Food Stamp Challenge 2016

Beth Schwartz, CEO is once again taking the SNAP Challenge, better known as the Food Stamp Challenge. But this time, she is doing it with a twist!

 

Beth is experiencing the challenge in the persona as a Jewish Family Service client: an 82-year old independent woman whose Diabetes' symptoms create additional challenges beyond budgeting her meals.

 

Read it below. And please feel free to add your comment.

 

Comments: 6
  • #6

    Beth Schwartz (Friday, 11 March 2016 15:37)

    SNAP CHALLENGE WEEKEND, FINAL OBSERVATIONS

    This is the post where I want to capture all of my cumulative thoughts about this, my 3rd (or is it my 4th?), time participating in the SNAP Challenge. My random thoughts, in no particular order:
    • Being 82 has its privileges, I suppose. I had a higher allocation of SNAP benefits than in past years due to my age. However, my expenses still exceeded my monthly income (see Post 1). I’m not sure how was supposed to actually live—pay my rent, my transportation costs, my health care---and be in a deficit situation every single month, and without any reserves to keep afloat. The vast majority of older people that we assist at Jewish Family Service have incomes far lower than the average income I selected as part of my persona. We have many clients whose sole income source is Supplemental Security Income of $733 per month. Can you imagine scraping by on that each month?
    • I know now why the congregate meal programs at senior centers like the one offered in our offices at the Mayerson JCC are so important to low income people. When the government established these programs, it was their intention to help older people living in vulnerable economic circumstances by allowing them to pay a voluntary donation for a hot meal. A hot meal for whatever amount I felt I could afford (The JCC’s suggested donation for their congregate meal is $3) would have been a welcome addition to my peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunches.
    • The Challenge helps me put things back into perspective. I think before complaining about something. I feel a greater sense of gratitude for what I have. I recognize that I have been blessed with good fortune, but that one bad choice or rotten break can tip everything to the other side. I savored every bite of food I took—I ate more slowly and with greater intention. I realized how much I take for granted.
    • And, as I’ve said every time I’ve taken the challenge, I simulated poverty for a week. One short week. When my week concluded, I went back to my normal---eating what I want when I want, eating out in restaurants, never having to worry about running out of anything. Anyone can do that for a week. But for people living in or stuck in poverty, this is no simulation….it is life. My participation in the SNAP Challenge only strengthens my commitment to Jewish Family Service’s vision of a community where everyone lives with dignity, security, and hope.

  • #5

    Beth Schwartz (Sunday, 06 March 2016 18:05)

    DAY 5, SNAP CHALLENGE
    Okay, so now I’ll list out my food choices for the week---the 19 items that I’ve lived with in their various configurations for the past five days. I shopped at Trader Joe’s. I’m sure this will give many of you a reason to pause. But remember, I’m doing the challenge in the persona of an 82 year old with some limited mobility. My 82-year old self likes shopping at a smaller, more manageable store (so does my “real” self), and I am able to buy more meals that are easy to prepare---heat and eat---and are on the healthier side. This was a senior adult lifestyle choice. Here’s what I bought and the cost per serving:

    Penne Arriabbiata $1.00
    Cod Fillets $2.00
    Brussel Sprouts $0.25
    Cauliflower Blend $0.75
    Turkey Burgers $0.75
    Ice Cream $0.50
    1/2 and 1/2 $0.12
    Coffee $0.07
    Oat Cereal $0.18
    Whole Wheat Bread $0.18
    Dozen Eggs $0.15
    Colby Jack Cheese $0.33
    Spinach $0.57
    Apples (9) $0.33
    Peanut Butter $0.18
    Fruit Preserves $0.12
    Milk 1/2 Gallon $0.44
    Bananas (5) $0.29
    Macaroni and Cheese $1.00

    I stayed within my daily allocation of $6.26 every day but two. One day was the Graeter’s Ice Cream gaffe, and the other day was Shabbat, where I fed my family dinner on my budget, but over extended by just a bit as a result. Luckily I had half of a Challah in the freezer from the week before—that’s not my typical practice, but my yummy Breadsmith challah is just over $5.00 so it would be out of reach unless I froze it to make it stretch over multiple weeks. My average daily cost was just over $6.00.

  • #4

    Beth Schwartz (Sunday, 06 March 2016 18:03)

    DAY 4, SNAP CHALLENGE
    In past years, I posted my purchases and the cost of each item. I haven’t done that yet this time around. Why? Because that’s the SNAP Challenge post that always draws the most resounding criticism from people following along. Readers love to comment on the food choices I make---too expensive, not smart in nutrients, wasteful, empty calories, etc. One year I received the recommendation that the best strategy to deploy to make sure I stay within budget was to simply eat beans and rice every day for the week. The suggestions people make assume that this is a Challenge that you can beat, a Challenge that you can win. Well, you can’t beat poverty. Poverty isn’t some game that you can win if you are clever enough or strategic enough. Poverty is something that you bear, that you tolerate, that you despise, and that you can maybe fight…but you can’t win at it. Maybe, hopefully, through hard work, a hand up, and a lucky break you can overcome it. But our social policies don’t make it easy, and if you are born into poverty, the odds are completely stacked against you.

