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May 18, 2007


Alisson Stephen

I'm very impressed at your willingness to participate in this week long experience.
Here in West Philly I stand in the grocery store once every other week, next to mothers with small children, choosing among various flavors of Top Ramen packets. At 4 for a dollar, you get a heck of a lot of calories... What a bargain.
As a law student, with no private loans, I too live on a ridiculously minimal budget for groceries. I am often grateful that society pressures women to be so thin, so I have an excuse.
But I can handle it, I'll have money some day for that incredible basil salad. My neighbors and their kids, and their kids' kids will still be looking for the weekly special on generic spaggetios. This system us not working.

Ginny DeHaan

I don't know if I could do what you are doing, especially as the mother/father of kids. What a good way to make the issue more meaningful. I wonder how your kids are handling the experiment. Good luck and thank you for your efforts on behalf of poor people in the U.S.

Heather G

Glad to hear you took on the challenge! It's definitely a tough one.

I remember my student days, and in particular one summer years ago (early-mid 80's) when I was trying to take time off from school and just couldn't get a job. Not even McDonald's, because of being over-qualified. And my phone decided not to work, so I had to walk to the places I applied at to see if they were going to hire me. One place was too far and I really had to think about whether or not to spend the dime to call them. I was spending $10 per week for food, and seriously contemplating selling most of my worldly belongings and either living on the street or bunking for a short time with some friends in the area. Lucky me, my parents came to visit and talked me into going back to school (which wasn't the best decision as it turned out, but at least I was eating and had a place to stay).

So many people don't have anyone to turn to, to help them out. Although one good thing I took away from this experience was that 'things' aren't that important. We spend way too much of our time and attention on 'stuff', instead of the really important things in life.

Hang in there!

james bowen

Be careful of that Top Ramen. With all that salt you could be doing serious damage to your kidneys over the long haul. It also has a lot of fat because those noodles are fried. Try shopping at bakery outlet stores and community pantries. Dried beans and lentils are a good buy but they take a little more work. Avoid processed foods such as quick oats (buy old fashioned rolled oats instead for a 3 minute microwave breakfast).

CJ Gray

I don't think the majority of Americans, and certainly not the majority of well-paid politicians, understand what it is like to have to count days until you can eat something besides toast and butter, or to have to eat cheese sandwhiches for x days in a row... I give a big shout out to these representatives for trying to "walk the walk".

I am middle aged, and for my of my life made enough to pay the bills on time, buy decent groceries, clothes and even was able to afford entertainment. When the industry I work in underwent 'corporatization' several years ago, it turned the industry on its head. In just three months' time my income was cut nearly in half. No notice. Now I face total financial ruin and foreclosure. Once you become imbalanced financially in this country, the system is set up to make it highly UNlikely you can regain your financial footing... and I am working 7 days a week trying to do just that.

Be late with a payment and your interest rate rockets, as well as the minimum payment due. Not to mention all kinds of fees (penalties) which benfit the lender but make in much more likely you will just be late *again* and again and likely with *all* creditors. It should not be rocket science to recognize that when you *kick* people who are already down, you reduce the number of people who are viable consumers!

A nation which applauds itself for being the "greatest" in the world does *not* sneer at the notion of assisting those in greatest need *beyond* the most extreme basics. If we shaved even a FRACTION of a percent from the ridiculously bloated military budget, many critically-needed programs such as food stamps could easily be funded...And that's a fact, jack!

It remains to be seen if those who participated in this program will stay the course until a SANE amount is designated for weekly assistance. Remember those of us who *cannot* look forward to a *real* salad next week, Representative Schakowski - when your experiment is over - and don't let this effort die...there are many weeks when I wish I didn't have to go on. Yes, the problem is *that* serious.

P.S. I have a computer and internet access because that equipment is what I use to do my job. I am not on food stamps.


The food stamps don't pay for diapers or sanitary napkins, or toothpaste, or floss, or shampoo, or laundry soap, or even bar soap. Go to Smart & Final or some place that sells in big sizes, Costco. might take food stamps. #10 cans of soup, freeze some, rotate them, canned vegetables probably, Dollar Stores are cropping up everywhere conveniently taking foodstamps, some sell fresh veggies. Asian grocers sell things at lower prices.

