A few thoughts on food stamp challenges…. #SNAP #Poverty

In my drafts, I have a long and still unfinished piece devoted to the pros and cons of people taking food stamp challenges. I’ve touched on key points here before but the subject deserves an indepth examination. Spoiler: There is one pro and eight different points that are cons. My #1 frustration is that wealthy celebs and politicians take part in a SNAP challenge for 1 week, tell everyone how hard it is, and THAT gives credibility to the struggles on food insecure people instead of the daily voices of those who live the reality telling people how hard it is.
Maybe some day I’ll finish that post I started. Right now, I’m juggling a lot and haven’t had time to write, so for now, I want to share some thoughts from people who share my frustration with SNAP / food stamp challenges for some of the same reasons.

The discussion was regarding this via think-progress: (but I found it via one of my favorite tumblrs Ask a Welfare Caseworker )

Members of Congress are living off food stamps for a week to protest Republican cuts. It’s a challenge for them, but GOP cuts would hurt millions of everyday Americans. 


 I want a reality tv show where politicians have to live in poverty for a month. They have to live in Government housing, shop with food stamps, and get only a limited amount of money for clothes. Because here, they still have all their trappings, lilke nice cars and thousand dollar suits. I want them in Walmart jeans trying to determine if they can afford a carton of milk.


Give them a full calendar year. I want to see them confident in January, and sometime around June choking back tears at the Safeway because they are tired, so tired, of eating 25 cent cup noodles, eyeing other peoples’ full grocery carts with a dull bewilderment.

Let me see them despair because they have a persistent nagging cough that won’t go away and might be turning into pneumonia but the minute clinic is $60, which might as well be as six million dollars, either way they ain’t got it to spare – and that doesn’t count the cost of prescriptions. Let me hear them tell people about the muscle cramps they get at night due to eating non-nutritious garbage for months, the weakness from persistent hunger.

Let them know the shame and frustration of only owning one pair of cheap polyester pants for work and one pair of thrift-store jeans, and both persistently have ripped crotches and seams coming undone, no matter how many times they get sewn back up.

Let the women know the particular sort of despair that comes once a month when you can’t afford even the cheapest pads or tampons.

Let them understand the frustration of being charged a $35 fee for a $2 overdraft. Let them watch as the bank holds charges from different days in “pending” till they all come through on the same day, and the bank charges them four times for a single overdraft because “the charges all cleared at the same time”.

I want them to know the particular pain of having to decide between food for the week, or transportation costs to and from work. You can’t have both. Choose wisely.

You do not truly understand poverty until you’ve lived it and a month isn’t enough to encompass it. Not even close.


I have $7000 in medical bills this year because I let something go untreated for nine years because I couldn’t afford it. When I broke my hand I refused to go to the doctor because I couldn’t afford it – it wasn’t until my manager swore up and down that worker’s comp would cover it that I even considered going – and there were pieces of bone sticking out of my hand. I once walked on a broken foot for a year. A year. Because my boss wouldn’t let me have the time off to let it heal properly and my job required being on my feet for 8+hours a day. And that fucking foot kept starting to heal and then re-fracturing all over again. Spaghetti makes me sick to my stomach because I ate it every fucking day for months on end because pasta and tomato sauce are CHEAP, but there was no meat and no veggies, so it didn’t really do me any good.

Sometimes I buy things I don’t need just to prove to myself that I can. And sometimes I go crazy and buy bags of things for the homeless shelter and the food bank because Jesus, do people need it and I have a little extra to spare now. Sometimes I hoard things, like soap and food and old clothes that I don’t like and will never wear again, because what if I need it in the future and can’t afford it?

Sometimes I remember being so poor that my power was turned off and my bank account was negative and I had nothing in the kitchen but ramen noodles and canned beans and god only knew how I was going to scrape together $475 to pay the rent on my shitty apartment and the lingering stress makes me start to cry.

Rice for a whole winter, except weekends when my boyfriend came down and took me out, and margarine—forget butter—for it only rarely, so I couldn’t eat white rice for forty years.  Pasta and soup with maybe a burger on payday as my only meat.  No dental work, so my teeth are an ongoing trainwreck.  Living in one-room studio apartments in residential hotels for a decade because we couldn’t afford a real apartment or utilities.  And yes to all the bank crap.

I want the Congresscritters to live through a year of THAT before they vote on programs for the poor.


