Local Blogger Takes The “SNAP Challenge,” Passes With Ease.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “SNAP Challenge” where Democratic Congresspersons set out to try and feed themselves on $31.40 per person per week, which is said to be the average supplement the Federal SNAP program provides. It’s produced some hilarious results that show just how out of touch some of these Congressmen are. Sooper Mexican list his Top 10 favorite cringe-inducing SNAP Challenge moments featuring among other things a Congressman eating soup straight out of a can in the back of his limo….just like real people all across America do every day.

Georgia’s own Hank Johnson took the “SNAP Challenge” and had a hard time. One of the Congressman’s constituents, blogger Decatur Gladiator, showed him how it’s done.

When I saw my Congressman post online that he couldn’t sleep after eating two hot dogs and Ramen noodles, my blood started to boil. You see, I am a single working Mom. I spend less than this for food and my children are holding up pretty well. In fact, I believe the opposite: considering the state of our economy, benefits could (and probably should) be reduced.

I spent a total of $58.63 to feed myself and my thirteen year old teenager for one week, well under the $62.80 EBT challenge amount for two people, and this included an unplanned purchase of 2 cases of PowerAde (my teen is in the gym training 15 hours a week and it was on sale). I did not make a list ahead of time, use coupons or price shop. Many of the items are brand name, and most are ready to eat items. Without the purchase of the sports beverage, I spent only $41.23 on food for both of us.

Oh snap!

35 comments

  1. Oh SNAP! I calculated that she purchased about 35,000 calories with her money – had to make some estimates but I tried to be fair.

    That’s about 2,500 calories per day per person, so they will not starve. However, they will be getting a whopping 50% of their calories only from bread. Additionally, about 20% of the calories come from Powerade – not being shared with mom, and likely being consumed in conjunction with burning calories – which kind of hurts the point she’s trying to make.

    A whopping 2% of their calories come from fruits and vegetables. The “S” stands for supplemental, as most SNAP participants are assumed to also be spending some of their own money or income on food. I certainly hope most people out there whether on SNAP or not are getting more than 2% of their calories from fruits and vegetables and less than 50% from bread.

    I will also note that she spent 15% of her total money on these 2% fruit/vegetable calories. Which means that her overall cost per calorie was about 0.2 cents per calorie, but her fruit/vegetable cost was closer to 1.1 cents per. On a recommended 2,000 calorie day, you should get roughly 500 calories from fruits/vegetables. At 1.1 cents per calorie, for two people, at the average cost she was spending, that would come to $77.

    And that $77 is just the fruits and vegetables. So, congratulations to her, she ate a terrible diet for a week for $58. Sounds like it was a great week of eating some variant of an Italian sandwich for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    • And to be fair – I have some foodie friends who have done it in the past and ate healthily and passed it. But it also wasn’t anything like a normal week for them. It’s probably a stupid challenge to start with, just trying to make a point and that’s what politics is, but I wouldn’t look at Decatur Gladiator’s results and argue she passed. I wouldn’t want to eat that for a week.

      • pettifogger says:

        Fair points. Although with “want to eat” I think you may have inadvertently (or maybe I’m wrong) hit on the elephant in the room when it comes to social welfare programs.

  2. Napoleon says:

    As there are four members of my family, our “supplemental” food budget under SNAP would be $6,547.50 a year or $547.87 a month. That amount is currently equal to 15% of our combined take-home. It is almost 50% of our mortgage payment (including taxes and insurance). It is approximately $200 more than we currently spend on groceries. Now we do not tend to buy name brands and coupon shop. We also buy very little beef, usually sticking to chicken and pork. We do tend to buy a lot of vegetables and fruits, though the vegetables are typically the forzen Kroger brand. Then they have an $.88 sale, we tend to stock up. Yogurt us where we splurge. My wife tends to buy the Greek yogurt that runs $1 each.

    Right now I can’t afford the SNAP challenge…it would require me to spend more than we can afford each month on groceries.

    • George Chidi says:

      Tell you what, friend. I’m not buying it. Atlanta is a lovely place with the best farmer’s market in America and competitive grocery outlets. It’s possible to shop for bargains and do well. But at the subsistence level, that number is right at the edge. That’s what a family of four would spend on healthy breakfast and healthy dinner in a month. But I don’t see lunch in there at all. Some folks skip that, I suppose.

      I cook. I cook well. But I am unlikely to be able to consistently put together healthy dinners for four for less than $12, never mind whatever the rest of the meals cost for a day.

