Thursday, March 6, 2014

Day one on a food stamp diet

Day one on a food stamp diet. The first issue is “what to eat.” The $347 food stamp benefit for this month means figuring out a menu at or below $11.19 each day for the two of us.

My wife Pat and I have agreed to live on a food stamp budget through Lent to experience what it’s like for those who rely on food stamps to put meals on the table. Though our Lenten experience is admittedly superficial compared to food stamp recipients, the experience will provide us with at least a fleeting glimpse into their struggles.

This experience is about Lent, a forty-day period for sacrifice and reflection. It began last night with an Ash Wednesday Service.

The faith community I serve, Highlands Presbyterian Church, has created a “Lenten Fund” in response to the frequent calls from people needing some kind of financial assistance. Usually they need food; often they need help paying for prescriptions. At times they need help paying their utility bill, gas money or car repairs.

We’ve become weary of telling people we can’t help. So the Lenten Fund has been created. The idea is that if one sacrifices during Lent, the amount of money saved can be donated to the fund. Pat and I plan to donate the difference between what we usually spend on food and our food stamp budget.

Now we who take food for granted, must figure out how to eat on a substantially reduced grocery budget.
ighlands Presbyterian Church, has created a “Leneten Fund.” HHH

Fortunately there is help. The Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) is a resource for food stamp recipients trying to eat well for less. The University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service and the Department of Family Services SNAP office sponsor CNP. The acronym “SNAP refers to the US Department of Agriculture recasting of “food stamps” as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Cent$ible Nutrition offers classes and online support to help families manage their food budget and improve nutrition. Their informative website is There you will find everything from menus and recipes for home cooked meals to shopping lists to help you navigate the supermarket aisles on a food stamp budget.

Food stamp benefits are lower than many might think. Today they are even lower following the expiration of supplemental appropriations under the stimulus act and recent congressional budget cuts. The expiration of the additional benefits provided during the recession resulted in cuts of 5 billion dollars, causing even Wal-Mart to complain about the impact on its bottom-line.

Those cuts were followed by another 8 billion dollar reduction when congress finally passed the Farm Bill earlier this year. These cuts mean that close to a million households will see food stamp benefits slashed by about $90 a month. That’s about the cost of a week's worth of Cent$ible Nutrition Program recommended groceries for a family of four.

The irony, or rather the hypocrisy, is that those who are most critical of the costs of the food stamp program are the same ones who oppose the one measure that could actually reduce the food stamp budget without doing harm to poor families, i.e. an increase in the minimum wage.

An analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress found that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10from the current $7.25 rate, as President Obama has proposed, would lower total food-stamp aid by $4.6 billion, or 6% of the program’s budget.
But I digress.
As a result of benefit reductions, it is more critical than ever that families needing food stamps learn to eat well on much less than others. But while CNP exists primarily to serve as a resource for those receiving food stamps, anyone wishing to reduce the costs of food and eat more nutritiously will find great help on their website. Last year program participants averaged a grocery savings of nearly $50 per month.

So, on the first day of Lent, I am armed with my Cent$ible Nutrition week one menu. and my CNP shopping list…and, of yes, my $11.19 budget.

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