Three days into the $35 week

Last Friday, I posted that a number of people in Philadelphia were preparing to spend a week living on a Food Stamp budget, and I was planning to see if it was possible myself. Here’s a half-week update:

First, I now understand a little better what’s going on – basically, it’s political theater. (Which is not always a bad thing, mind you.) The state of Pennsylvania is about to impose restrictions on how much people getting food stamps can have in assets; a number of people consider the restrictions way too harsh. In addition, the Republicans in the (national) House of Representatives cut the Food Stamp budget in 2010 (cuts in benefits kick in as of 2013) and want to continue cutting it over the next ten years; Democrats don’t agree. (More detail in this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

But what am I learning? First, there’s a lot of discipline and anxiety in trying to keep food costs under $35 a week. More to the point, though: Just how generous or how stingy are such benefits?

On one hand, so far I am sticking to the $5 a day limit – I’m averaging a little over $4 per day. So it’s theoretically possible, with qualifications. I’m a short woman who doesn’t do a lot of physical work, and I’ve been fairly hungry. Could you feed a man doing manual labor on this amount of money? What about a teenage boy? I don’t think so.

Of course, you could argue that I’m being too luxurious. And I’ll agree that some of what I’ve eaten (fresh asparagus, bought last Thursday before I heard about this project) was expensive. On the other hand, it’s been an almost entirely vegetarian week, bordering on vegan. What did I eat so far?

Breakfast each day, black coffee with a small handful of peanuts (7-8 nuts).

Lunch, lentils cooked with several Indian recipes (more about this in a few days) with homemade pita bread.

Dinner: Monday, African peanut chicken / groundnut chicken with rice and salad. Tuesday, spicy macaroni and cheese, asparagus, and salad. Tonight, cheese and veggie omelet and bread.

In all honesty, I don’t see a lot of extravagance there, and not a lot of food either. I say it’s time to raise the allotments, not cut them.

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10 responses to “Three days into the $35 week

  1. We’ve had stunts like that here where politicians claim to live off unemployment/disability benefit for a week and then say it was easy. Yes, easy if you are living in a well equipped house with good store cupboards, and don’t have to replace things as they break, keep buying shoes and clothes for growing children, feed children healthily for years, or, as you say, fuel the very hard working. It is the long run of poverty which grinds and demoralizes.

    • It’s DEFINITELY not easy. And I am living in a house with plenty of food…but I’m carefully calculating what the food I’m eating costs. It’s terrifying how fast the pennies add up to dollars. Having to do it every day, every week, every month…truly exhausting. I think a lot of political hostility to the poor is a type of whistling past the graveyard. If you can just shout loud enough that Those People are only having problems because they’re lazy and careless, then you feel safe.

  2. You see my dear friend, welcome to my world and the world of many other people and yet we eat and i feel grateful for that as there are many around the world who will not eat today. Keep it up and see if you can do a month. Good luck.

    • Good luck to you, Beverley. One of the things I’m noticing is that “healthy” eating is especially hard. Somebody who’s in their twenties and basically healthy can probably get away with living on cheap junk for a few years. (Actually a lot of people in their twenties live on cheap junk just because they prefer it and Mommy can’t stop them any more!) But as the years go by we have to be more careful – for instance I have to watch my salt intake, and my husband has to be cautious about fat after having a heart attack a while ago. It all runs the costs up. And yes, the worst is that there are millions of people who would be thrilled to have any kind of food. 😦

  3. That’s not much money and I can be very frugal. Are there other social programs for children under five that pay for milk, fortified cereal and such, in my state it is called WIC. Honestly though I don’t know if it supplements or replaces food stamps.

    • I see signs in supermarkets about WIC (women, infants, and children – I believe the idea was to make sure pregnant women and very young children aren’t malnourished) foods, but I don’t know either if people can get both at the same time. I do know that WIC does / did have a list of specific things people could buy (the idea was to make sure that it actually did get spent on nothing but nutritious food). I’ve tried from time to time over the years to figure out how all those welfare programs fit together, and it’s horribly confusing and complicated.

      One thing that does seem fairly straightforward is the idea that food stamp benefits are supposed to be related to the USDA “frugal diet” plan costs – the idea there is that the “frugal diet” is the absolute minimum you need to spend to get a reasonably adequate diet; costs vary by age, sex, and family size. Trouble is, if you look at the latest “frugal diet” numbers, you can’t feed anybody over eight years old for $35 a week. Which sounds pretty plausible to me at this point.

    • Oops – just double checked the USDA page, and apparently now they call it the “thrifty” diet. Same idea though.

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

  5. I a little late reading about your week but wanted to chime in. A person can receive WIC and food stamps at the same time. Having said this, you do not have to meet the same qualifications for WIC as you do food stamps. At one point my sister and her husband were getting WIC benefits when their so was a baby, but they did not qualify for food stamps. If the mom doesn’t breast feed, the vouchers include formula. If mom breast feeds, the formula is replaced with vouchers to keep the mom healthy which in turn keeps the baby healthy….things like milk, juice, cheese, eggs, etc. Hope this helps!

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