      Now … crappy dinners … that’s something else. If there are a couple of Little Caesar’s nights in there, or a mac-n-cheese deal once or twice a week where people fend for themselves, I can squint and see how you get there. But don’t tell me that it’s easy, or that there’s a lot of leeway. I think it’s far more likely that you’re not accounting for your actual consumption accurately … or that you are a three-standard-deviation outlier in your habits and can’t be taken as a realistic model for behavior.

      So put up or shut up. Post your grocery bill for a week’s worth of eating. No cheating.

      • Many people out there skip breakfast. I did for years, and still do some days. Not because of budget, but just out of habit / lack of thinking about it. I’m sure I could probably figure out how to live on the $31.XX per week in this challenge, though I’ll admit that it’d be tough and I’d have to actually sit down and think about how to do it.

        One thing I haven’t seen anyone suggest: grow your own. With enough planning, one can buy a pack of seeds for $1 or less, plant them, and end up with plenty of squash, zucchini, tomatoes, etc. Seems like that’d be a pretty easy way to get the cost down on the fruits and vegetables that Chris mentioned above. We spend quite a bit more than $31 per week on food (It was $27 alone for Chinese last night), yet we grow some of our own food. I would suggest that if someone is unemployed, that perhaps when they’re not searching for a job, their time could be spent in the garden to feed themselves and their family.

      • Napoleon says:

        Then you are living well above most people’s means George. However, since you asked, I will provide. Here are my grocery bills. Now keep in mind, that this includes stuff that would and would not be covered by SNAP. Even with non-covered items included, in three months I spent less than than one month on SNAP, once again, for a family of four. Now, I will admit that the wife does do shopping too and I will post her numbers for the last three months too.

        4/1/2013 -39.34 * POS PURCHASE – KROGER
        4/4/2013 -44.23 * CHECK CRD PURCHASE 04/03 KROGER
        4/8/2013 -5.34 * CHECK CRD PURCHASE 04/06 KROGER
        4/23/2013 -54.65 * POS PURCHASE – COSTCO WHSE
        4/29/2013 -120.63 * POS PURCHASE – COSTCO WHSE
        5/3/2013 -29.64 * CHECK CRD PURCHASE 05/02 KROGER
        5/6/2013 -5.08 * CHECK CRD PURCHASE 05/03 KROGER
        5/15/2013 -37.71 * POS PURCHASE – KROGER
        6/3/2013 -26.07 * POS PURCHASE – COSTCO WHSE
        6/7/2013 -25.1 * POS PURCHASE – KROGER
        6/11/2013 -10.59 * CHECK CRD PURCHASE 06/10 KROGER
        6/24/2013 -44.26 * CHECK CRD PURCHASE 06/21 KROGER
        6/24/2013 -61.84 * CHECK CRD PURCHASE 06/23 KROGER

        -504.48

          • George Chidi says:

            Two things. First, this assumes you haven’t had a single meal away from the home in three months, which I might find difficult to believe. And second … I’m not claiming that I get under the cap. I have nothing to prove.

    • Ellynn says:

      The $31.40 a week is an average per person. It depends alot on the “persons” involved and where they live. I know a single mid 30 male the Savannah area who has been out of work and qualifies. His mouthly total is just under $65.00 a month, or about $2.15 a day. He grews most of his own veggies, so he buys mainly milk, bread, stables and chicken. My co-worker’s husband walked out on her and her 2 children over 5 years ago and refused to pay child support. Her youngest was 4 months old at the time and the oldest was just under 2. While the court case was being worked outed, she received over $500 for her and two children. When she moved over the county line for a lower rent and daycare cost, her total went up to by $30 a month. When her youngest turned 2, her total dropped to a little under $400. The amount given for infants is higher then other children. Looking at the price of some of the formula out there I can understand why. After ex-hubby was taken to court and she got to pull herself out of debt and pay her lawyer, she was off in under 3 years.

  3. decaturgladiator says:

    Chris –
    Goodness, what a fine analysis of my nutritional intake! I agree that it might not be the “healthiest diet”, but I could have done the same with healthier foods and probably had even more food. When the household members are not cooking at home (because they are WORKING), sandwiches are the food for summer.

    My intended point was that Johnson and other members of Congress clearly have no idea how to shop for food given the examples of their purchases. From Johnson’s Press Release:
    “Rep. Johnson purchased oatmeal, waffles with syrup, hotdogs, bacon, tea and noodles with his $31.50. He tried to buy broccoli, but it pushed him over his weekly budget.”

