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Twenty One Dollars a Week

You are going grocery shopping for a week worth of food. Could you do it on just twenty-one dollars a week? Well four members of Congress are learning just how hard it is. They have taken the food stamp challenge. They will live for a week on the amount the average food stamp recipient receives in federal assistance. That is only three dollars a day or one dollar per meal.

U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), co-chairs of the House Hunger Caucus called on members of Congress to accept the food stamp challenge. Only two of their colleagues have chosen to join them in the challenge, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.). Both McGovern and Ryan are blogging about their experience.

Congress Ryan spent his twenty one dollars on one bag of corn meal for $1.43, two jars of strawberry preserves for $4.00, one jar of chunky peanut butter for $2.48, two boxes of angel hair pasta for $1.54, one can of coffee for $2.50, three jars of tomato sauce for $4.50, two cartons of cottage cheese for $3.00, one loaf of wheat bread for $.89, and one clove of garlic for $.32. On his first day of the challenge Ryan said, “So far today I have eaten a quarter container of cottage cheese, one and a half peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and had one cup of coffee. It still amazes me that so many Americans live like this every day. I already notice a difference in my energy level. After only a day on this diet, I’m tired and hungry.” In only one week Ryan won’t begin to feel the effects of long term malnutrition, he won’t replace the healthy food in his cart with more filling, cheap Top-Ramen to suppress his hunger. But his experience I am sure will influence his decision to support the efforts by McGovern and Emerson to include a $20 billion increase in the benefits provided in the food stamp program over five years in the upcoming farm bill.

McGovern isn’t finding his challenge any easier to live with. He 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." Aware that Americans are going to bed hungry McGovern said, “"We're trying to get this debate going…There are more working people today getting food stamps than six years ago. . . . There's not a member of Congress that doesn't have hunger in their district."

When I was a child, my mother had “Meatless Mondays.” We did not have meat on Monday nights with our dinner, and my mother donated the money that would have been spent on meat to the local food bank. How many Americans would be willing to take the food stamp challenge and live on twenty-one dollars of groceries a week? Would you; would the members of your church? Would your Congressman? How many American would have to take the food stamp challenge for there to be an overwhelming cry to raise the amount of food stamps a recipient gets?


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