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May 17, 2007



I think what you are doing is a great thing,to live as millions of us do everyday.
But as i read the story i feel that only half is being told. the other half has to do with the personal items as toilet paper,razors,shampoo ,toothpaste, washing powders, dishwashing soap and the other items that isnt covered on the programs. if a person is under employed how are you supposed to keep yourself clean and presentable to even look for a job?
my family is on disabilty. my daughter is handicapped and i have a degenerative bone condition. nither of us will ever be better. as we have tried to apply for food stamps we find that we do not qualify. as we receive the maximum family benifits for disabilty. and as you go through the challenge put yourself in the place of the sick family that has to go to doctors, treatments, and therapies. most far enough away that gasoline is needed. and a meal. you mentioned your children. they have needs also that is not covered by programs. i guess that i am bitter because the pain that millions go through because of dental problems that arent covered. but if you dont have food you dont need teeth. and my wife is the only care giver we have so she doesnt work. and the food that is cheap enough for us to afford is as you say full of fat.i myself have gained 50lbs.due to not being able to afford nothing but high fat foods. so she is over weight with no healthcare program for her. if she was to get sick or need care we would have a real big problem. the cost of health insurance for her is prohibative to say the least. i know that the huddled masses are not the problem of the goverment, but we are here. hunger is a killer in this country. and the side effects of it increases theft,and a multitude of sociological problems i know there are things that can be done. start programs like community gardens and so on. and dont forget the toiletrie vouchers would be a blessing.
better checks and balances for the operaters of the programs. food banks give out food that sometimes cannot be eaten. and the opperators misuse the funding. it is hard to belive that people steal the funding to buy cars and to pay for their children to attend collages like they do in my area. the 21 dollars a week is not good for much of anything but bare staples. and as the price of food goes up the food stamps stay the same. where is the help that the food stamp program intended? we the hungry look to our leaders and brothers in this time of need. you know what we face when our children sit and cry because they are hungry. when mothers demean themselves to make ends meet, and the fathers that go to jail because they try to get food just to feed the children.


I find it refreshing that you would try to live as we,the lower classes,do.
But a little disconcerting that this is only for a limited time.Why not go all out and live it like the people that do it every month?

Too much to ask,I'm sure.But this is not the only problem faced by the very people you blithely attempt to emulate.Try getting a tooth fixed,even when it is so bad you *cannot* eat!Hah!What good is food stamps for these people?I,for the life of my lord,*cannot understand,will not understand*, how you people allow our own people to suffer under insurance companies whiny complaints(as they make millions...and lose millions).Average Americans,of no,or limited resources,that struggle to feed themselves deserve the same kind of health care that(I'm sure you get with no questions of your integrity?)that people of means deserve!!!!!

tony montana

hi there. im from new york city. if your think hunger is a problem were your at then you ain't seen nothing yet. boy i remember the days that i had to choose between and egg sandwich or 1 $2 fair on the subway to get to work or even find a job. i for 1 know wat hunger feels like. i had gone many many nights and days without eating just to make sure my 2 kids ate. i sacrificed my plate for them. me and my ex wife were going crazy back then and i recall she was on welfare and the amount she used to get was unbelievably so low. 1 month of food stamps wouldn't even last 5 days. i am a very extremely proud person. i always said that im self sustaining and never needing anything from any1. i was above that until it just got so bad that i myself had to get back on that line at the welfare office, my face full of humiliation, and deep inner embarrassment. its rough out here in new york city, i mean milk is at $3.50 a gallon. its just crazy how the government can think one can survive on pennies a day. as a man i had to make sacrifices. i had to go out and hustle for money out here. im a computer technician and offered my services in the street for whatever i can get, all in the name of food. i never sold drugs out here although at times i was tempted just to get a freaking meal. for families to live on $21 a week is ludicrous. the cost of living is gone through the roof, groceries are expensive as hell and if this trend keeps going on, this city is going to be a mad house, people are gonna go crazy. mothers in the street sell themselves for $5 dollars. crazy? lol. its real outhere. people sell their own furniture, clothing anything they have just to get food. if even heard of mothers having their teenage daughters work the streets at night. crazy? ohh yeah
our situation was breaking my will and desire to live after a while. you go to sleep knowing the next day you got to repeat what you did the day before and it wears you down. i couldnt take it anymore and finally i broke down. i was emotionally wrecked from the strain of having to support my family. but i thank god be instilled the will in me to continue on. we were able to control the situation after 2 years of hell. thank god i had the skills i have to be able to make enough money on the side for us to eat. this mind you coming from a man, a fully capable and hardworking man. i somewhat feel a little embarrased telling you my story but i figured i had to put my 2 cents in. i lived that life for 2 hellbent years. i commend you in your solidarity with us even if it just for a week. and trust me since its your first week things can get pretty hairy right away. good thing you didn't include your children in this challenge. lol i must say i never ever want to relive those days but if i had to do it one more time i already know how to handle it. all i gotta do is just PRAY TO GOD TO SURVIVE. hiope this information was helpful in your quest for knowledge of what hunger is really all about.



