The Politics of Food

Capitol Hill lawmakers participate in Food Stamp Challenge to shine a light on poverty.

Posted: 10/26/2011 12:48 PM EDT
Capitol Hill lawmakers participate in Food Stamp Challenge to shine a light on poverty.

Could you survive on a food budget of less than $5 per day? Many Americans do. Recent statistics from the Agriculture Department show that the number of people relying on food stamps has risen from 41,836,469 in June 2010 to 45,344,946 in July 2011, both figures a substantial increase from the 33,489,975 people participating in the program in 2009.

 

In an effort to call attention to their plight and hopefully prevent proposed budget cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a group of congressional lawmakers, in partnership with faith-based organizations, will kick off a Food Stamp Challenge on Thursday, in which each participant will spend up to one week living on a daily food budget of $4.50.

 

Former Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Barbara Lee of California, who is spearheading the effort on Capitol Hill and knows from personal experience what it’s like to live on a limited food budget, has participated in the effort before.

 

“It was very difficult and it’s not a healthy diet. I bought bent cans of lima beans, because they were cheaper and waited for the specials at fast food stores like Taco Bell,” she recalls, adding that sometimes the paltry budget, which was even less than this year, didn’t always provide three meals per day.

 

In addition, much of what she ate had high sugar, sodium and food levels. Toward the end of the challenge, Lee feared that she would deplete the allotted funds and began researching food banks.

 

“It’s really important for members of Congress, not only to raise awareness, but it’s a moral responsibility, I think, to help the least among us,” she said. “We shouldn’t have food insecurity in our country but we have millions of people who go to bed hungry at night.”

 

According to Lee, more than half of food stamp recipients are children and eight percent are elderly. The substantial increase in recent years can be attributed to the recession. USDA statistics show that in 2010, 22 percent of participating households were African-American and 35.7 were white. But the proposed House budget would cut the SNAP program by $137 billion over ten years and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) is proposing similar cuts. He also believes that the program is rife with fraud, and is proposing an amendment that would tighten eligibility as well as fighting a proposed $9 billion increase to the program, ABC News reports.

 

“We cannot do this. We don’t have the money,” he said. “We need people working with jobs, not receiving food stamps.”

(Photo: REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

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