Congress is poised to cut food stamps, taking away an extended benefit created by the 2009 stimulus before its original expiry date and setting up an unprecedented “cliff” in food stamps, now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits. To demonstrate how hurtful this might prove, anti-hunger advocate Joel Berg recently spent a week eating according to the SNAP budget.
“I had done it in 2007, as well,” he said. “This time, it was much harder, because the price of food has increased more than the benefit has increased. Last time, for instance, I ate an apple a day, along with other food. This time, I couldn’t afford a single piece of fruit.”
Berg is the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, which represents New York’s 1,200 nonprofit soup kitchens and food pantries and its 1.4 million residents that cannot afford enough food. (A more extended version of our conversation is below.) He and other hunger advocates are incensed over the SNAP cuts, which will pay for a sweeping child-nutrition bill. The First Lady–supported legislation is pending in the House, and has passed the Senate. In essence, Congress is planning to rob a very poor Peter to pay a very poor Paul.
The cliff in food stamps means that one month, a family will receive a set amount of money, about $4.50 per person per day. The next month, they will get less. In his week eating according to the SNAP budget, Berg shopped for the first three days as if he received full benefits. For the second two, he shopped as if he received cut benefits. The result? Less food, or less healthy food.