I am struck by the fact that there are only 4 out of 550 Congressional families participating in this. I guess there aren't as many "compassionate conservatives" as one might be led to believe.

Mu son-in-law is in the Coast Guard. After 8 years and many promotions, he earns about $22K per year. Want a challenge? Try living in Boston with a family on $22K, even with a housing allowance. And US Family/Tri-Care insurance is a joke. There is only one hospital in Boston that takes it and NOT ONE SINGLE PEDIATRIC PRACTICE BETWEEN BOSTON AND LEXINGTON!!! My daughter is disabled, with a 3 year old son and cannot drive. Try getting from Boston to Lexington with a sick child on public transportation.

I often wonder what my son-in-law must be thinking as he guards the LNG tankers into Everett in the early hours of a freezing winter morning, not knowing how he's paying his own family's heating bill. I appreciate your calling attention to this, but 4 Congress people won't make a difference. How do we get the other 546 to sign up?

Jessica M

I have been commenting on Congressman Ryan's blog the past few days-- he is very close to my district, so I was following his story closely. But, I wanted to make sure you two knew that I support your efforts, also. I never knew just how low foodstamps are in this country. I am very blessed to have never struggled through a hungry time. I'm very inspired by your work and efforts this week. Good luck!

~Jessica M.
Akron, Ohio


I'm glad that you've taken the challenge. I wish that more than just the four of you would have done so. The food stamp system does need fixing. At one time, I was getting between $150 to $200.00 a month. We had 2 adults, 2 toddlers and an infant. At the time, I thought that this was a huge amount and planned meals accordingly. BUT, those menu's were not very healthy. As my children got older and food prices started to climb, food stamps really didn't grow that much. Our average increase was about $10.00 a month per year. To top it all off, since my husband is on Social Sec. Disability, when we'd get our annual increase, the amount of food stamps would go down. Back to square one.
The other problem that is happening are the Senior Citizens. The problem here is the fact that many of them get the lowest amount of money but they also get the lowest amount in food stamps. Example: $600.00 is what the government pays this person. After taking rent, utilities, car payment, gas, dish soap, laundry soap and toilet paper (the last three things, food stamps don't cover), it leaves that person the grand total of, maybe, $20.00 in his pocket. Because this person lives on his own, the amount of food stamps that he gets in right around $10-$20 a month, maybe $30, if their lucky. Try buying $30 worth of groceries for yourself for the full month. And by the way, the $20.00 that this person has in his pocket for the month? That has to be saved for gas for said car later in the month because of extra trip to the doctor.
When you're looking at fixing the food stamp program, it should be looked at on a state by state bases. What will work in New York, will not work in South Dakota.


First things First. More foodstamps, that's the first step. I agree that vouchers for toiletries would be ideal, as would health care reform, but to me at least, all of those things take second place to a hungry child. Feed the child first. Resources are limited in the government. Just like resources are limited in a home budget. Sometimes one family member wants to put funds towards a certain area, whereas another family member may disagree and see a more pressing need for said funds. So the family members have to make compromises. That is simply a fact of life. I think the Government is the same way. Some people feel it's more important to put funds into the military than into welfare. Others disagree. There have got to be compromises that can be made, that will provide for fewer children to go without adequate nutrition and fewer wage earners to reap the frustration of doing the best they can only to find themselves spiraling deeper an deeper into the pit of poverty.

