November 21, 2012

Oh SNAP! It's Cory Booker!

Patrick Laverty

Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker is getting some attention today for taking the SNAP challenge. He's going to live for a week on the amount of money for food that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) offers. The rules of the challenge are that you get $35 for the week and all food consumed must be included in that $35.

Maybe to the surprise of some, this post isn't to disparage SNAP or anyone on it. I get it. Some people don't have enough money for food at times and it could possibly even keep them alive. This program is especially important for children, where they personally aren't at fault for not being able to supply food. I also get that $35 per person is a very small amount for one person to live off of for a week of food. It works out to $1.66 per meal.

My point here and my request is, can people like Booker and others at least be a little more intellectually honest about the topic? The purpose of SNAP is not to be the sole source of money for food. Heck, look at two words in the title: "Supplemental" and "Assistance". This $35 for the week is supposed to supplement your own income. It is intended to be assistance, not the sole provider.

I also looked up the requirements to qualify on the USDA web site:

Household size Gross monthly income
(130 percent of poverty)
Net monthly income
(100 percent of poverty)


$1,211 $ 931


1,640 1,261


2,069 1,591


2,498 1,921


2,927 2,251


3,356 2,581


3,785 2,911


4,214 3,241

Each additional member

+429 +330

You can bring in $400 a week for a family of four but have zero money for food? Nothing? This would seem to be a matter of priorities. When I start thinking about how to spend money, I prioritize. Food and a roof over my head are the most important. Everything else comes after that. Instead of trying to live on SNAP's $35 a week, add even $20 to that and that gets you into an area that many would like to see SNAP providing.

I also understand the high cost of eating out. Three people for a dinner at McDonalds can easily run up $20 or more. Often, when my wife is working at night, I'll try to put together a healthy meal for my daughter and I and then figure out the "per-meal" cost. Last week, I got a $4 steak, had a 99 cent bag of frozen corn and a baked potato between us. The baked potato was 35 cents, we used about 20 cents worth of the frozen corn, so the meal came out to $4.55 or $2.28 per person for a perfectly good and healthy meal. It is over the $1.66 that SNAP would provide but it's over by 64 cents. That 64 cents is my supplementation. Ok, we both drank milk too. At $4 a gallon, we probably drank about 40 cents worth.

Other nights, we might have Tuna Noodle Casserole. This is the one we'll have when we're pressed for time. We have a bag of the $1 Butter Noodles, throw in a can of $1.50 tuna and some fresh broccoli. Total cost, about $3.50, plus milk beverage, we're up to about $2 a meal. And this is just for dinners.

But why do people like Booker, and many others, use the fringe cases? Use the extreme examples? If I wanted to do that too, I'd bring up all the corruption and fraud cases. But that never helps any discussion. I do think Booker's heart and intents are in the right place, but let's talk about the actual problems and the issues and re-examine what the point of the program is. It is to assist people with their food costs and help people to make the best possible food choices and try to slow the hysteria.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

"Maybe to the surprise of some, this post isn't to disparage SNAP or anyone on it."

And yet you chose to write something minimizing the struggle of families living at the poverty line... "This would seem to be a matter of priorities." I say that's exactly why it's important for people like Booker to illustrate how little this suppliment actually provides.

Posted by: Russ at November 21, 2012 1:09 PM

Oh man, I know I'm going to regret this...

Russ, I agree that for some, it's not enough. But for the majority, it is. If people like Booker are going to be intellectually honest with this exercise, they'll take their $35 a week and add another $20 of their own money. I'm happy to take that challenge and I bet I can eat non-garbage for $55 a week. Heck, I have done it for a whole year. I found ways to make it work.

I'm sure there are people who are wheelchair bound with no family and are homeless with mental illness. They may be unemployable and even if they can get that $35 a week, it is all they'll get. That's an extreme case. But that's not good government to create policy for the extreme cases. Policy is written for the majority and that's who I'm discussing here. Booker is illustrating the extreme when I would like people to discuss the majority.

Posted by: Patrick at November 21, 2012 1:36 PM

What a post for Thanksgiving! Let them eat cake!

So let's talk about the majority of the recipients of SNAP.

Roughly 93 percent of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes below the poverty line, and 55 percent goes to households with incomes below half of the poverty line (about $9,300 for a family of three). Also, as explained below, families with the greatest need receive the largest benefits.

Note as well 75% of all SNAP recipients are families with children. So your contention is that living below the poverty line (even with the program benefits) is more than enough for the majority, eh?

Simply because you could live for week or two does not mean there aren't consequences for families. It's real easy to say someone else's kids don't need the same nutriution that we in the middleclass take for granted. Yes, a college kid can eat Ramen noodles for a semester and get by, but I'm guessing even you wouldn't want to try that with a 4 year old.

I suggest you also read the section, "Supporting and encouraging work," in the link above.

Posted by: Russ at November 21, 2012 3:10 PM

Russ - You would be correct, except that many of those families are also receiving:
Health care
Free education (babysitting)
Free breakfast and lunch at school
Public housing
Heating and electric assistance
Phone bill assistance

So when you and Booker pretend SNAP is all these families receive, you are being intellectually dishonest.

