Newark, NJ mayor wants to highlight the challenges of living off government food aid
Morning talk show host Michael Strahan is adding some celebrity to Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s food stamp challenge.
Strahan, who hosts Live with Kelly and Michael, tweeted a picture on Wednesday of the first meal he ate living off the equivalent of what people receive in government assistance for food. Breakfast for the former New York Giants defensive end consisted of an omelet made with three eggs and black beans, with a side of mashed sweet potato.
Booker began his week-long SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) challenge Tuesday and is living off a budget of about $30 per week for groceries. That’s the same as what New Jersey residents receive if they qualify for the program. The Democrat says he’s trying to raise awareness about food security and what he calls the “inequities” of the American food system.
The most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture data says New Jersey residents receive an average of $133.26 a month in what were commonly known as food stamps.
Booker, who is not the first politician to do a food stamp challenge, is using social media tools to share his experiences. In a video about his first day, the mayor holds his dinner (a bowl of salad) and talks about how he didn’t plan well and wasn’t near the food he purchased.
Booker’s decision to do the SNAP challenge is the result of a debate he had on Twitter about the role of government in supporting nutrition programs. His aim: raising awareness of food security and nutrition issues, especially in low-income urban areas, which are often “food deserts” or areas where there is low access to affordable nutritious food.
Spending for SNAP jumped to $71.8 billion in 2011, up from $30.4 billion in 2007 because more people became eligible for the program due to high unemployment and a weak US economy.
Data for the 2011 fiscal year show the program provided benefits to 44.7 million people in an average month, up from 25.8 million people in 2007. The federal government spent $75.7 billion for the program – $71.8 billion went to benefits and the rest covered administrative costs. Households received a monthly average of $284, and individuals received $134.
But now, Cory Booker is getting hungry.
True to form, Booker is tweeting about his experience and maintaining a blog as well!
After a few days of eating mostly vegetable-based foods, Booker is famished. “The constrained food options I have for this one short week highlight for me (with the hunger pains I felt today between small meals) what many hardworking families have to deal with week after week,” he wrote on his blog.
“Not being able to stop and drop a few dollars for a Venti coffee or Diet Mountain Dew is really raising my consciousness about the food choices I often take for granted,” Booker observed.
A lesson from Booker’s Food Stamp Challenge Diet thus far:
1. People who depend on food stamps don’t have it as easy as conservatives think
To hear hardline conservatives tell it, you’d think people accept food stamps to “‘take advantage’ and live high off the hog,” says Sasha Brown-Worsham at The Stir. Booker’s admirable decision to tighten his belt for a week will expose the lie in that kind of thinking by demonstrating that “living on a ‘food stamp budget’ is not exactly luxurious.” It’s only $28 a week! Critics “ought to open their heart a little and stop whining. In a country as rich as ours, NO ONE should be hungry.”