Bill Harasym

I posted a comment on the previous blog entry, which after reading it a few times, well, I have to admit, I sound a little whiney, well, maybe a lot whiney. That was not my intent, but that is how it came out. I do realize there are those who are in far worse of a situation then myself, and for them all I can offer is my thoughts and prayers, for what it is worth. I thank my lucky stars that I am a veteran, because if I wasn't, I probably would not have gotten all the proper medical, and mental health care. That is another issue that needs to be addressed big time. Poverty sucks, it is as simple as that, and people die because of it, daily. Our country's priorities are warped, and what we need is a major revolution in this country, not a militaristic type, but an ideological and spiritual one, and prioritizing what is really important.
Tonight, after you read this, there will be hundreds, thousands, millions of our fellow Americans going, or trying to go to sleep, hungry, and many not knowing where and when their next meal will come from, which is just so, so sad. I have food, however crappy it might be, that those who are truly feeling those hunger pains would gladly eat, and appreciate.
So, with that said, my problems are minimal compared to those who have nothing. This should not be happening in the United States of America, but it is, and what are we going to do about it?


My fiancé survived on food stamps for a year - I advised him to make oat flakes with yoghurt his basic staple, for it is not only cheap, but it contains almost everything the body needs - carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, protein, fibre and a minimum but necessary amount of lipids. I think that those who know enough about balanced meals and what foods to eat and what foods to avoid can actually manage fairly adequately on such a small budget, but of course, such people are a minority.

My fiancé followed my advice, and stayed healthy on that staple, had enough to get orange juice and a few other things every week, and even had some credit left over at the end of each month which he could use for the occasional fancier meal.

Today, he has moved to join me in Switzerland, and even though we remain poor, having such good social services here we have far more than $21 a week each for food.


Having worked in benefits programs for 5 years I certainly understand the struggles people have trying to stretch their food stamp allotment over a 30 day period. No easy task. Please remember that food stamps were only designed to be a supplement to your income & not to buy all your groceries. The problem, as I saw it, was that food stamp allotments did not keep up with the increased cost of food. Giving someone $10 per month who is on a fixed income (such as disability) is shameful. The government has folks jump through all kinds of hoops for $10.00? You see alot of folks who just give up because it's not worth it. I can certainly understand that; I mean, what can you get for $10?
I think it's great some law-makers are trying to show how difficult it is to live on food stamps. What would be better is if 'the system' kept pace with inflation. With gas prices rising again, you can bet so will food prices. Once again, we will see people having to make extremely difficult decisions on how/where they have to spend their money.
Please let folks know you can use coupons w/food stamps. You can also buy vegetable plants/seeds if you're a gardener. Not much help, but it's some information. Your eligibility worker should be able to give you ideas on how to stretch your allotment.

jane webb

Jan, I have a question, what are you doing about laundry detergent, basic house hold cleaning supplies and paper goods? Food Stamps don't cover these items, and it's impossible for many of us to buy them. Most depend on public rest rooms for what they can scrape together. Will this part of the problem be addressed too? The food stamp program allows a minimal amount of food to eat and not one roll of toilet paper. What to do?


"I am looking forward to a big salad with all kinds of veggies including basil (way too expensive) when this is done, plus some strawberries and cantalope and asparagus. But not until next Tuesday."

as a recipient of food stamps i find THIS statement particularly offensive. apologies if it seems rude but i do. i am currently receiving $96 a month for a family of five - because at $2500 a month we make too much money. keep in mind that $2500 is GROSS not NET - we don't actually see $2500 a month.

i applaud your taking this challange HOWEVER, i challange you to feed YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY on this budget, not just one or two people. maybe then you'll understand what hungry really is. one week is not enough. try it for a month...or two.

i honestly hope that this raises awareness & helps increase funding for programs like food stamps. i have been reduced to going to food pantries (which i hate doing because i feel as though i'm taking food away from families who really need it. then i realize we ARE a family who really needs it.)

this is a perfect example of why we are forced to be a one-income family in the welfare system. i can't afford to work. period. end of story. there are no jobs available that would a) pay me enough to pay child care b) close enough (that pay enough) to avoid my entire check going out in gas expense and c) still have enough money left over to compensate for losing my (now pathetic $96 of) food stamps. i cannot go back to work just to be in the same position i am in now - without my food stamps. there are more issues at hand here than i think you realize.

congrats on your 'challange'... i just hope you all can realize the entire scope of it...& that you still remember what hunger felt like while you fill up on as much food as you need next week...while my children ask repeatedly what's for dinner.


I read about your decision to live on three bucks a day this past week in a friend's blog. I went to the store this morning and spent five and a quarter for several things that will last me the week, and have a pretty well stocked pantry and freezer at the moment. One week later this summer, though, I will actually have to try the real thing. It's a scary thought.


