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May 16, 2007


Yeah, right

I would feel better if these people tried it for a year. A week? Ha, that's nothing. Also, to think how it affects the children more than the adults. I wish they would try this in South Carolina. I get $16 a MONTH in food stamps and my disability check doesnt help much. It's not easy.

A DC resident

I have a question with regard to the Food Stamp Challenge. In the blog and some news stories you state that you based the $3 a day food allowance on data from the Dept. of Agriculture for the average food stamp benefit given to a person...my question is this:

1) In DC a person on foodstamps receives $150 a month for food. Divided by 31 days, that comes out to $4.84 per day. I assume that this is because living costs in DC are much higher than in other parts of the country. As such, when you take the average for the country, aren't you in fact skewing the data a bit?

This is not to say that $4.84 a day for food is anywhere close to enough for any person, however, since you are trying to give a realistic portrayal of how a person on foodstamps lives, would it not be better (since you are doing this in DC) to use the $4.84/day figure instead? Doing so would provide you with an additional $57.04 per month, and would be an accurate reflection of a person living on food stamps in the district.

This, of course, brings up another question. Since the program differs based on your geographic location in this country, could it be more efficiently handled at the local government level instead of being run by the Federal government?


No doubt that a year long trial could get the proposed $4b increase up to a more realistic $10b increase, but my hat is off to the Congressman and his colleagues for bringing much needed attention to the issue. It's infuriating that only 4 of our representatives dared to take the challenge.

Next, please try living on the minimum wage.

MD Resident

I agree with the 4/16/07 post on two counts, yes you should use the rate for DC and yes local governments should have a better handle on this (However, with other issues local government is not very responsive. Now my concern with this is that the program is not really designed to pay 100% of someone's food is it? Isn't it some type of matching program where those on food stamps also use their own resoruces to buy food? I think the best way to assist those in need is require responsibility and the only way I know how this is done is to have the person contribute, unless this is clearly not possible. Again a local setting is best to help evaluate each case. I live on about $100 per week for food here in Maryland. I know this as this is my "allowance" under my budget. This covers a rare visit to a fast food or even more upscale place from time to time. It also includes other items such as toothpase, batteries, OTC medications, even some clothing items from time to time and etc. $21 extra per week would be helpful given if that was my only income after paying for my place to live.

Now a place to live is the real issue in this area (as well as a national issue). Everyone deserves a good and safe place to live where he or she can afford even if one is on minimum wage. The local government here really fails because they do everything possible to block affordable housing. Where can a person live in the Maryland DC area for $238 per month (about 25% of monthly income for a min wage earner).

Oh, when are we going to get some gas stamps?


I think it's good that you have accepted this challenge and while a week is not that long it will at least give you an idea of it's like. The other thing about food stamps is that it does not allow low income people to save money. As soon as you save over $1000 and put it in a bank account you are no longer eligible for the food stamps! How can we expect people to save money if the one thing that allows them to save money will be taken away as soon as they reach $1000 which will certainly not last a long time.

On a different note, I can imagine you are getting tired of the same thing over and over so here are some creative things you can do with the certain cheap food items -

corn meal - Mix 1 cup dry with some salt and add 1 cup boiling (must be boiling or it won't work) water, stir until thick and well blended. Preheat your oven to 400 degree and bake it either one big flat piece or several small spoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet. It's a bit bland but goes nicely with jam, tomato sauce or just as a little extra something. Also if you have the ingredients and extra cornmeal check out the recipe for a Johnny Cake - it's not so bad esp if you have some honey on hand.

rice - make 4 servings for 2 people and save the other servings for breakfast the following morning. Reheat it in the microwave with a few drops of water and mix up with some cinnamon or sugar or if you're lucky some milk.

Hope this is useful and that you learn a lot about the limitations of food stamps and your own limitations.

