D.C. on $3 a day…

Four members of Congress are trying to feed themselves on $21 this week.

That’s the amount a week’s worth of food stamps is worth – that’s right, $21.00. $3.00 per day, $1.00 per meal.

The group consists of two members of the House Hunger Caucus and two (count ’em, two) members of the House who took the “Food Stamp Challenge” that the Caucus created to raise awareness of the plight of Food Stamp recipients and of the hunger that shadows those living in poverty. Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Tim Ryan (D-OH), and Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) are all trying to live for a week on $21.0 in groceries.
What have the House members learned?

1) Healthy eating costs money: “‘No organic foods, no fresh vegetables, we were looking for the cheapest of everything,’ McGovern said. ‘We got spaghetti and hamburger meat that was high in fat — the fattiest meat on the shelf. I have high cholesterol and always try to get the leanest, but it’s expensive. It’s almost impossible to make healthy choices on a food stamp diet.'”

2) $21.00 doesn’t go very far to feed an adult: “‘I don’t know if this is going to make it,’ said the third-term Democrat (Ryan), who is 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 215 pounds. ‘By the end of the week, I’m going to be eating cornmeal and strawberry preserves.'”

Two of the House members (Ryan and McGovern) are writing blogs about their experience.

Let’s hope that at least the House members who refused to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge (I’m sure labeling it a political stunt – which it is, of course, but sometimes political stunts serve a useful purpose, so there we are) will at least read these blogs and get some sense of the difficult life choices that the poor are faced with. Then maybe instead of engaging in their favorite game, blaming the victim, they might develop a sense of compassion – and behave accordingly to useat least a little of our tax money to “promote the general welfare.”

6 replies »

  1. Of course it’s a stunt. They’re also eating the type of food (or attempting to) that they’re used to. Lots of protein and veggies.

    Having worked a fair amount amongst shack-dwellers in South Africa, let me tell you how easy it is to live on that amount (many do – it works out to about R 20 – R 25 per day). Starch is your friend. Cheap packs of maize meal and bread. This is staple to every single meal. On its own that can reduce a meal down to a few cents. If you insist on protein, only buy canned products. Tins of beans, or even pilchards. Buy the cheapest horrid French polony. If you really need veggies, go for carrots, cabbage and the like. Each meal need only cost around R 5 (less than a dollar).

    For billions around the world this would count as normal. No, you’re not going to be beautiful. Try and remember, though, that the al Qaeda soldiers currently giving the US a hard time all live on this diet. So this minimal diet isn’t going to leave you bed-ridden.

    I realise the US is a first-world nation. I’m not entirely sure whether food stamps are there to create a minimum standard of living or are simply an emergency short-stop for the very needy.

    I like the idea and think it would be a good thing here as well. We don’t have anything like it – except disability grants. This creates perverse incentives. People who get diagnosed with AIDS and could go onto anti-retrovirals refuse for fear of losing their disability grant as they get healthier.

    I suppose the first step is to ask what are food stamps for? If they provide a high standard of living then they may create the same moral hazard that Europe is (badly, and France under Sarkozy, aggressively) trying to deal with, that of too many people preferring to stay at home than go out and find work.

    It’s a difficult decision: set the value too low and it serves no useful purpose, set the value too high and people drop out of jobs because they can earn more on social grants.

    I think, though, that declaring food stamps to be bad merely because you can no longer afford your favourite organic produce is spurious.

  2. And now I’ve had a look at their till-slips.

    They’re grandstanding. Tuna? Lentils? Cut-up chicken? These people don’t shop for themselves normally, do they? They have no idea how poor people live. I’m surprised they aren’t outraged they can’t afford sushi and fillet steak.

  3. Of course, they’re grandstanding, Gavin. That’s what US members of Congress do – they’re looking ahead at their future races for Senate, state governorship, or the presidency….

    And we’re a rich country – if we’re going to offer help for people (some are short term, many are in for a long haul), it should at least be, shall we say, in a fashion that reflects that fact.

    We should also help them long term by allowing them access to healthy nutrition – something we can afford to do and should do because it’s s good thing to do – for them and for ourselves.

    One last note – our Republican party has, for the last quarter century, made a virtue of blaming the poor for their poverty – it started under Reagan (although there’s along history I won’t go into) – and has turned into something that gets a little uglier every year. It has partly to do with the dichotomy of American thinking – half the democratic impulse, half the capitalist one. We’re currently out of whack – the capitalists have too much influence, the democrats (not the party) not enough. For America to get itself back into the form that has made it admirable to much of the world in the past, we’ve got to regain that balance.

    This silly stunt might be a baby step on that path. If so, we should take it….

  4. Sure, it’s a stunt, but given the shenanigans that go on out of public sight every damned day, at least it’s a stunt that’s aimed at the right message. Do I expect it to accomplish anything meaningful? I must look stupid.

    But maybe it will at least shame a few people, assuming anybody in DC has any shame left. And if they don’t, getting that out officially into the open is something of a victory in and of itself.

    I’m sorry – I was being negative there, wasn’t I?

  5. Your political stunts are more interesting than ours. Our minister of Safety and Security, combating declarations that a woman is raped every 60 seconds in South Africa, stood on a street corner of a public place for five minutes and then said, “See, no-one was raped. It’s all a lie.” He is, of course, still in office.

    Still, I liked Sam’s idea of “workfare” – there’s a psychology thing as well as a poverty thing (learned helplessness and all that). Wouldn’t it be possible to create a job-placement office where the general public could bring in basic work requirements (short or long-term) that the government would then pay for? For instance, I need the leaves pulled out of the swimming pool tomorrow. I could hire some aspirant illegal, or I can go down to the placement centre and get a down-on-their-luck American to do the work and the government pays.

    Oh, and I’ve regularly argued that poverty is wilful. Now that will result in an attack 😉 And I do intend to back that up. Later.

  6. “Your political stunts are more interesting than ours. Our minister of Safety and Security, combating declarations that a woman is raped every 60 seconds in South Africa, stood on a street corner of a public place for five minutes and then said,