    Do you consider that more nutritious than my items?

    I’d be happy to repeat the challenge next week and meet the guidelines in the USDA food pyramid if you are saying that it’s not possible.

    • Lea Thrace says:

      I would be a bit more interested in seeing if this challenge can be met in the neighborhoods that reflect majority of the people who actually use SNAP. These neighborhoods often do not have big chain grocery stores. Which means availability of bargains, fresh produce, “healthier/nutritious” food is diminished. People are often relegated to the corner or dollar store they can walk to. Kroger, Publix and Walmart often not setting up shop in these areas.

      • pettifogger says:

        This is very true, but I don’t know how that could really be addressed by SNAP. For example, what would Hank Johnson, in the aftermath of his “challenge” suggest we do about the lack of options in poorer neighborhoods?

        As a caveat, I do see GA food stamp users where I shop pretty much every time, so anecdotally, I think we may somewhat underestimate the options for a sizable portion of users.

        • Lea Thrace says:

          I am curious, how do you know they are food stamp users. Do the cards stand out in some way?

          • Baker says:

            There are over 40 MILL of these SNAP users so I’m pretty sure a decent number of them can get said grocery store and what not. And of 40 MILL+ I’m pretty sure a fair number have the automobile.

            I think $31.40 might be low, but I don’t believe for one second that 40MILL+ should be on govt food assistance.

          • pettifogger says:

            They’re pretty identifiable unless they’ve changed and I don’t know about it. You can find examples online. Generally I only notice when there is some snafu in processing, like with multi-card transactions (which I’m guessing is because of restrictions on the food stamp card, but who knows).

          • Ellynn says:

            I notice because they have two seperate piles to cash out or how they are rung through. Just this weekend I was standing behind a women who after she run her card through was told she still owed over $10.00. She was upset because she knew she had well over the amount on the card to cover the whole thing but didn’t understand what stuff was not being covered. When the checker showed her on the screen what her card was not paying for, she pulled a few things out of her cart (one item was a spies of some sort), retotaled and then handed the checker a few dollar bills.

            There is also a tag team I see in the store a few times a month. A mom of many and one of her friends. The mom rings out stuff I know is covered under SNAP, and then the friend rings out stuff not covered. While the friend is checking out the items, the mom is sorting out what stuff goes into what cart. By the time the friend is done, the mom has moved some things like butter, milk, juice, veggies and other stuff she paid for in her friends cart, and some things like snacks, a bottle of wine, and other things her friend paid for in hers. The two are highly organized. They have a master list for what their menus are for the next week or so, coupons, the lists each of then has to buy, and who gets what in the end.

            • Lea Thrace says:

              Interesting. I’m going to have to pay better attention in the grocery store to see if I notice these behaviours.

            • Doug Deal says:

              That is interesting, if true, because it now makes sense of something I have seen recently as well. Mutiple adults shopping together and organizing carts as they go. I thought it was strange how much I had been seeing that recently, but if it is to get around the restrictions on these programs it makes sense.

              • Ellynn says:

                There is also some group style of cooking that happens you might see based on the fix it and freeze it cook for a month movement. My friend from high school and her group of home schooling friends do this. They plan a months worth of menus based on what is on sale and in season for each family. They buy the food on Saturday and Sunday. They then all get together on Sunday night or Monday morning to clean, chop, trim, measure, spoon and mix it all. They work off of a set of large group cooking recipes. It goes into neat little freezer to oven ready containers. My friend and her group can prepare aboutt 160 meals for their families in about 5 hours in one kitchen for a month. Some 20 somethings do this in a much smaller number of meals.

  4. Scott65 says:

    There is also an assumption that people on the SNAP program have the ability to get to where these “bargains” are. Chances are you might not even have a car…another thing to think about

  5. seenbetrdayz says:

    Somewhat off topic but has anyone ever noticed the weird loopholes in these programs.

    You can go to a convenience store and order Hunt Bro’s pizza but it *cannot* be sold cooked, it must be sold frozen. But you can, after buying it, turn around and “ask” the clerk to cook it for you. I mean, there aren’t any words for how ridiculous it is. It doesn’t make my blood boil or anything like that, but I’m just like . . . “really?”

    As for eating healthy, I’ve rarely seen anyone on SNAP who wasn’t obese, so yeah there might be a problem if all you can get are carbs. But then again, there’s a lot of people who aren’t on any food welfare who are obese. I think obesity is a problem in and of itself.