Concerned U.S. Citizen

Out of all the people in Congree, only FOUR agreed to the challenge!!!??? You get more people joining office weight challenges annually!!! This is a disgrace and deeply disturbing. How could memebers of Congress, who claim to be the voice of their constituents, not participate in this challenge? Wouldn't this give them a better understanding of the daily obstacles that people have to face? Would it not help them better serve their population? My hat goes off to the four people who stood up..Luckily, you only have to do this for a week and then you will be able to get back to your breakfasts, varied daily lunch offerings and dinner affairs. We all should be so lucky!


Thanks for doing this!


I think that this is a valuable experience that you are participating in, but I do feel that you cheated by trading your lentils for a salad with chicken on it. Granted, you did not spend any extra to do so, but do you think that people who are in this situation for real have the opportunity to trade boring lentils for a nice salad?


Re: the salad question above, JoAnn is another person in on the challenge, also living on $21 of food for the week, so trading his lentils for her salad all seemed like a wash to me.



I would presume that JoAnne is another participant.


Like most other human beings on the planet, I used to live on less than $21 per week. I managed to do so without taking any handouts.

It's very simple. All you need to do is avoid processed foods and apply yourself to your own benefit.


You are a disgrace to hardworking Americans.


I live in glorious Fairfax County, Virginia, the second richest county in the country. I'm on SSI
disability of $623 a month. My food stamp allotment is $20. FOR THE MONTH. This means
that Health and Human Services has decided that I can figure out a way to feed myself on $5
A WEEK. Gosh, here in Fairfax County, just a gallon of milk is $2. What can I buy with the remaining $3 to feed me to the end of the week? Some possibilities: hot dogs, macaroni and
cheese in a box, a box of pasta but with nothing to put on it? My formerly normal cholesterol
is now a chronic problem because I've gained 30 lbs eating this garbage for several years.
My doctor is worried that the extra weight may cause me to develop diabetes, which runs in
my family and which I don't have enough money to control if I get it. I really appreciate the congressmen who are doing the "Food Stamp Diet." It's righteous and I am so glad that someone is taking a look at this. But think about how far $20 a month goes in Fairfax County. There are two issues here. One is that NOBODY can eat for a month or a week for $20. The other issue is if you have to, you are basically consigned to eating an incredibly
unhealthy diet that will result eventually in a lot of medical problems. I'm less worried
about how unappetizing the food is than whether I'm going to die of clogged arteries in my
early 50s.
What idiot thinks people can eat on $20 a month/week in food stamps? And I don't even have the option of going to fancy functions and ignoring all the food because I'm testing a
food stamp diet. All the Congressmen have other options for tasty free food because of
their jobs if they wanted to cheat on the diet.
Nobody is inviting me to any event where there's a fancy spread for the attendees.
Keep it up, guys. Poverty is not only in Appalachia and everything in the world costs more
in Fairfax County. At least I'm not living in Loudon County, Virginia, which is the richest
county in the nation. I'll bet it's even worse to eat on $20 there.

Eat it and weep.


I just read the post by A DC resident who gets $150 worth of food stamp a month, which allots
him $4.84 a day for food.
This made me take an even harder look at my $20 a month in food stamps. When divided up,
that means I have .70 cents a day with which to feed myself. Anyone have any suggestions what I should buy so I can try to make it on 70 cents a day? It takes about that much money to
feed a cat.

That guy who went to an event for Hillary Clinton should ask her to try my diet. I wish I could
figure out how to make $100,000 off investing in cattle futures. Or even just one cow. No wonder normal people are totally sick of their government. I'd be better off living in Africa.


