Thursday, December 9, 2010

Natalia Rudiak: Half Way Through the SNAP Challenge

Here we are, half-way through the SNAP challenge, and I can tell you that it is living up to its name. But, I do have to admit that I cheated a little bit yesterday. On Tuesday I had a lunch meeting that I was committed to, and though I ordered the cheapest item on the menu—a cup of soup that came with bread, and a glass of ice water—it put me just over $7 on the whole day. Just to put that in perspective, here is everything else I ate that day:

Breakfast: half of a banana;
Afternoon snack: two rolls;
Dinner: cereal.

I should mention that I am no stranger to “food challenges.” As an international development studies major in college I traveled on shoe-string budgets across South Asia, West Africa, Mexico and Eastern Europe, where I ate unidentifiable objects, strange fruits, and smelly vegetables. I forced myself to eat foods I did not like, and that I knew were likely not good for me, for months at a time.

But, for me, right now, there is something acutely different about this experience. It is strange to be living as an adult on this diet, struggling to get by with the tools in my own kitchen. Living on $6 a day isn’t an adventure—especially for those who have to do it every day, for weeks or months at a time.

Avert your eyes, my vegetarian and vegan friends: I went to the grocery store the night before, and I purchased some groceries that fit within my SNAP-Challenge-mandated-budget for the week. I was able to buy some eggs, rice, beans, frozen vegetables, some ramen noodles, a package of cheap processed chicken that was on sale, and some oil and seasoning. I was going to rely on some creative chicken dishes to pull me through the week, but this processed stuff has the taste and texture of a shiny, water-clogged, chicken-flavored sponge. I’m still debating whether I can force myself to chew on these leftover, processed bits from the chicken factory. Even though cereal for dinner leaves me hungry at the end of the day, at least it does not taste like moist foam.

So, what kinds of folks have to make these types of food choices and live on $6 a day? Eligible individuals include someone who lost their job or became disabled, or someone who is an independent contractors or struggling small business owner who is perpetually losing money or taking a loss. If you are under-employed—you are working but you aren’t earning enough to cover basic housing and food expenses—you also qualify for SNAP assistance, but not necessarily for the full amount of $6 a day.

But the kicker is that you cannot be receiving any other form of government mandated assistance, which means no Social Security, so Supplemental Security Income (SSI), no unemployment, no child support payments, no adoption stipends, or no other cash assistance.

[Ed. note - If you receive any of the benefits listed above, it does not necessarily disqualify you altogether from SNAP; however, your allotment under the program would be reduced.]

So if this economy has got you down, and you find yourself in any category above, SNAP is it. All you have to buy groceries—literally—is $6 a day. That’s all you get. That’s all you can legally get.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was quite surprised to learn about the paltry amount of the daily allotment for this program, and they wrote a great article about the challenge on Tuesday, you can see it here. I think they are going to write a follow up in the next few days as well, so here’s to the Trib for devoting some column-space to this important issue!

Today and Friday, in order to reflect the cuts that Congress has made, my budget is getting cut by fifty cents so the allotment is technically $6.17 a day. For this program to be cut, even if the funds are being diverted to another worthy cause, is an injustice. We must commit to restoring this vital public service, rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul and shuffling deck chairs around in our federal, state, and local budgets. We need a non-partisan commitment to make sure that, in this day and age, no one goes hungry in the United States of America. I am pleased to lend my hand to this fight.

Hungrily yours,
Natalia Rudiak


Anonymous said...

Hi Natalia,
I did the SNap challenge a few months ago. It is a real eye opener. Just imagine if you had to do this all year round.

Carol Whitmer

Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this.

It is incredilly hard to live on food stamps. I wish more people would try this. I have tried this challenge and I found it nearly impossible. said...

Hi Readers,

As Councilwoman Rudiak points out, her experience in making a slip-up really does highlight the struggle of allocating very limited household resources that so many SNAP recipients face.

"It’s no surprise that Councilwoman Rudiak had a hard time keeping within the limit," says Just Harvest co-director Tara Marks. "Lots of people fail the 'challenge' in real life, but those failures come with real consequences: If you beg, borrow, or dip into meager savings after using up your food stamps, maybe your phone gets disconnected for late payment and a potential employer can’t call you back. Maybe you put off a doctor appointment because you already spent the co-pay. Natalia's experience illustrates the tough decisions that millions of Americans face because their food stamp budgeting challenge is real."

-Adam MacGregor (JH blog mod)