This is why I can’t stand people taking the SNAP challenge.
You don’t know the reality. You don’t come away with true empathy for people living the reality. And you still don’t listen to people living the reality.

10 thoughts on “A few thoughts on food stamp challenges…. #SNAP #Poverty

  1. It is nice that the people taking the Challenge seem for the most part to recognize that it is difficult to do (except for the few GOP representatives who send their interns to shop at the Dollar Store and claim they could happily live on the takings although they don’t actually EAT that food) but I find it distressing that they seem so surprised! And this is without experiencing any of the myriad ways the poor are ground down by poverty.
    I am grateful that my falling down the rabbit-hole of poverty happened after menopause – I never had to do without sanitary protection, but I have stolen (with reluctance and shame) toilet paper from public restrooms due to being unable to come up with $1 to buy a roll. Or deodorant – ever wonder why poor people smell different? It is hard to make deodorant from ingredients you can buy with food stamps, and the money spent on it could be going to making sure the kids have eggs for breakfast.
    I think what I find the worst is spending every moment weighing up choices. Thinking about food ALL the time, not just because you are hungry for things you can’t afford, but because in order to eat healthy on a tiny budget you MUST plan ahead and decide if a purchase is warranted. I’d love to be able to buy some toasted sesame oil – I love the taste, and you get a lot of bang for the buck, but do I want to spend that money? Is it worth it?
    I was raised with money, and my parents were insistent that it was luck we were privileged, that life had handed us many gifts, and that we were no better than anyone else. That with rights came responsibilities. But with all that, and a great deal of empathy, I still had NO idea, not a glimmer of conception of what true poverty is like day-to-day.
    When the SNAP Challenge involves not only a tight food budget, but a 40-60 hour work week at minimum wage, hours wasted on transportation, time in the laundromat, hours spent on turning that cheap, healthy food into palatable food (you can’t eat dried beans straight out of the bag), and that constant worry, worry, worry over the most damn, trivial things (only they AREN’T trivial when you live them, are they?) then, and only then will the SNAP Challenge begin to approach what life is really like for the poor.

    1. My deodorant recipe is almost exactly the same as my toothpaste recipe. I probably smell ridiculous 😛
      It’s true,though. Even making it w/ things you can buy w/ food stamps can take away from things to eat. The coconut oil I buy is $9 and will last for 6 months but I usually have to wait until summer months to buy it with food stamps when I have garden to make up the difference in our food budget.

    2. Oh, dear, another good example today of why the SNAP Challenge doesn’t begin to cover reality! The 7th is my benefit day, and if I can borrow a car I head to the nearest town to stock up for the month. Because my 60th birthday is coming up I decided to give myself a treat (no, not filet mignon or lobster which I love but would never buy with SNAP because I am damned if I will give those self-righteous pricks who claim to have seen such “abuses” any excuse to congratulate themselves even though if you buy on sale, and know how to use it cleverly there is a lot of good eating in a lobster) of some coffee. A smallish can of decent but not gourmet grind. I thought long and hard about buying it, but it would make quite a few cups of coffee for the price of a Starbucks latte.
      When I was putting my groceries away an hour or so ago I realized I was missing the bag containing the coffee, and 4 cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes which I use as the base for a lot of recipes. I don’t know where or at what point that bag and I parted company – was it left in the cart when I packed the car, did the checkout guy forget to take it off the carousel when he loaded the cart, is it still in the trunk of the borrowed car? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is how large that loss of $10 worth of groceries looms. I almost cried. Doing the SNAP Challenge doesn’t teach you about such moments because who can’t give up coffee for a week, or eat their pasta plain when they know in a matter of days they can eat whatever they feel like? They mean well, but they are playing at being poor.

  2. Dried pinto beans cooked and mashed placed in tortillas,, with a spoon of salsa as a veggie, eggs scrambled and set in a tortilla, maybe with a spoon of salsa, fried potatoes, or boiled potatoes if you have no oil, eggs and potatoes in a tortilla. Maybe carrots or celery, even an onion for veggies if you’re flush. Tortillas instead of bread because they can be bought cheaper than bread, and don’t go stale as fast, ramen noodles with extra water because it fills you up. Now eat this selection every day for a month, sometimes you only eat it once a day because there won’t be enough for the month otherwise. The checking and banking scam is spot on, and legal, Congress won’t evrr fix that. Sitting in the dark with extra blankets on because you can’t afford the utilities. Taking a shower and washing your hair with dish soap because you can’t afford shampoo or soap. Washing your clothes in the sink with dish soap because there is no money for the laundromat, and hanging them over a chair to dry. Using washcloths pinned in your panties because there is no money for feminine products, (I went to school many a day wearing this as mom couldn’t afford pads all the time, I changed them only as needed, and I only ever undressed in the toilet stalls to avoid my peers finding out.)