It might help the legislators if they think a little more long-term. Okay, maybe a 32-cent clove of garlic and half-dozen eggs puts you over-budget for one day, but what if you bought, in one day, that garlic and the eggs, a bag of store-brand brown rice, lentils or dried beans, celery, an onion, and some fresh fruit and other fairly long-lasting veggies such as summer squash, a couple of yams, a green pepper and maybe a little dried thyme? Sure, you've blown your entire wad of food stamps, but you could stretch that haul for days, maybe a whole week, depending on portion sizes, which for most Americans are too large anyway. The combination of rice and lentils or beans makes for high-quality protein, so you won't miss the meat, except emotionally. Given that you were considering high-fat meats because they're cheaper, you can comfort yourself knowing you made a healthier decision. With a little imagination, you might even come up with a way for the monotony to not kill you off instead. I see no reason to squander food stamps on Mac & Cheese and other over-processed foods that have almost no nutritional value and are overpriced to pay for their packages and advertising. Welcome to the real world, and good luck. Don't worry: you'll be gods again next week. Pity us poor slobs who won't.

Allie Maldonado

I admire that the Congressmen and families are going on the "food stamp" challenge. I was nearly homeless 14 years ago and remember being hungry. It isn't easy or fair. Now I'm a lawyer. I haven't forgotten being poor. There are food pantries they could go to. Their patronage could help the food pantries get donations and alleviate some of their hunger.

Ted Anderson

Just did some research on Cong. McGovern and I just want to say THANK GOD we have some real-deal people like him in Congress. He has been way out in front on hunger issues, as well as civil rights, affordable housing, etc. THANK YOU CONGRESSMAN McGOVERN for putting the spotlight on this issue.


Food stamp should be raised. thank you mr. congressman mcgovern. you so nize.


ps: Don't forget to take care of your condiment needs at the self-serve station of your local fast-food restaurant. Sugar, salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup, various salad dressings and much more (don't forget napkins!) are all available, as many budget-conscious Americans can tell you, for the price of the empty pockets you walk in with. Just don't let them catch you at it or you'll wind up learning some uncomfortable lessons about our law enforcement system, too.

Steve Brazias

I'm shocked at the tone of many of these posts. The vast majority of politicians could care less about nutrition, the poor, the hungry, etc., and here we have a brave few, led by Jim McGovern, who are actually trying to publicize the issue and what do they get? A bunch of griping from pinheads about how they're not doing enough. GET REAL!


You're right, Steve. I hope *my* comments haven't come off that way. I'm really trying to offer helpful suggestions. Anything in my tone that suggests I'm not on my feet applauding this show from the cheap seats is just residual bitterness, I guess, from the last time I had to skip a meal in favor of catching the bus home in a thunderstorm. Bitters are good for the digestion, they say, for what that's worth.

C. Metzger

Next time buy a ham hock or a soup bone. With the ham hock-make bean soup, then make vegetable soup. Have you ever thought of encouraging veggie gardens? I haven't bought onions, tomatoes. beans or peppers for years. I also grow and freeze winter squash and rhubarb.


Thank you for doing this. The problems faced by poor people, including the millions of working poor families seem to so rarely be on Washington's agenda.

I have a request for you. Do something like what Canada has done to prevent emplyers and landlords from ignoring toxic mold in rental homes or workplaces. And force builders to guarantee new homes are free of toxic mold. (Right now its buyer beware.)

My wife and I went through a nightmare with a landlord over toxic mold. We tried to get them to fix it but we got the run around like everybody else does. Poor people have no rights in this country and its getting worse and worse all the time.

I am now really sick and I've discovered that there are many, many other people like me. And we are ignored and more and more people are getting sick every year.


And when poor people have to move out of an apartment when they are sick and often, have lost jobs because they were sick, its ALWAYS a major disaster for them. Lives are ruined, families broken up.

Basically, it works like this, each person's immune system has a certain LIFETIME budget of tolerance for toxic mold, and exposure to one bad situation can use it all up.

One prolonged exposure at work or in a home can ruin your health for a very very long time. Perhaps for the rest of your life. Things are never the same again. Because your immune system goes crazy thereafter when you get exposed to mold, chemicals, or many other things, such as the contents of a typical office cleaning closet. You become ill when you get exposed to many, many things. Ill every day. Its a real nightmare that doesnt end.