It doesn't matter if the Food Stamp Challenge is a stunt or not. What matters it that it calls attention to the basic need we all have for food and exposes the fact that many of our citizens live without having this need met. In a perfect world all of the other needs would be met as well. There comes a time though, to take what you can get. It may not be pretty, but it's true. I think now is the time to focus on the Food Stamp issue. When this is resolved we can talk more about toiletries, health care and transportation.

Food and nutriiton are the foundational approach to meeting all of these other needs. When people get adequate nutrition they are able to better take care of all of their needs and responsibilities. Having enough good food to eat reduces stress in a family and gives family members the ability to think more clearly so they are able to address more of the other issues with better and more creative problem solving techniques.

Food stamps don't solve the issue of poverty. I don't think they're supposed to. Expecting them to clouds the issue so that people can't see the forest for the trees. Food Stamps are supposed to do one thing, feed hungry people. If we keep the issue finite and simple it's easier for other members of congress to understand and easier for them address. At it's most basic level hungry children need to eat. That's the bottom line and something with which even the most hardened heart can sympathize.


Hello, Miss Maggie,

Thought that sounded like you.
Love your blog, your recipes and your menus.
Recommend them frequently. So few people seem to know how to stretch the food dollar that your practical advice is a great service.

And I agree: Feed the hungry first.


After viewing your shopping receipt, do you think it might be a good idea to "GO VEGETARIAN"? Seriously, $14 for two packages of meat? You now know how much produce and grain you could get for that amount of money!

In NJ, we can receive up to $155 per month in food stamps. I guess those receiving the maximum are pretty well off in this country.


I just wanted to add my 2 cents worth.
My husband and I think that this Challenge should be mandatory for all government officals. It's true that you don't really understand a problem till you've lived it. I'm disappointed that only 5 participated. Although, thankful that at least 5 participated. Thank you!
Also, I've lived on WIC, and now we would be classified as Lower Middle Class. Rich enough to NOT get free school lunches but poor enough to NOT be able to afford school lunches.
I just wanted to say that it's hard for lower middle class to afford healthy food too. We have a strict budget with a very small raise every year. Every year the price of food and gas and shoes etc. goes up, up, up WAY higher than our budget and small raise allow. So we end up cutting something out of the budget.
We don't go to the movies, we hardly ever eat out, we don't have cell phones, we buy the cheapest clothes we can, we visit a family member once a year for our "vacation"...
even with that lack every year everything is more expensive.

My favorite quote lately:
"Just when you make ends meet, someone moves the ends."

Not just poor people are struggling... it's the people who are a notch up from "poor" too.


I have 2 words to help you stretch your food budget...Ramen Noodles.

Michael Leslie

I found your blog and your story through CNN.com. I've been reading this everyday at work and I'm forwarding the link to anybody I could think of. Your tale of daily struggle and worry not only encourages me to be more aware and involved with the unseen numbers of hungry Americans in my city, but it bolsters my faith that there are amazing, strong & courageous people in Washington. Thank you so much for demonstrating the compassion that makes up the American Sprit!


Thank you all so very much for taking this challenge. It is important to note that welfare reformed hasn't stopped the bad guys; it has further crippled the good guys.

Hunger and homelessness are our dirty little secrets here in the United States. Privileged people turn their backs on the poor because they "boot-strapped" and so can everyone else, not realizing that the resources they had available to them to "boot-strap" are not available to everyone.

Apocryphal stories abound of the greedy rich using Food Stamps and welfare to subsidize their extravagant lifestyles; welfare mothers having babies just to bring in more money; as if welfare and Food Stamp benefits were in the thousands of dollars each month, and worth going to jail for just to buy designer clothes and drive luxury cars. Cries of "I work for a living, they should get jobs" ring out all over this nation.

On top of all this intolerance and ignorance, we have a throw-away culture, and we throw people away every day because they are not young, or celebrities, or pretty and rich. We have no proper health care or housing, for older Americans, children, families, the poor, or the sick. Other developed countries do, so why not here, in the richest country in the history of the world?