  • #3

    Beth Schwartz (Wednesday, 02 March 2016 20:08)

    DAY 3, SNAP CHALLENGE
    I cheated. Already. I picked up my daughter from school this afternoon and she asked to get ice cream before we went home. This is a common excursion that the two of us make---a Graeter’s treat before homework and other responsibilities. And so I had an ice cream cone that cost $3.25. My breakfast (cheerios, ½ banana, coffee), mid-morning snack (hard boiled egg) and lunch (penne arrabbiata with spinach) already cost $3.87 so the ice cream brought me over my daily budget by 86 cents. I decided that I just wouldn’t eat any more for the day, but I started to feel pretty hungry around 8:00 pm and when I was preparing something for my daughter to eat, I caved in and shared some of what she was having. It was just a snack of corn nachos (tortilla chips, corn, cheese) and would have been well within my budget had it not been for that ice cream cone. It is hard to imagine one ice cream cone being completely out of reach. Of course it’s a special treat (especially Graeter’s) and it shouldn’t be a daily occurrence, but for people living in poverty that one ice cream cone is completely unattainable. That’s hard for me to imagine.

  • #2

    Beth Schwartz (Tuesday, 01 March 2016 20:44)

    DAY 2, SNAP CHALLENGE
    I organized my spreadsheet last night so that I can calculate the dollar amount of my daily consumption. I have formulas to indicate the cost per serving of all the food I purchased. Peanut Butter--18 cents; brussel sprouts--25 cents; turkey burger--75 cents, etc. On my SNAP allotment, I have to keep my daily food cost to $6.26 per day. Monday totaled $6.16 and Tuesday, $6.13. This is fairly luxurious as the past few Challenges I've taken, my daily allotment was $4.50, which is the average amount a recipient receives. I'm quite grateful for the additional $1.76 per day, especially given that I am watching my sugar and carbohydrate intake for my diabetes, and because I purchased foods that were simple to prepare given my limited mobility/dexterity due to my functional impairment as a senior adult.

    Because I've taken this Challenge before, I knew what to expect. The psychological distress that comes from my predicament of simulated poverty packs a bigger punch than the aggravating hunger (and yes, I do feel hungry). So this year, I didn’t get psyched out slowly nor did it sneak up on me insidiously like it has in past Challenges. No, this time it came right at me from the onset on Day 1. I felt “done” just as soon as I had begun. I was hungry, anxious, and even angry right out of the starting gate. I went to the store, bought my food, and my choices were set for the week. There’s no altering plans, feeling like I’d rather eat something else, deciding what I have a hankering for. I’ve got 19 purchased items to choose from and I can eat them in whatever combination as long as the total for day doesn’t exceed $6.26, and my carbohydrate intake won’t upset my staged blood glucose levels. Two days complete, and I’ve already tasted every item on my list of 19. For the rest of the week, I’ll have more of the same every day, just in different arrangements—it’s kind of like that fashion spread in magazines where they make 25 different outfits from six clothing items. I despise the total lack of choice, lack of variety, and lack of spontaneity that accompany my low budget parameters.

  • #1

    Beth Schwartz (Monday, 29 February 2016 15:54)

    DAY 1, SNAP CHALLENGE
    It’s once again time for the SNAP Challenge, what has become for me an almost annual pilgrimage to the land of scarcity, humility, gratitude and compassion. SNAP is the acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal benefit formerly and better known as Food Stamps. The goal of the Challenge is to raise awareness about hunger and food insecurity, and dispel the misperceptions that plague this government program designed to help stretch the food budgets of 46 million low-income Americans. SNAP is commonly under attack by those who claim that there is widespread fraud and waste. Here are some facts to dispute the claims:
    • SNAP is helping people who need it the most: 60% of SNAP participants are seniors or children, and 43% of households receiving SNAP have at least one employed household member
    • SNAP is a temporary support for people in poverty: 50% of new SNAP participants receive benefits for less than 12 months
    • SNAP has excellent quality control, keeping fraud to below 2%
    • SNAP makes up just 2% of the Federal budget, at a cost of $76 Billion per year (of the $3.8 Trillion budget total)
    • SNAP participants receive approximately $4.53 per day

    I’ve taken the challenge three times before, in an effort to raise awareness and advocate for this needed program that helps so many of the people who come to Jewish Family Service for assistance. This time, I thought I’d approach it from a different angle, and put a spotlight on senior adult (age 60+) hunger. So this year, I am taking the challenge in the persona of an 82 year old woman. This persona lives alone in a rented apartment, still drives and is in relatively good health. She has mild diabetes and the resulting neuropathy makes it difficult for her to stand for long periods of time and she lacks fine finger dexterity so cooking is a chore. My budget is based on statistics from the National Council on Aging that indicate the average senior adult female in retirement has an income of $1292.00 per month, and has the following monthly expenses (which exceed income by $403/month):
    • Housing: $650
    • Food: $252
    • Transportation: $301
    • Health Care: $430
    • Misc: $250

    Based on my income and expenses, I likely will qualify to receive $188 per month in SNAP, according to the Eligibility Calculator on the federal benefit’s website.

    And so the challenge begins---based on the above, I am budgeting $44 for the week. Check back daily for an update to see what I bought with my allowance and learn how I’m doing.