Literally nobody is starving to death in this country. More poor people have trouble with obesity than getting enough to eat. It's hard for me to feel bad when it's *always* the morbidly obese woman buying snack cakes with food stamps in front of me at the supermarket as her three children run around screaming at each other.

Posted by: Dan at November 21, 2012 3:24 PM

Notably housing costs, childcare expense, etc. are factored in to SNAP eligibility. And, yes, you folks clearly have nothing at all against SNAP recipients. Qu'ils mangent de la brioche (let them eat snack cakes?), indeed!

Posted by: Russ at November 21, 2012 3:31 PM

btw, Dan, Booker didn't say anything of the sort. He was responding to a comment from a member of the fringe-right. I found this interesting from the original ABC article.

Rucha Gadre, director of Food Bank Services at Mercer Street Friends, said a family of four making under $3,447 per month in her county gets about $150 to $250 a month through NJ SNAP.

Gadre took the food stamp challenge earlier this year, and she said it was “very difficult.”

“I think [Booker] will understand that the minimum benefit of $16 or trying to live on $30 for the whole week is not sufficient,” Gadre said. “There’s no way you could eat nutritious food.”

Even if Booker sticks to the dollar limit, Gadre said the experience still might not replicate the exact experience of surviving on food stamps, because low-income families might not have the luxury of searching for the cheapest grocery stores.

Posted by: Russ at November 21, 2012 3:51 PM

"Notably housing costs, childcare expense, etc. are factored in to SNAP eligibility"

Riiiight, Russ, and nobody engages in any shenanigans with "family units," "marital status," unreported income, unreported assets, etc. I suppose you think no illegal immigrants receive these benefits either. What planet do you live on?

Posted by: Dan at November 21, 2012 4:48 PM

This discussion shouldn't be about the two extremes-i.e."let them eat cake" or believing there is no substantial abuse of the system.It should be about having a safety net for US CITIZENS and LEGAL RESIDENTS that is sustainable and effective.I diverge from some conservatives on the role of government in addressing poverty and unemployment.We have taken the country I grew up in where you could lose a job and it wasn't the end of the world.Thanks to a variety of factors it can be just that today.
I don't mind my tax dollars being used to feed hungry children here in America.I am truly sick of "nation building"and sending Americans into harm's way for specious reasons.By "Americans"I have no problem including everyone who is legally here.I am a no compromise right winger on things like firearms rights and immigration enforcement,but we really need to take care of our own when we have people who produce nothing and manipulate money make tens of millions of dollars.The best way to defeat communist thinking is to have a society with a large fully employed skilled worker/lower middle class.Plenty of room for rich people and there will always be poor people.
Anyway-have a happy Thanksgiving-I THINK it'a holiday we don't have to argue about.

Posted by: joe bernstein at November 21, 2012 7:18 PM

People have been playing the Food Stamp challenge for years. As Dennis Miller aptly points out the working poor are suckers-they could enjoy the same standard of living labor free by giving up the ghost and relying on Nobama.
In addition to:
Health care
Free education (babysitting)
Free breakfast and lunch at school
Public housing
Heating and electric assistance
Phone bill assistance

we have free cell phones, attorneys, advocates, under the table income and the NEVER factored into crazy checks for the kids.
It's going to be a fun four years as we head toward the REAL Fiscal Cliff with the attitude of "He gave us a phone, he gonna do mo'"

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at November 22, 2012 1:31 PM

Anyway-have a happy Thanksgiving-I THINK it'a holiday we don't have to argue about.
Posted by joe bernstein at November 21, 2012 7:18 PM

Not a chance Joe. A holiday Lincoln started:
" as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens"
causes the likes of soulless shi*birds like this Russ Conway character to do nothing but cringe.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at November 22, 2012 1:39 PM

@Tommy-I figure people like Russ are just put here to complain so why pay them any mind?I certainly won't going forward.

Posted by: joe bernstein at November 22, 2012 5:41 PM

"It should be about having a safety net for US CITIZENS and LEGAL RESIDENTS that is sustainable and effective."

I'll second all of that.

On the Homeland Security website where they promote social programs (talk about incongruous), do they mention that legal immigrants, for the most part, do not qualify for social programs until they have been here legally for five years? And, of course, illegal aliens don't qualify at all (except here in RI where, inexplicably, pregnant women get the social program red carpet rolled out for them).

Posted by: Monique at November 23, 2012 8:56 AM

As an aside, don't forget the high cost of food these days that I attribute, in part, to Obama energy policies (e.g., Keystone pipeline)that raise the cost of transporting food. If the socialists will leave the competitive free market alone, costs to poor people will be lower -- making that $35/week go further.

Posted by: Art at November 26, 2012 9:47 AM

Art, you're right. Yet Walmart and their low food prices is the bad guy.

Posted by: Patrick at November 26, 2012 10:22 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.