Every day people lose jobs and fall through the cracks. I did. I was part of the downturn in 2001. It never turned back up for me, a divorced female over 40. When that happens, you will find that you have no information on where to go and what to do. Even government agencies don't share information about programs. Their job is to dig and find something to disqualify you. You really have to dig, and know where to look. I'm one of the lucky ones because I had an education and a good career, and was able to use my skills and experience to persevere. Yet I still became homeless and destitute first, losing a lifetime of hard work, resources and belongings before I could begin to get any help from any where. I still went a week at a time without eating, struggling to find work doing anything I could find. What do other people do?

The comments posted on this blog are eloquent and true. I know, I have experienced much of this too. I finally became so ill I moved in with my elderly mother, who is on a fixed income. While we are just at the poverty level together, I fear a future without my mother's help. I do not qualify for Food Stamps because I am on disability, and Section 8 in my region has a 10 year wait.

A really good book about this entire issue is "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich. It should be mandatory reading for all Americans.

Bill Harasym

Where do I start, oh, lets' begin with my situation. I am a 51 year old veteran who is disabled with an inoperable low-Grade Glioma, (It is slow growing, but it is it location that is the major issue. It is in the left cerebellum, left peduncle, left pons, and medulla.) and severe osteoarthritis in both knees, along with degenerative disc disease throughout my entire spine, with titanium already fused in at C-5, and C-6. I take a dozen different medications for both symptom management, and pain management. I am also bi-polar, and take medication for that. I have lived on Social Security Disability since May, 2005. It took almost 2 years to get, and I started when I first went into the VA Hospital in Sheridan, WY. in July of 2003 for neurological problems, along with mental health issues. I spent about 6 months in the VA Hospital in Sheridan, and in Denver, where they did the surgeries, and where my neurosurgeon is. After the VA, I spent the remainder of the first 2 years since diagnoses in the Veterans Home of WY.(It is run by the state of WY, but gets a lot of its' funding from the VA.) When I left there at the end of April 2005, They, the administrator, or commandant as he is called, Jack Tarter, fraudulently had my back benefits check I was getting after My SSDI was approved, electronically sent to their account, without my permission, so they could get their maintnance fee, which was 85% of that benefit. The food quality there was like that of a person living on food stamps, ground fatty meat, pasta, macaroni, and other crap.
I then got an apartment in town, as soon as I got the balance of that back benefit check, in Buffalo, WY. that is, that I could afford on my SSDI. It was $375 month, (Not including some of the utilities.) but has since gone up about 5% a year. They were a complex that took HUD Housing vouchers, but no longer. I moved into a 3rd floor apartment, because it had an elevator, which would be a necessity because of my medical issues, and any future surgeries. They promised it would always be working, and if it broke down, it would be fixed. It says so in the lease. I would not have taken it if I knew then what I know now. The elevator broke down in September of 2006, 8 months ago, and they had initially said it would be 6 weeks before they start working on it. It never happened. The folks that had housing vouchers were kicked out, or had to leave because they could not afford to live here, and HUD said the apartment failed HUDs' quality standard of having a working elevator. And there is a lack of affordable housing here in Buffalo because of the energy boom in WY, and anything that is available is thru the roof.
In October of 2005, after living here in the apartment for 5 months, I went to the local state social services office to fill out paper work regarding Medicare, and getting help with Part-B premium. The case worker said, well what about food stamps? So I filled out the paperwork and got food stamps, $10 for the month. Come January 2006, I got a raise in my SSDI benefit, and got a letter from the state social services people stating that I no longer qualify for food stamps because I made too much money, $8 too much, to be exact. Amazing!
So, thank God we have a food pantry in town run by a coalition of churchs. I am grateful for it, but it is not high quality stuff. A lot of canned foods, starches, like pasta and rices, frozen chop meat, and game meat. No fresh anything. But it is free, and no limit to what you take.
The irony of this is, I live about 40 miles from the VA in Sheridan, WY where my primary care doc is, and my psychiatrist, along with the place I get all my MRIs on a regular basis. I initially decided to live in Buffalo, rather then Sheridan because rent was cheaper here, but now, those regular trips to Sheridan, and all the gas that it consumes make living in Buffalo seem like a bad choice. I live paycheck to paycheck. Grocery prices in town are high. And my primary care doc keeps telling me about his diet for me, (Since I was diagnosed with the tumor, the medications that I have taken, and some I still take have a side effect of weight gain. And boy, it has happened with a vengence.) all fresh fruits and vegetables and the like. I can afford maybe 5-10% of his recommendations, yet he insists that I should follow his advice, otherwise what I am eating is unhealthy! Dah, you think I don't know that. I have even said to him, "Why don't you give me the money so I can afford your diet!" He just don't get it. Plus, I am so rich I can't get food stamps. When I get thru with my monthly bills, along with debts that built up when I had no income (From 7-2003 to 5-2005), because I was waiting for those bean counters at Social Security to approve my claim. I had to hire an attorney for that, and she made a good chunk of change on that deal, over $4000.00 for a few hours work. I even did the research for her on brain tumors, but she did spend some money printing up the pdf. file I sent her.
The system is broken, in many areas. Now, because I spoke to a local paper about the broken elevator here 2 weeks ago, (By the way, most of the resident here, including those that were kicked out, are elderly and/or disabled, and some were veterans, like myself.) the manager of this place has threatened the newspaper, and they are going to try and kick me out of here.
Is this anyway for America to treat its disabled/veterans/seniors/low-income citizens? I think not!!! What has become of this once great country? Are we disposable and disenfranchised?
Thanks for your effort, but a lot more needs to be done. This is just the tip of the iceberg. One good thing though, the VA has been good to me, and I did have a great primary care doc there, a Dr. Robert McKie, but he was transfered to the Boise, Idaho VA Hospital in Jan. of 2006. I am grateful that I am alive, but everyday has much anxiety and stress, which further complicates my medical issues.
Thanks for your time, and best wishes always. Keep up the good work!!! Talk to Barbara Cubin (Congresswoman: WY-AL)about this, and see what she says. Yeah right.
Bill Harasym
300 West Fetterman St.
Apt. #306
Buffalo, WY. 82834
PS- Sorry I rambled so much.

