Thursday, October 2, 2014

SNAP Food Stamp Challenge 2014

I am preparing to take the SNAP Food Stamp Challenge next week, along with many others in DC, Maryland and Virginia. I chose to do this for a second year because nearly 50 million Americans are still not getting enough to eat.

It is easy to misunderstand this challenge as a way for a person with the privilege of food security to "know what it's like" to experience hunger. Clearly it doesn't do that.  The challenge only lasts a week and I can go back to my regular patterns of nutrition, spared any long term effects. I have the resources of time and information to hunt down bargains, to plan my week's meals as a special project rather than out of necessity as part of the daily grind.

Taking the challenge doesn't provide authority of experience, but it DOES provide insights into some of the real limits of SNAP benefits, and some of the consequences those limitations produce. I am repeating the challenge this year because many food prices are higher than in 2013, while the average SNAP benefit has been reduced.

I found it odd that even though SNAP benefits were cut in 2014, the SNAP Challenge budget this year is $33, slightly higher than last year's  $32.14.  So I went to look at the data and in fact you can see that if I use the most recent month's data that are available, for June 2014, the average benefit per person in Virginia was $29.37, not $33.  These data are only preliminary and the average benefit number shifts slightly from month to month, which may be why the SNAP Challenge is still using a number as high as $33. It looks like the budget for this year is based on most the most recent available full year of data, which is for fiscal 2013, before the cuts took effect.

So over the next week I will explore the difference between $29.37 and $33, and what  that  extra $3.63 means. Last year I paid $3.79 for a half gallon of milk, which provided me with a half serving of dairy each day, the only dairy I got that week. Maybe that would be the thing that would have to go. Last year I paid exactly $3.63 for seven apples, one of two fruit servings I had each day. Impossible choices.

1 comment:

  1. A quick comment since I learned that the $33 is the average for the DC metro area including northern Virginia.... a little higher than the state average.