Could I live on food stamps?

Just across the river, in Philadelphia and the adjoining Pennsylvania counties, the Coalition Against Hunger is making plans for people – people who don’t have to, that is – to live on a food stamp budget for a week. The estimate is that this comes out to $35 a week for one person. (Food stamps, or SNAP as the program is now officially called, are provided in varying amounts depending on family size and a lot of other complex variables.)

I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about this experiment. In some ways, it smells – no, reeks – of an upper-middle-class game of pretending to be poor, and thinking that this shows some sort of symbolic solidarity with people who really are poor. Folks, how about using the money you save to give your cleaning lady a raise? (And maybe some of the participants will.)

But I think I’m going to try it in spite of my doubts. With modifications. The Official Rules say that you’re supposed to use all newly purchased food for the week of April 23 – 29. I’m not going to do that; I have a lot of fresh produce that I bought during the past week, and it won’t keep till May. It seems completely against the idea of thrift (let alone imitation poverty) to just throw it all away unused.

Besides, I’ve been carefully tracking what I spend on food for several months, so it should be pretty easy to calculate how much it costs to feed me for a week, even if I am using food that’s already in the house. (The other semi-modification is that I’m not going to try to force my husband, let alone my adult son, to participate. I will be interested to see whether they feel as if I’ve been shorting them on quality or amounts of food for dinner; I’ll ask them at the end of the week. Meanwhile, I’m just going to calculate how much my food costs.)

But again, it isn’t right to do something like this purely as an experiment. Not when there are thousands of people for whom living on food stamps is no experiment; it’s just daily life. So how can I put the experience to use?

Well, one of the committees at church is looking into ways we can do more to help people who are short of food. (My church sprouts committees the way trees sprout leaves.) Maybe what I find out can be used toward that end. And, if I find out that I can manage on a food stamp budget, that means that I have some knowledge I should offer to anyone else who can use it (warning: more blog posts!). Also, if I can live on this restricted budget, I’m sure there are lots of charities that can use the cash I save.

Tomorrow, I can go on eating like a middle class person with a stable income. Monday, the test begins.

3 responses to “Could I live on food stamps?

  1. We never think that it will be us living on the benefit money but then quite by accident it is and i don’t get these ‘let’s eat like a poor person for a week’ things, it would have more value if you had to do it for a month or 6months or even a year.

    • I agree! If it’s done just as a sort of game, it’s insulting to people who can’t stop “playing” no matter how much they want to. I’m thinking of keeping this up for at least several months to get a more realistic picture. And as you say, I might – anybody might – end up in this situation at any time.

  2. Pingback: A week at $35 | A Number of Things

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