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Can One Live on Food Stamps Alone?

Can One Live on Food Stamps Alone?

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which was a bit more recognizable in its former incarnation – food stamps, provides some food security and assistance to over 46 million people in the United States per month. Almost half of those 46 million people, 41%, live in working households and are not just sitting back waiting to receive a government handout. Without such assistance, those who are food insecure would essentially be starving. As much of a lifesaver as SNAP might be for those living on a fixed income, it just may not be enough.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker tried to bring awareness to the reality of living off SNAP, as well as the crucial importance of the program, with a stunt, of sorts. Mayor Booker went a week living on the monetary equivalent of a SNAP recipient (that would be about $33 a week, which is probably what most Mayors spend on a single AM stop at Starbucks) and blogged like crazy about how difficult it is to live within your means, especially when your means are so meager. Mayor Booker budgeted well, with a full vegetarian diet of canned beans and sweet potatoes, but a few days into, he was sufficiently tired of the lack of variety, and concerned about his dwindling food supplies for the remainder of the week. Booker wrote:

“As my food supply dwindles, I am keenly aware that millions of Americans face food insecurity and hunger on a daily basis. I am deeply concerned, and believe our nation needs to be more attentive and engaged. The SNAP program is at great risk for budget cuts as Washington pares federal spending to avert a year-end fiscal crisis. These cuts to SNAP funding could mean millions of more Americans – families with children, families with elderly and veterans – will live with less food, less options, and less hope.”

What is your feeling on awareness raising efforts like these? Do you think Mayor Booker was adding to the conversation or just adding to his public profile? How can we improve the SNAP program to encourage healthier options and more food security, while keeping that investment in the community?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

71 comments

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7:02PM PST on Dec 21, 2012

John S. the top end? In Tennessee the top end is 10 dollars an hour. Which is suppose to pay all your bills, rent and buy food for 3 people.

Too much? Not by half.

9:36PM PST on Dec 16, 2012

I am a family of 3. Due to my health, my work hours dropped. Yet my food stamp benefit dropped down to $314/month. I WAS already $600/mo below the poverty level. Now I'm more like $800 below the poverty level. If this is supposed to be a supplement, I really don't know where my base is coming from. Sad thing is, I'd make more money on social security, but, to find my disability is practically like looking for the Holy Grail, even though I'm so sore and stiff that I cannot get up out of bed myself, I barely dress myself, and some other basic chores that ought to be easy is difficult.

5:30PM PST on Dec 16, 2012

I really wish he would run for governer. I have heard a lot of good things about him and how he runs his city. He is a very campassionate and empathic person.

11:15AM PST on Dec 14, 2012

$33 is a reasonable amount as in ''S'' for ''Supplemental,'' but, yes, it will not provide an adequate, varied diet in most circumstances by itself.

1:41PM PST on Dec 13, 2012

Sometimes it takes someone in a position of power to bring attention to a problem. If Mayor Booker did this and didn't get any attention, what good would that do? He has raised awareness on a difficult problem that needs more positive attention. Instead of threatening to cut off food stamps, Congress should be doing everything possible to make sure those who are truly in need are getting good healthy food. Just because some people misuse the system doesn't mean we should stop altogether. Thanks for the article, and thanks to Mayor Booker for doing something to help.

4:57AM PST on Dec 13, 2012

i can´t judge

4:05AM PST on Dec 13, 2012

Probably just a poorly designed program that could be much more effective, it doesn't really cover those at the bottom and provides more than necessary at the top end.

9:27PM PST on Dec 12, 2012

Dana W. writes, "I feel a part of the problem is that many people that receive aid could make it go farther if they received education in nutrition, budget-conscious recipes, couponing, group buying, and buying generic or store brand items." That is a very good point. So many of these people only know what to buy from what they see on television and we all know how informative that can be. Education, of some sort, in those areas could prove very useful. There's so many things that we could be doing to help people in need if only we appropriated money for those types of programs rather than for wars, corporate welfare and wealthy tax loopholes.

7:00PM PST on Dec 12, 2012

Whether Mayor Booker's food stamp trial was done out of a desire to raise his public profile or because he genuinely wanted to draw attention to this important issue, I give him credit for "walking the walk".

I feel a part of the problem is that many people that receive aid could make it go farther if they received education in nutrition, budget-conscious recipes, couponing, group buying, and buying generic or store brand items.

6:07PM PST on Dec 12, 2012

I think he raised awareness of the big problem of food insecurity for many Americans. Of course he may also have improved his public profile, but I still say hats off to him for trying. Thank you for the article.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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