Wow you actually get $ 21.00 a week in food stamps. What a joke. My monthly food stamp gift has gone down to $ 40.00 a month because my Social Security Disability went up this year. I started getting $ 50.00 a month in FS two years ago but it gradually go dowh because of the yearly So. Sec. increase. At 59 years old in poor health I get by on one meal per day only.i DON'T QUALIFY FOR THE SENIOR MEALS ON WHEELS PROGRAM BECAUSE I AM NOT OLD ENOUGH. Drink a lot of water, it fills you up, and take vitamins. My doctor says I have to eat more, what a joke.
Thanks for nothing. At least you can buy and eat anything you want as soon as your little discustion experiment is over.


I appreciate your taking part in the experiment. There is so little discussion on the day to day realities of poor Americans, and there is a serious problem of poverty among American citizens, and it is worsened by the long term problems of unemployment and underemployment.

I have known poor and even lower middle class women who have been scraping along, unbeknownst to others, trying to make due on one meal a day to stretch the grocery budget. One woman's anemia went undiagnosed for years (she didn't have health insurance, and just shrugged how she felt off as being tired) until it started destroying her bones and teeth (she suffered a serious fracture just above her ankle, it snapped when she fell).

We used to take pride in our country, these days some people don't seem to care if we reduce our population to third world status.


Nik, we have a similar situation as you. We take home $2300 per month for our family of 6. Our oldest daughter has been very ill for several years and is on her third appeal for disability (they pretty much automatically reject the first application and appeal, so she is at the stage where she will see a judge in person for her final appeal). She has been physically unable to work for four years and has the sole support of her 4 year old daughter. Thankfully, they can live with us or I don't know where they would be or what they would be living on as she works through her appeals. They tell her if she successfully appeals she will get the money she would have been receiving these past 2 years, but that doesn't pay for anything today. She receives $228 per month in food stamps and she contributes that to our family budget which lasts us about 3 weeks. We are very careful shoppers and none of us go hungry. Almost 100% of our clothing is second-hand but again, we shop carefully and buy only the nicest looking things. I think it's good for people who make laws to try to live on the food stamp budget. Our daughter will hopefully not always be ill and someday will be able to contribute back to the system that helped her through a hard time.


Bless you for doing this. I have lived off of minimum wage most of my life with no health insurance so I still think you have only seen the tip of the iceburg, but thank you anyway. I believe that all of our reps should be required to earn minimum wage for one year. I know that sounds crazy, but inequality would be erased quickly.

I am not uneducated, by the way. I'm a certified veterinary nurse with a Bachelor's degree in liberal arts. I have spent most of my life working for non-profits and I spent four years volunteering my services as well.

The fact that nurses, teachers, animal caregivers and child welfare workers can't afford to take care of themselves while hollywood stars and politicians can buy multiple cars and houses makes me sick. Thank you for bringing light to this issue, and shame on the reps who refused to participate.


I wish all reps would participate in something like this.


Lucky you for getting bananas so cheaply, some of us in the rest of the world are paying about $7 per kg and now tomatoes are over $10 per kg because of water shortages. and yes, I'm an american living in another country. Sure I miss some things but you know what? It makes me really appreciate what I do have and one of those things is a job that pays more than minimum wage...what's that now still under $6 an hour? Here it's well over $15 not that it is much easier to live off that in a more expensive economy, but it can make a difference, especially when healthcare is included. DOn't get me wrong, it is NOT free, it is paid for by every citizen's taxes, but wouldn't americans like to know their taxes were going toward their healthcare?


Thank you for making the effort to do this. I have one suggestion, however. In your efforts to make nutritious food more affordable, instead of looking at the food stamp program, I suggest that you back up and look the the reasons why starchy/sugary foods are so inexpensive. Might it be partially because the federal government provides huge subsidies to support the production of corn and wheat in the U.S.? Perhaps instead we could provide help to small farmers that produce locally- and organically-grown fruits and vegetables. These farms are vital to our future well-being, yet they are struggled to stay alive. That is where we should be putting our support, and that would help everyone trying to eat more healthily, not just people on food stamps.

Jeremy in California

Top Ramen every meal. For our family Top Ramen is the Staple every Meal. We have gotten around the Salt intake problem as Most of the kids do not like the flavoring.

I am wondering, will you be eating Corn Dogs For Breakfast like most off the people in our town - purchased as HOT FOOD in a DELI paid with Food Stamps.

I love what you are doing. That fact of the matter is most people in your families stature just do not understand what it's like to live your experiment everyday.

I like the menu your wife came up with - it is the menu for the first week of the month or the last. If it was the last, there would only be three to four meals for those four days. Most people on Food Stamps will only have one to two meals a day. Breakfast is almost always skipped. Lunch will be something purchased, not made.

