The SNAP Challenge Sheds Light on U.S. Hunger

Katja Kleine, US Domestic Campaigns Consultant
June 18, 2013

Could you live on $4.50 per day in food? The SNAP Challenge is designed to make people aware of all the emotions, difficult decisions, and struggles associated with living on a very limited food budget. It makes a difference. This past week 26 members of Congress took the challenge. As Congress looks to make significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in a new Farm Bill, the SNAP Challenge helps lawmakers and the public get a brief glimpse of what life is like for millions of families struggling to put food on the table each day.

To get ready for the Challenge, some of these members of Congress met at a DC grocery store last week to buy a week’s worth of groceries for $31.50, the weekly SNAP benefit for one person. The process of looking intently at each price and forgoing favorites was something new to many of the challenge-takers.

One congressman in particular had a very realistic experience. He did not have a stove in his DC residence, so he was limited to things that can be eaten cold or prepared in a microwave. After collecting his goods for the next week, he approached the register and handed the women a coupon. She scanned his food and informed him that without a membership the coupon was invalid; without that coupon he was over his limit. In that moment, he felt some of the embarrassment that comes with not having enough money to purchase food. The line grew longer, and people waited while he quickly decided what to forgo to put him under the limit. This experience happens to Americans every single day. But for them, it is not an interesting activity or experiment; it is real life.

After hearing this story, I thought there was a lot that I could learn from taking the SNAP challenge myself. So this weekend, a friend and I decided to do it together. Honestly, doing it with somebody definitely gave me an advantage. It’s much easier to buy food for 2 on $9 per day than 1 on $4.50 per day. I won’t lie — it was definitely difficult.

Two things stuck out to me from this experience. First, I think that there is a misconception about SNAP benefits. When we provide individuals with SNAP benefits, we are by no means covering their entire nutritional needs. Healthy food was too expensive; we couldn’t buy enough spinach or carrots to fill us up for even just one day. Any sort of “extras” that I am accustomed to like honey or seasoning were out of the question. Second, when your food budget is so limited, it is always on your mind. Every time I felt hungry, I quickly calculated how much money I had left to spend and how many more hours before the next planned meal to decide whether or not my hunger could be satisfied. I found myself thinking many times, I can’t wait for tomorrow when I can eat normally again.

But, for almost 20 percent of the United States, this is life. Those feelings and insecurities about the ability to buy and consume food is a daily reality. What I couldn’t get out of my head throughout this experiment was that the House bill would actually be taking this modest but vital food support away from Americans. The discussion isn’t about whether or not we should expand the program or alter it. The discussion is about taking the SNAP benefits away from families. Families that are getting back on their feet and who need the nourishment to work, learn, play, and continue to move forward.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to protect hungry families. Call your representative and tell him/her to reject the House Farm Bill that cuts SNAP.