What does $4.56/day for five days buy you to eat? Not enough in the way of healthy fruits and vegetables and very little in the way of variety said participants in a statewide “SNAP Challenge.”
This month, anti-hunger advocates rallied legislators and members of the community in a show of solidarity with beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). They challenged them to live for five days on the average individual SNAP allotment of $4.56 per day for everything they need to eat and drink and to document their experience on social media using the hashtag #MASNAPChallenge.
“This wasn’t a game,” said Liz Sheehan Castro, Director of Advocacy at Worcester County Food Bank – one of the Challenge organizers. “It was an action in support of people who need SNAP to avoid hunger. And it was an opportunity to raise awareness. It’s already a literal challenge to eat enough, healthy food on the average SNAP budget. Now imagine eating on less. That could be the reality if SNAP is cut.”
Anti-hunger advocates maintain that cuts to SNAP under the House Farm Bill would compel more people to seek food assistance from local pantries and community meal programs. They note that the majority of the Commonwealth’s nearly 800,000 SNAP recipients are children, seniors, people with disabilities, and full-time care-givers.
Said State Representative Natalie Higgins of Leominster, who participated in the Challenge, “I focused a lot on legumes to get healthy (and cheap) proteins.” Higgins shopped from a grocery list and planned meals, which she rarely does, in order to assure staying at or under budget. For breakfast, she had oatmeal. For lunch, lentil soup. For dinner, rice and beans and veggies. The same meals every day for five days straight.
WCFB Board member, Christopher Davies, who also participated in the Challenge, added, “I got milk and a ton of pasta and sauce.” By day two of the Challenge? “I was sick of pasta already.”
Higgins’ and Davies’ experience is representative of what SNAP recipients know all too well: They eat less, and less healthfully, and often lack variety in their diets. Said Sheehan Castro, “The point is, if it’s hard for participants after five days, imagine if you’re someone who really needs this program – and imagine if it weren’t available to you.”
The Senate voted this week on its version of the Farm Bill, which is more supportive of SNAP and widely considered to be better for families struggling with food insecurity. “Now,” said Sheehan Castro, “We’ll need to keep the pressure on our legislators to align the different versions of this bill in a way that’s supportive of families facing hunger.”
For more information on WCFB’s advocacy efforts, see here or follow WCFB on social media.