Lisa Lundy

Dear Mrs. McGovern,
I'm sure it has been difficult not only to do the Food Stamp Challenge, but to read some of the comments from people who are upset. I want to thank you for being one of the 4 Congressional Families participating in this program. You did not have to, and I'm guessing that you would have had to had some fears and concerns about doing something so far out of your comfort zone. You are to be commended and praised for what you have done.

We live in a time where there are millions and millions of Americans who are struggling to make it day-by-day, and month-by-month. We live in a time where every 3 seconds a family, usually with children, goes bankrupt due to uncovered medical bills. We have 47 million citizens who have no health insurance and the future looks no brighter.

It is bringing American's together in partnership that will be a cause in real change. Those of us with education and skills must be the stewards for those who have less. Food is near and dear to my heart because my 5-year-old daughter is allergic to nearly every food on the planet and requires a treatment to eat any food at all. My daughter's life-saving medical treatments cost us over $3,000 a month in out-of-pocket costs, and we have had to rely on the public good to stay afloat. Our HMO has gotten away with not paying for her treatments and offering no alternative to the only medically approved treatment for her condition. My daughter can only eat organic food because the chemicals in non-organic foods cause an allergic reaction.

And we are just grateful to have her alive. We were not sure she would make it to age two and then age three. Our struggles to keep our daughter alive are best portrayed in a FOX 5 New York City News story which you can view on our website at:
www.theroostercrows.com. It is the Grace of God that we have made it thus far. However it will take the help of many, many more to get us the rest of the way. It is the most humbling experience in the world to have to have other people help you keep your child alive.

May you use this experience to improve the quality of life for others, as this is the greatest gift one can give. Many blessings to you and your family,
Lisa Lundy
Buffalo, NY

Pat Williams

That's too much tuna. The mercury content doesn't allow for eating it that often. It would have been a more eye-opening experience if you'd included the kids. We had three boys when my husband lost his job because of diabetic complications. I tried, but my asthma was too bad. And I had my hands full with an autistic child. We lost our health insurance too. That was 1985. I learned to dumpster dive behind certain food stores and work the community resources. Also used my mother-in-law's Depression recipes. Her vegetable soup was economical. Beans and rice are better than pasta. Eggs can be made to go far. A little chicken can be stretched far in stew or a thick soup. It wasn't easy. In fact, I lost about a year and a half of my memory then.