So, we are told to sue. What they don't tell you is how difficult that is. Intentionally difficult. People need medical healp and they need closure. Instead they get years of heartache - if they are lucky enough to find a lawyer. (Most can't)

Suing is next to impossible AND they keep raising the bar all of the time. The whole tort system is broken and not in the way they say, what is broken is that people can't sue unless their injury is so bad that they are almost dead. The kinds of injuries that ruin lives are not worth the lawyers time. or they settle out of court for tiny amounts of moeny that don't come close to replacing what was lost. because people lose their jobs and they cannot get new ones and they also lose their health coverage at the same time, and they also get many, many chronic illnesses from the mold that need treatment. Which makes buying insurance impossible.

Doctors don't know how to treat this disease and there is a powerful lobby pushing to ensure it isn't even recognized as such. Doctors know that and are terrified to speak up, knowing they will be attacked by this powerful business funded lobby. They are thugs and they ruin careers. (Scientists who research these issues are attacked by them)

So people can't get treatment and many are accused of being mentally ill or lazy.

There are only a few doctors in this country who know how to treat toxic mold (biotoxin) illness. (Like Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker of Maryland, who successfully uses cholestyramine to bind the toxins which accumulate in the bile)

But we need laws that set standards, tough standards to prevent peoples lives being ruined by mold illness. Then they cant work, they typically have MCS, CFS, etc. and for a poor family already living on the edge this is even more of a disaster.


Sometimes it's easier to fast than to eat just a little bit of food.

The hunger pains go away after about three days.

If it comes down to the end, just try that.

Good luck and what an interesting thing to do.

Also, people that say "I did this decades ago" well I'll bet you food stamp allotment has not kept up with inflation , ya heard?

ogden, utah

This is interesting, and good PR for the program, but as others have noted, it is hardly realistic -- Lawmakers in Utah have done this and even complained that they ended up with too much food when the took the allowance for a family of 4 and did their buying, not just one trip for one person.

What would be more real? Take the legislator and put him/her into a more typical welfare situation, having to figure out how to use food stamps to pay rent, or utility bills, how to make food stretch, let them get free food from a local food bank and go through the really fun process of realizing you need free charity food to survive, not to mention picking up a pair of free shoes at the same time.

Then, in the middle of it all, inform the congressman that his/her child is sick and needs to see a doctor and if he/she skips work he will be fired.

That would be more real, and seeing how one of these rulers of the world deals with it would be vastly more educational for them and more entertaining for us.

Angry Young Man

Congressman and Ms. McGovern:

This is a fascinating experiment and I look forward to reading your blog over the next week. I had a few thoughts:

1. You might add comparison chart of what also costs $21 so people can get a sense of just how little $21 really is--or how easily most people can just toss away $21 without even realizing it. In NYC, that's 4 pints at most bars and 3 bottles of beer at Yankee Stadium. It's 3.5 trips across any bridge or tunnel into the city. It's 7 gallons of gas. It's a couple hours of parking. It's not even the cost of THE SECRET (although, theoretically, if you just ask and believe, you should receive one at your doorstep).

2. What the comments show is that you don't know how to eat poor. You go to the Safeway. You buy familiar foods. You eat in familiar patterns. You have to think of what one person called "the food stamp diet" as an entirely different cuisine.

3. What I find noble about your experiment, which has a certain PBS "Welfare House" quality" to it, is that you will not scrounge free food so you feel what it's like to stay within that budget. But that's part of the challenge too, I think. When your hungry, a free meal is part of the budget. Who in college didn't steal from the cafeteria? Who hasn't copped leftovers from a banquet? I think scrounging count, as does the shame that goes along with it.

4. As a counterpoint to your food budget, you might also list what you pay for, say, the cost of travel to the store and you other weekly incidentals. You might be stunned at how much money trickles away on nothing.


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