    1. Yep, you got it.

      I laugh when eco-friendly blogs talk about using cloth pads and cloth diapers as being a good environmentalist thing to do. Shit, I learned how to sew them because I was too frickin’ poor to buy disposable. Ditto on paper towels…and sometimes even toilet paper.

  3. I once had someone tell me she didn’t know how I did it. I’m disabled, and my husband works for slave wages- and 3 kids at home. Yes we have food stamps, I have SSI and Medicaid ( which seems to always be cutting the services that I need the most). But there has been very little to spare. We would wait until tax returns to buy clothes at thrift shops and discount stores, and school supplies at the dollar store for the kids. I have very specific dietary needs- cannot eat canned foods very often because I have a severe nickel allergy, and the nickel in cans leaches into the food. I also have stomach problems and cannot eat a lot of starchy foods, among other things. I NEED fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. And not long ago, when we were up for recertification on our food stamps, our worker made an error and we got ‘overpaid’. Of course, even though it was her fault, WE had to ‘pay it back’- by them cutting our food stamps down to $38 a month even though we were supposed to be getting a little over $500. Which means we had to use my SSI check to buy food, and had to short our landlord on the rent. Thankfully, he’s very understanding. But even when he would say ” Don’t worry, you just keep your family fed. I know you’ll catch up.” I still waited each month for him to say ” I can’t do this anymore, you guys have to move.” Bills usually get shorted,too, until they add up enough that they start sending overdue/shut off notices. Then we try to pay the bare minimum just to keep the services on. And I can’t physically deal with temperature extremes, so I also must have air conditioning and heat. So the electric bill is almost always more than we can afford. I love the times when the temps are just right that we don’t have to have the heat/air going- but those times are few and far between. Do politicians even have the slightest clue how much stress that puts on a person? Especially a person whose health issues are worsened by stress?

  4. I think the pro to these challenge are “they are better than nothing at all.” I, too, lived on food stamps, but for a few months rather than years on end. It was enough “real poverty” for me, for us, for my family. It is the merest taste of how hard it is. It doesn’t show the full effect, no, but it does show the tip of the iceberg. AND THAT IS ENOUGH! Because the merest tip of the iceberg is ENOUGH to show the fat cats that SNAP is not only critical for “the poor,” it is critical to humane functioning of their own humanity. Living off food stamps means they are hungry ALL THE TIME. And if they remember that, even for a few minutes on legislation day, then the challenge has done something good. It will never give the full effect… the full effect of poverty is not needed. The tip of the iceberg is enough.

    1. One of the problems though is that the only politicians doing this are already pro-safety net program that help poor people. If an anti takes it, they often contort the experiment (by buying popsicles and ramen and saying, “LOOK! Those food stamp babies are such whiners. You can eat on food stamps just fine”) . Also, it’s insulting when a politician or celebrity takes the challenge ,gets tons of pats and praise, but meanwhile there are SO MANY voices of poor people explaining how it is to live on food stamps or less and that’s completely ignored.Those words should have more weight than a forced experiment that doesn’t account for all the variables.

  5. I am on SSDI and Medicare in Florida and relate to much of what I have read here. I have no credit because of medical bills, and my condition can’t be let go or I will die…it is genetic and killed my maternal grandfather at 39 and tried to kill me at 35…I am the 3rd consecutive known generation, and we have no idea how far back it goes…the doc-in-the-box just up the street wants $75 up front… My cardiologist wants a ct scan of my leg due to complications from a fall, but they want $240 up front that Medicare doesn’t pay, the 20%…almost half my SSDI goes for rent on a 12 x 20 1 room apartment. Thankfully I am eligible for half price fare on the local transit bus system. I am not eligible for Medicaid as a secondary to Medicare, which would help me get care that I need. I can’t afford dental care and have been hospitalized twice since 2008 for dental abscesses, so that they would not go to my brain or heart valves and kill me. When I heard about the 11 year old boy who died because his medicaid eligibility was withdrawn from his hardworking but still poor mother, I cried…I am not eligible for SNAP…I identify with so much of the struggles I have just read about here…

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