My neighbor is on soc sec disability, works odd jobs for extra money to pay rent and food. Gets 10 dollars for food stamps. She has a heart condition and has to worry about having money to pay for the medicine. dumpster dives like most do. It is shameful the way the rich treat the poor in this country. Your effort to see what it is like to live on that amount is admirable, but won't change the way America treats its poor as well as people who make under 50,000 a year. Live on 45000 a year with a mortgage of 750 a month, plus your insurance, prescriptions, rising costs of gas and food. People use to be grateful to make this, but now are considered low income, not the medium family anymore. The president gets, I think I heard 400,000 dollars a year and does he pay rent?

Mark Bergel

Dear Mrs. McGovern
The challenge that you and some of the representatives are currently undertaking is a good start, as long as it a start. At A Wider Circle, we receive more than 50 telephone calls per day from people who live without food and many other basic needs – and this is right here in our nation’s capital. I am usually too busy to be as frustrated as I ought to be by the dearth of true leadership that you and the other participants are now showing.

I see lost lives every day – men, women, and children whom we lose because there are so few opportunities for them to make healthy lifestyle decisions. Not only is the issue of food stamps a real problem for us; most of us have no idea as we live each day how many people around us are mired in deep poverty. Poverty guidelines (e.g., a family of four earning $20,000 annually) are as unreasonable as the allotments you have found in food stamps each week. We under-count and under-serve in so many ways, and the answer lies in what you are trying to do – connect.

The exercise through which you are now going speaks to real solutions in so many ways because you are seeking to connect with people, and it is connection that we need first and foremost.

Please do not let this be your “one and done.” Stay focused on those who are born, raised, and educated around little opportunity. We must lead, and your effort in this regard can make your life so much more whole than you may have ever thought it could be.

Mark Bergel
Executive Director, A Wider Circle


I agree with the poster above that this type of experiment should be mandatory for every Congress Critter. A week doesn't seem long enough though. How about from the time they are elected until the time they actually take office? That would give them a healthy taste of what many are currently living, and many others will be as the gap between the haves and the havenots continues to widen.

I've had a chronic illness, living on SSI, for the past 8 years. It was never my choice or desire to live so far below the poverty line. I'm college educated and if I were healthy I could probably make a decent living, which makes living with ill health and in poverty that much more devastating. I would like to know how whomever comes up with the amount to give ill people to live on actually come up with the figure that they do? I get the maximum, in California, of $859 a month. After paying bills and insurance for my auto (because walking is not an option for me), and out of pocket medical bills that my state/fed funded health insurance does not cover, there's nothing left. I've literally eaten weeds out of my backyard to survive (dandelions are very nutritious). Gas for my auto has gotten so high that it's taken what was left of my meager food budget. I'm not eligible for food stamps because I make too much? I'd like the person or persons who determines what's too much to come here and live one month in my shoes, and then go back to the drawing board and figure an actual livable amount. I'm not looking to live high on the hog, but just to go to bed at night and not be hungry or worry about how I'm going to live the whole month would be heaven. At 52 years of age I feel like my life is over and the day to day struggle is getting less and less worth it.

Darcey V

I want to take this time to Thank you to those of you have taken this challenge. I am a single mother with 2 wonderful sons one is 13 and the other is 11months. I work 2 jobs to try to get by, the food stamps we receive barely covers 3 weeks and then what do we do for that last week, we scrape. We live in a society where everything is done by classes, and how do we give our children opportunities when we struggle everyday. I applaude you for doing this, and I wish the rest of everyone at Capital Hill would take part in it for an entire month and include families. There are times when my chidren eat and I do not. Why should the rest of us struggle to get by when the people making our choices get to live in the lap of luxury. I hope when this gets presented to Congress that it is stated very well that people cannot by living on $287 a month for food. You try raising two boys by yourself, on $8.00 an hour and $287 a month in food stamps, and that includes paying all your bills, utlities, heat, lights, gas for vehicles. I hope that you all take the stand and get them to listen
Thank you

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