The Congressional Aide and the SNAP Challenge

There has been an ongoing debate in the House in regards to the “Farm Bill” which contains additional money to be added to the SNAP program.  Many people in the house who feel that the money should be added have decided to take the “SNAP Challenge”, which is basically living off the amount of money which most people get for benefits on a monthly basis.  Know the SNAP program stands for  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  A few key words here, supplemental and nutrition.



nonscheduled (  def 2 ) .


(of a pleading, an affidavit, etc.) added to furnish what is lacking or missing.
The entire point of the program is give people of limited means additional money towards eating healthier foods.  It is was never meant to be your only source of groceries.
As such the democrats that are taking this challenge are being dishonest because they are basing their claims that this is the only source of food these people have.  So in walks Danny Ferguson, an aide for Steve Stockman (R-TX).  He decides to do a little experiment on his lunch hour.  He goes to a dollar store to buy a weeks worth of groceries with the budget of $31.50 per week.  Here is a list of what he purchased:

Two boxes of Honeycombs cereal

Three cans of red beans and rice

Jar of peanut butter

Bottle of grape jelly

Loaf of whole wheat bread

Two cans of refried beans

Box of spaghetti

Large can of pasta sauce

Two liters of root beer

Large box of popsicles

24 servings of Wyler’s fruit drink mix

Eight cups of applesauce

Bag of pinto beans

Bag of rice

Bag of cookies

This is what he feels that people of limited means should be eating for a week.  He says his total cost came to $27.58, so he came in at $3.92 under budget:
“Not only did I buy a week’s worth of food on what Democrats claim is too little, I have money left over.  Based on my personal experience with SNAP benefit limits we have room to cut about 12 percent more.  “I didn’t use coupons, I didn’t compare prices and was buying for one, instead of a family. I could have bought even more food per person if I were splitting $126 four ways, instead of budgeting $31.50 to eat for one. I could have bought cheaper vegetables instead of prepared red beans and rice, but I like red beans and rice.  Folks aren’t buying fast food instead of vegetables because of benefit limits, they’re buying fast food because fast food tastes great and vegetables taste like vegetables.”
So he will get some protein from the peanut butter, he will get some fiber from the wheat bread, and some vitamins from the apple sauce and milk.  He will also get very large amounts of fat, salt, and cholesterol.  I don’t know how old he is or what his fitness habits are, but it is very possible if that he ate like this on a permanent basis he would gain a great deal of weight and over time develop some health issues.  It would seem from his above statement he isn’t a big fan of healthier foods, but many people are.
Now I recently moved from the D.C. area and where I am living now is actually more expensive when it comes to food.  I spend more than $40 a month on milk alone.  I don’t live on peanut butter and beans & rice.   Where is the meat in this diet?  It is possible that he is a vegetarian, but most vegatarians I know personally spend a great deal of money on food because fresh vegatables and grains can be very expensive.
So I decided to buy his grocery list at my local grocery store.  I went to the online section and purchased the list.  Now, I don’t buy many of these items on a regular basis, but the milk and the peanut butter  was the same price online as it is in the store.  My total came to $45.37.   Now I had to buy a larger jar of peanut butter and the pinto beans and rice could be different sizes, but I got as close as I could.  Now I don’t want to eat some sugary cereal every morning, call me picky, but it isn’t my cup of tea.  So if I had bought the type of cereal I wanted it would have cost me more as it seems when they put less junk in a box of cereal it actually costs more.  So to say that it can be cut across the board for every area of the country is simply untrue. A facebook friend and I were discussing this and she said she ran out of money as well.  As I said I lived that area for years and years, dollar stores are pretty much everywhere.  I left that area about six months ago, and I couldn’t tell you where the nearest dollar store is here.  I am sure there are some, but I don’t know where.  So that type of store isn’t going to be accessible to everyone.
The truth is this, both sides politicalize this issue and end up sounding like idiots.  Democrats forget the fact that people are supposed to be adding their own funds to the grocery bills over the month.  But republicans have the habit of only talking about the fraud in the system and how easy it is to live on Food Stamps and that those that do end up eating better than they do.  Neither is true.  I have heard people say that they see people in the grocery stores all the time buying better cuts of meat then they can afford.  The average payout for the SNAP program is about $6 per person per day.  For that budget you are not eating filet mignon and lobster every night.  It just isn’t possible unless you are putting your own money in as well.
Another thing that happens is the fraud issue is overblown by both sides.  Democrats hold onto the myth that it doesn’t go beyond the 3% estimates given out by the federal government.  That is what they catch.  That isn’t what the fraud is.  Republicans act like the Fraud is about 50% or even higher.  There are those that think the program should be done away with altogether.  I am not among them.  I think the SNAP program is necessary and I have no problem with my tax dollars being used for it.  But I would like to see more crackdown on the fraud.  I worked for years with a homeless day shelter, and I can tell you the fraud is well above what dems say and well below what the GOP says.
Sadly, real people are caught up in the middle of the back and forth.  People who are having a hard time making ends meet.  People who have real reasons why they need some help from time to time.  Food banks around the country say they cannot keep up as the need is great right now.  So to say that it should be only charity that does this isn’t working at the moment.  Especially when you consider that many food banks do get government grants to cover some of their costs.  The day shelter I was involved with got some state money, while many of their expenses are covered by churches (it is a faith based organization) and chartiable contributions, they don’t cover all of the costs.
The economy is improving but not quickly enough for many people.  Many families that never thought they would need assistance have found themselves in the unfortunate situation that they must look for other sources to feed their families.  What this aide really did was demonize those people.  They don’t need no stinkin chicken.  Heck they don’t even get hamburger.  So for those on the right that say they eat better than you do, is this diet you want to eat week after week?
But hey, don’t worry about Ol’ Danny.  His salary is public record, he made $17,211.10 for the first three months of 2013, so I am sure he can afford to buy himself a steak sandwich on occassion.  People on food stamps, hey they can have some pinto beans.  Is it any wonder that conservatives get told they don’t care about the less fortunate?  Sadly, I don’t think he even sees what he did.
We need to make changes to these programs.  We need to cut out the fraud and abuse.  We need to find ways to make these programs a helping hand to people in need and not a lifestyle.  What he did just makes it all the harder to accomplish.  Shame on him.