Food Stamp Challenges Incorporating Politicians and Celebrities

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.”

A grocery receipt that the Newark Mayor posted recently

A grocery receipt that the Newark Mayor posted recently

A picture of what the mayor bought from his grocery store trip

A picture of what the mayor bought from his grocery store trip


Food Stamps and Politics

Food Stamp Program

So I’m sure everyone and anyone has been listening to some kind of political campaign, whether or not they wanted to. It’s inevitable right now, with the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention taking place in the most recent weeks. I mean, honestly, if I hear one more person talk about how awesome Bill “Slick Willy” Clinton’s speech was at the DNC… I might go crazy haha.

Personally though, I really don’t get into politics too much unless something really important comes into play. Topics that really make me pay attention to anything political are things that could affect two important things in my life… 1. My family and 2. My career. So, I was shocked to read about the dilemma the government is having the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

One point-of-view:

In order to help pay for a series of high-priority spending bills in 2010, Democrats searched future funding for food stamps, promising to put the money back before any cuts took effect. Now that cuts are around the corner, there isn’t any talk about replacing the funds. The Big Farm bill that passed will reduce the deficit by $23.6 billion. Part of the savings comes from cutting another $4.5 billion from food stamps.

Last year 45million Americans received food stamps each month, costing the government $78 billion. The average household was receiving $287 per month. Participation in SNAP has increased 70% over the past 5 years. But, it’s supposed to level-off in the next 2 years. Even without the cuts in the Farm Bill, SNAP recipients will see less money come in, starting next fall. It is expected that by November 2013, a family of four will receive $16 less a month.

In 2010, Democrats roughly took $14 billion worth of funds that had been allocated for future SNAP benefits and used it to pay for a child nutrition bill and a state assistance bill. The SNAP money had originally been put there by the 2009 stimulus bill.

Another point-of-view:

Now let’s think of how food stamps have affected us most recently. In the past year, Louisiana tied North Carolina for the biggest increase in food stamp use between May and June. And that was before thousands of Louisiana residents signed up for emergency food stamps in the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to offset the cost of spoiled food from the power outages and evacuations related to Hurricane Isaac. In Louisiana, 901,586 people received food stamps in June, up 1.3 % from the month before.

Nationally, the Agriculture Department said a record 46.7 million people received food stamps in June. The cost of the program is now nearly $76 billion, twice as high as four years ago. The Obama administration said the program has kept many Americans from going hungry at a time of continued high unemployment. “Too many middle-class families who have fallen on hard times are still struggling,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “Our goal is to get these families the temporary assistance they need so they are able to get through those tough times and back on their feet as soon as possible.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said this week that the higher food stamp rolls show the failure of President Barack Obama’s economic policies. “Forty-seven million now on food stamps,” Romney said. “When he came to office there were $32 million. He’s added 15 million people.”

Now MY point-of-view:

Everyone knows that this time of year that the gloves are really coming off, so to speak. Democrats versus Republicans and he-said, she-said. But what does this all really mean to OUR community and how does this affect OUR children and families? Everyone is going to have an opinion about something when it comes to political elections. But this specific topic should have every healthcare professional and healthcare student raise an eyebrow or at least have something to say…. What’s yours?