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The SNAP Challenge - What It Is and How to Meet It

By: Celia Webb

Begun in 2006, the SNAP Challenge was designed to educate and publicize the plight of tens of millions of people here in the United States who must decide daily between paying for housing, utilities, medical care or food. Since then thousands of politicians, advocates, religious leaders, reporters, and average citizens have taken the challenge.

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program which is the new name for the food stamp program. The food stamp program began in 1964 and was renamed in the 2008 Farm Bill when all such assistance was provided through a specialized debit card instead of printed coupons or stamps.

One of the interesting things about the challenge is the effort to highlight who is struggling with hunger in this country. Some people lost their jobs during this recession and have not found new employment or, if they have, the salary is not at the level of their previous job. The disabled are much more likely to be unable to work or to find work. Even in the richest counties in the country at least 1 in 10 people reported not having enough to eat at some point within the last twelve months. In other counties, better than 1 in 4 reported the same. In fact, according to the USDA Report: Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2011 published November 2012, in fiscal year 2011, about 44.7 million people living in 21.1 million U.S. households participated in SNAP on average per month. Most SNAP participants were children or the elderly (just under 55%). Many SNAP participants had jobs (30%). The majority of SNAP participants do not receive a cash welfare benefit.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) offers a toolkit you can access online which gives ideas on setting up a challenge in your area and how to publicize it. Search on "FRAC SNAP challenge" to find the toolkit and learn more about the challenge.

The Challenge Guidelines as listed in the FRAC Toolkit are:

  1. Each person should spend a set amount for food and beverages during the Challenge week. That amount is $X0 (currently $35) for all food and beverage.
  2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
  3. During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).
  4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions, briefings, or other events where food is served.
  5. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.
  6. Invite others to join you, including co-workers, reporters, chefs, or other elected officials.

While the average benefit varies from state to state, the national monthly average SNAP benefit person in 2012 was $133.41 per month or about $4.45 a day. You can find your state's average SNAP benefits on USDA's website. (http://1.usa.gov/H0ulTj)

There are those for whom this challenge is not hypothetical and it does not last only a week. If you are new to this experience or you just need to lower your food budget due to short term budget hits, it is important to know that it is possible to feed yourself and your family with this amount. However, it does require planning, careful portion control, and diligent, careful shopping. Any food you can grow yourself will help your food dollar stretch a bit farther. Eating on this restricted amount also rules out or reduces the frequency of some activities many Americans take for granted like eating out or enjoying a juicy steak. However, rethinking your diet due to budgetary restrictions could also lead you to making healthier choices. You will find lots of terrific ideas on how to live on a small food budget in our book "Feed Your Family of Four for $4 a Day". There are shopping strategies, cooking tips, menus (including a six-week austerity plan for when the cupboard is totally bare), recipes, and much more. Everything is spelled out for you. You do not have to starve even if the budget is tight. The guidelines and ideas in this book will keep food on your table and in your tummy.

For more ideas on saving money, check out our book: