, and we'll begin accessing it on March 1. What happens if we run out?

Our budget for 40 days of SNAP is $530.13, about $1.10 per meal.

There are a few more benefit calculations to consider, such as WIC, TANF, and other real needs during Lent, including meals at work and on the road as well as meals with other family members and friends, but those will be topics for another day.

Ivan Herman is associate pastor at Carmichael Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, California. 

« Lenten Reflections: Food for Thought Lenten Reflections: Encouraging Faith Through Pain »

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