It wasn’t like I expected: I thought I was going to be nearly fasting for a week. I thought it was going to be exciting. I thought one week would be enough to get a pretty good feel of what a person who relies on SNAP for food money lives like.
I thought a lot of things. I was wrong.
Let me start from the beginning. SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is the modern day food stamps. In 2009, SNAP benefits were increased as part of President Obama’s stimulus package. On Nov. 1 these benefits expired and people’s benefits were cut. For the average family of four on SNAP, benefits were slashed by 36 dollars a month. After watching a video of a floor speech where Congresswoman Jackie Speier argued against the cuts and spoke about how she had lived a week on SNAP before, I decided to try it.
At this point, many advocates of SNAP have done the week-long test and it has been dubbed the “Snap Challenge.” I decided to use the money that an individual would get from the stimulus version of SNAP and then imagine what it would be like without that extra money.
So on Saturday, Nov. 16, I went to the grocery store to try to find healthy and filling food that wouldn’t cost much. I had $45.16 to spend for the week. My list included, among other things, a couple boxes of cereal, pasta, milk, bananas, potatoes and chicken.
Soon I unraveled the first of several misconceptions about which I had read. My week on SNAP money was not horrific.
When politicians talk about food stamps, they question whether it is enough to live on without getting malnourished. Yet the government agency that runs SNAP says that SNAP benefits are enough to live on healthily. But even with the stimulus money, the food is enough to sustain but not satisfy.
I kept a journal throughout the whole experience to record my thoughts, and there were not many times when I wrote that my stomach was aching from hunger. But there were a few times throughout the week that I felt sort of moody due what must have been not eating quite enough.
This leads me to the second thing that I was wrong about: the SNAP challenge isn’t exciting and would be even less so if you did it for a month. Looking at my journal, there are fewer entries as the week progressed. On day one this was an exciting new thing. By day seven, I only had a couple entries because it had lost its appeal and just became what I did.
Over time, it became clear to me that if I did the SNAP challenge for another month it would be much more painful. Not physically painful, but mentally. Most South students probably know what it is like to have a week, two or even longer where there is no time to rest, and you are trying to finish work only so you can go straight to sleep. Someone who is getting six and a half hours of sleep probably isn’t getting brain damage from lack of sleep, but doing the same thing day after day can get painful; rest is necessary. People who live on SNAP every day don’t get that rest. Basic survival should not be our sole standard, stopping malnutrition is a good step and a necessary one but it is not enough to be the only one.
Some say that people who are on welfare could be people who refuse to work and prefer to just take in government benefits. The problem with this argument is that people on SNAP (unless they have an exemption, such as being elderly) have to work or will only be able to receive benefits for a limited amount of time. Saying that a good portion of people on SNAP take benefits because they are too lazy to work is not true. People take it because they need the money for food.
It is hard to live off SNAP with the stimulus benefits. There was no need to make it any harder. The people who are in these positions don’t deserve that. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? If you don’t know, then try it. You might not get the whole picture but at least you will get some of it. Trust me, it is worth it.