    I’ll finish reading the comments when I get back from McDonalds.

    • saltycracker says:

      So from your tone I imagine you don’t think a 400 lb. person on SS disability in a Medicaid electric hoverround doesn’t deserve to be on food stamps where they can barter for anything at their local pricey quick stop ? Obviously your idea of “in need” is different from Congress’.

    • Doug Deal says:

      I lived around the poor a good portion of my life. Very few of the poor are anything other than obese.

      It is one of the reasons I came to distrust carbohydrates. The amount of bread, rice, sugar, cereal, pasta, cookies, cakes, snacks and such that my neighbors ate was alarming.

      Even today, when I go shopping, I look at all the prepared frozen and boxed meals and pretty much every one of them is just a bunch of pasta or race with a sweatened sauce. I have not bought such a meal in probably 10 years, but the sheer volume of them means they must be great sellers. There are even entire isles of frozen pizza.

  6. Doug Deal says:

    I had the unique experience of growing up both well off and dirt poor during my childhood. Mostly the latter, after my parents divorced. One of the things I learned is how to be frugal. Even thought I eat like a king today, I still do so in a way that is economical. We currently have the standard issue family (4 person, 2 adults, one girl, one boy) so it fits well into the government models and the published examples.

    When I shop, I shop in bulk. Even if I am buying beef tenderloin, I buy at quantity and save money, but I also buy inexpensive cuts that I actually prefer in taste. For example, bottom round is a fraction of the cost of strip or filet, and actually has more flavor if prepared correctly.

    Chicken is also the most economical of meats and is especially good when you use the thighs. Bone in thighs can be had for $0.99 a pound regularly, and there are about 4 per pound. $31.40 would be about 126 chicken thighs per person, 18 a day. Hopefully no one is on the chicken thigh diet, but the fact that is way above the average person’s healthy caloric needs means it is just a matter of finding other foods to augment this that also meet your needs and reduce it to realistic portions.

    Big 2 pound bags of broccoli, carrots, beans, can be had for next to nothing to add vegetables and even canned veggies can be had on the cheap. Dried beans are even cheaper and provide calories, protein and fiber.

    Bread is easy to make at only consists of flour, water and yeast. Flour works out to about $0.10 to $0.15 a cup (less if you buy it in large sacks instead of convenience sizes) and a family sized loaf can be made with 2 cups and weighs in at 1,000 calories of food for one George Washington quarter.

    You know what you also do? Save the leftovers and eat them for breakfast. Spending extra money for specialty high carb breakfast items is insane when last night’s meal is right there and already paid for.

    Food is inexpensive. Convenience costs a premium. If people were truly in trouble financially, they would put the prepared items away and get what they could. The fact that prepared dinner packages are so popular means that we are not struggling just inconvenienced.

  7. Harry says:

    The best thing the government could do for poor people would be to distribute SNAP food using bulk warehouses close to their own locations. Cut the overhead, provide staple foods directly from USDA and not through the global supermarket purveyors.

    • Doug Deal says:

      This is how I feel about it as well.

      Although I would prefer a world where everyone can make it on their own, I know this is not possible. But, if we must have public assistance, it should be in a way that is efficient and also to a certain degree limited and uncomfortable (barring real disability). Comfortable public assistance programs leads to dependency and breaks the human spirit. The harm to the individual greatly outweighs the supposed good.

      Everyone instinctively knows when someone else’s kids get their every need fulfilled by their parents without any contribution of effort from the child. Somehow it is less obvious when it is your own child and even less obvious when it is someone on public assistance. You do not force your child to help himself as punishment or because you hate him, you do it because you love him. Few things are as important to one’s psychological health as a sense of being capable and having purpose.

      • Baker says:

        “Few things are as important to one’s psychological health as a sense of being capable
        and having purpose.”

        Amen Doug.

      • saltycracker says:

        Many charitable ideals are kidnapped by those who can gain.
        As a kid on of my jobs was delivering supplies to the county schools which included government provided surplus food, particularly dairy products like butter. Don’t really know if it fell off as we paid farmers not to produce, we limited subsidies or ag industry shut it down. Some local charity leaders got really well off redistributing donated food and other items.

        It’d be about impossible to reverse a program where government script is the method of delivering charity.

        • Harry says:

          Uncle Sugar in the not too distant future will no longer be the go-to guy for every special interest. The DC/NY Axis will fail. This cannot stand.

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