Survive on less than $5 a day for groceries? That's a fact of life for many recipients of food stamps -- but we have a feeling most lawmakers deciding program funding for food-assistance programs have never grocery-shopped on such an austere budget. To get a sense of this hardship and raise awareness about possible cuts to the federal food stamp program, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Dave Coulter, mayor of the neighboring Detroit suburb of Ferndale, have each pledged to stick to a grocery budget of $31.50 next week.
Their expenses will parallel those of a Michigan recipient during a typical week: food stamp benefits in the state average out to $135.84 per person a month.
“Far too many Americans continue to struggle just to feed themselves and their families. And yet House Republicans have proposed $20 billion in cuts to food stamps, which help the neediest among us," said Levin, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. "Participating in this challenge will provide me some insight into the struggle so many Americans face and I hope will highlight why we should not cut the program.”
Republicans in the House want to slice $20 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. The cuts, included in a larger farm bill, are expected to go up for a vote the week of June 17. Levin's office estimates that they could eliminate assistance to 1.8 million individuals and drastically reduce benefits for nearly 500,000 people.
Sander and Coulter will begin their week of lean meals with a shopping trip to Ferndale Foods, a Metro Detroit market, on Monday. While there, they plan to discuss the impacts of the proposed cuts with representatives from local food charity and advocacy groups including Gleaners, Forgotten Harvest and the United Way.
Their week of sacrifice is part of a national effort called the SNAP Challenge, which aims to shed light on the struggles of low-income people in the United States. Other members of Congress who have taken similar challenges in the past include Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).