I like the idea of what you are doing and I hope it gets the message out that most people on Food Stamps are hard working people that just can't afford to feed themselves or their family.


I would just like to add that I've reviewed the menu provided above and it certainly does not meet daily nutrient requirements. This diet plan could not be sustained long without incurring potential nutrient deficiences adversely affecting health. A concerned Registered Dietitian.


First off, thanks for taking this on. I do hope you realize though that it's a lot different living on a food stamp budget for a week than it is a month... or even a year. Again, you've found out what many of us on foodstamps find out: that if we want to keep food in our bellies and in the bellies of our children, we can afford simple starches.

Then we wonder why obesity is a problem in America? Or why so many people are ill and malnourished? It isn't about careless food choices, it's about what people can afford to eat.

Someone wrote that foodstamps are meant as a suppliment. I've heard the same thing said of TANF and Social Security. The fact of the matter is that if you are handicapped or unable to work for some other reason, these are your ONLY sources of income. Although we hear time and time again that food stamps and TANF are suppliments, many people who are on these programs have no earned income what-so-ever.

One of the important things we have to do is to look at how we calculate benifits. I'm considered "too high an earner" (I get $916/month in SSD) to get medicaid, TANF, and the family (4) gets $48 in foodstamps. The problem is, that my medical bills (yes, even with medicare!) are greater than my monthly income... yet this isn't factored in to any aid allotments.

I think you'll find, as you look at the system, that it's broken from end to end. People complain a lot about spending tax money for "hand outs" but what they are really spending money on is insurance against their own possible inability to work.

That being said, I believe I'd feel MORE secure with less military spending and more spending on healthcare, education, and food programs.


I would like to make people aware of a nation-wide program that provides low-cost food. For $25, people can purchase a package of food designed to feed a family of four for a week. People can purchase more than one package if desired. The May menu which we just received included four 5 oz. New York Strip steaks.

There is no income guideline, so anyone can use this program. Here is a link to information about the program:




I am a resident of the state of Ohio and also work for the Department of Job and Family Services. On my way home this past Friday I happened to catch the NPR broadcast of Congresswoman's Schakowsky's Food Stamp Challange. As is often the case with folks advocating for the poor the story is very one sided. As I understood the broadcast Ms. Schakowsky and some of her peers are wanting to increase the food stamp budget by 4 billion dollars. She stated this was even far less than it should be as this would only give food stamp recipients $3 more dollars per day.

I would like to present my own challenge to the Congresswoman. Spend a day in one of your local food stamps offices. See for your self what a waste of money is being funneled into the food stamp, cash, and medicaid programs. The medicaid program is nothing short of a government funded legalized drug program. Recipients jump from doctor to doctor, obtaining narcotic drugs, which they then sell on the street to earn money. Any income they earn is to be reported, but since it's illegal money do you think they report that. Of course not. Most food stamp recipients are earning money under the table, which also is not reported. The cash program is also a joke. Yet, congressmen(woman) sit in their office and want to lobby for the poor. Does the congress woman know that someone can collect over $600 a month from Social Security disability because they can't read or write. Why doesn't she take that $7200 a year and educate the "poor". The "poor as she calls them live better than most of the people who are working to determine their eligbility. No one provides me with free housing, free food, free medical, free education. As a matter of fact, not only do I have to pay for those "benefits" for myself, my tax dollars pay for all those so called poor people who are having everything handed to them while they sit on their lazy behinds.

If they can't afford to eat, how is it they can afford big screen TVs', cigarettes, beer, manicures, and vacations. And most of my clients are driving new cars. They have landline phones as well as cell phones. Not to mention their cable. They don't seem to have to sacrifice or budget anything to get by, like the working tax payer who supports them.

Let's go back to the medical issue. I pay a monthly premium, plus co-pay for doctors visits, a co-pay for prescriptions and not all procedures that are granted to the poor, and paid in full, are available to me.

So, how do we end this debate. The problems with the system are endless. Why doesn't Ms. Schakowsky take that 4 billion dollars and fix what's broken and help the "working poor" before she starts handing out money to the free loaders?


Why is it that no one seems to understand that MOST people receive food stamps and/or TANF because it's the only way they can feed their families. If you had to survive on $298 (cash) and $140 in food stamps per month, could you do it? That's for a parent with one child. Add up how much you spend for groceries, household bills, transportation, laundry, personal care items amd medical expenses (Medicaid does not mean your medicine is free), and you will quickly understand how truly difficult it is to make it from one month to the next. I applaud these lawmakers who took on the challenge but I would like to see them live it for six months, complete with the hassles of trying to recertify for the benefits, which is its own seperate nightmare.

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