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May 19, 2007

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A Former Checker

A few years back I was a checker at a grocery store. I appreciate what you are trying to do, but this is not the way things are in Northern Illinois. When I was checking, I routinely saw people try to sell their food stamps to others. I did not work 1 day without someone carrying a LINK card coming in and buying an over-flowing cart of groceries on the card. With their cash they splurged on steaks and lobsters. This happened everyday. Meanwhile, I truly did go hungry without foodstamps. I had $1 or less out of my $6.33 an hour check to spend per day on food.

If you want to know about true hunger, look at the people who don't get to have help.

A Former Checker

I should also mention - those lobsters were live.

G Planas

I live in Texas where and recieve what is used for food stamps called a Lone Star card. I read your article about living on $21 a week. I also read where your trying to get more money for people on foodstamps. That is great, however, Texas gives funds by how much a person income. I have an aunt who owns her house but gets a small amount from retirement, she gets $10 a month. I am on SSI disability and get $34. If our income drops then we get more money. With gas prices the way they are, aver $3.00 a gallon here in Texas, how are we expected to live on what they give us. If you do succeed in getting more funds for foodstamps does that mean our funds will increase? Thank you

Christine

I am glad you made the comment that many people on food stamps do have a job. It is also true that many people who live in poverty and work have to make chioces that we are never faced with; pay for medicine for my kid or buy food to feed my family.
I live in a communiuty where there are many food banks and we are lucky to have them you would be suprised to see how many people turn up at these food banks. The food given there is nenver enough to feed anyone, but is enough to suppliment.

Elaine Vigneault

This is so great you're doing this! Wow, just wow! Awesome.

A piece of advice, though: Potatoes.

I remember one day being asked for spare change. I replied that I would happily buy an energy bar for the man asking for money, but I didn't want to give him money. His response taught me a lot. He looked at the price of the energy bar and asked for a sack of potatoes instead. He actually saved me money! And the potatoes went much farther than the energy bar would have.

$21 a week is not enough to live on.

But, there are also some healthy, cheap foods: potatoes, rice, dried beans, pasta...

Now I want to try the challenge and blog about it!

Maureen

While I appreciate your taking this challenge, especially the spouses like Mrs. McGovern, I have to stop short of congratulating you. This should not have been the eye-opener you all are claiming it to be. Unless you live in the proverbial ivory tower, or are wearing ear plugs and blinders, I cannot fathom that you would have to resort to what amounts to a 7-day gimmick to highlight the fact that food stamps are not enough to help our struggling families. I have never had the misfortune to have to apply for food stamps, but I have been behind a stamp-holder in line at the grocery store, and have had to stare down other shoppers who glared and commented about the people using them.

We have become a nation hardened to the less fortunate of us. Post-Depression, we think we are living in a nation that no longer suffers hunger. Along with hunger comes a malnourishment of the spirit, a loss of self-esteem for both the parents who cannot provide and the children who are isolated by that which makes them different.

I realize there is fraud in any system, but my experience with people using food stamps has not been that they were pushing caviar, ice cream, and lobster down the checkout belt. And what does that say about us as human beings if a few frauds keep us from feeding children?

What will you do now that your 7-day trial is over? Go back to eating shrimp and drinking cocktails while you try to pass your Bill? If your Bill passes, will you pat yourselves on your backs and not feel a twinge of guilt when you treat yourselves to steak and wine, knowing that within five miles of your four-star restaurant there is a child going to bed hungry?

Maybe you could go 3 months without health insurance.

If I sound angry, I am. I have been angry with all of Congress for many years now.

Maureen

By the way, Congressman McGovern, I do want to commend you for the honesty you and the others have shown while blogging, and I hope it will raise awareness among people who wouldn't have thought of it otherwise. Now please follow through before you forget what it was like.

crystal pederson

I think what u r doing is a great thing but i do think u have to do it a bit longer. i worry about things like the electic bill or the gas bill the phone can get shut off at any time because i dont absoulutly have to have it. But then when my work calls how will i know some time the neighbor down the street will be ok with them calling if they r home. but dont for get about the babbysitter. will they get paid if i dont have them i will lose my job. what u r doing is a great thing but u should do it all under nourished and tired. but try not to show it to much because u want ur kids to grow up strong and independent!!! thank u very much for what u have dine though.

Kimmie

I feel that I have to agree with Maureen's above comment. I no longer live in the USA, but am still a citizen and will continue to stay one, HOWEVER take a look at insurance! Geesh, I never had it, I made over $30,000 per yr but paying $500 per month for insurance just wasn't in my budget. Now, my husband and I pay $150 that covers the both of us and this is basically to supplement Medicare (in AUstralia) which covers most everything and reduces the costs of medications by thousands every year for me. I was previously on a medication that cost $7 per tablet and I took 4 per day. How is that right? Now I take a medicine appropriate for my condition and it costs less than $30 per month. I didn't move away to get better health care but it just happened that way and now I would not consider moving back. That's a sad commentary on the "greatest nation on earth" isn't it?

Anita

Dear Congressman McGovern,
After reading your floor speech online regarding fraud and abuse of the food stamp program, I called the nearest social services office here in Northern Virginia to inquire about the food stamp program, and this is what I learned. The woman I spoke with on the phone very bluntly told me in a bored sounding voice that one can expect to be turned down and refused enrollment into the food stamp program, no matter the circumstance, when first applying for food stamps. And further, that this is routine procedure. Then, it is required to wait one year before applying again, one must fill out all forms required a second time, and to again expect to be refused enrollment into the food stamp program. After applying a third time one year later, it is likely that one will again be refused enrollment, but that one can appeal the decision after applying a fourth time! The social worker explained it takes years for one to be allowed into the food stamp program. Please, while you are working to increase federal funding to the food stamp program, I ask respectfully and suggest for you to review, and to examine nationwide all of our state's food stamp governmental agencies and offices to learn how food stamp distribution is handled. Clearly, along with increased funding, oversight is needed. Thank you for your service.

Kristyn

I am totally thrilled by your participation in this effort. I grew up with two younger sisters and a crack head mother who was never around. I remember trying to get groceries for the month and having to make them last. My sisters were too young to understand why they couldn't have pizza or other foods like their friends' families ate. They didn't understand why I would force them to go to school and at least make it to lunchtime (free hot lunches) before I would pick them up sick. Even something like macaroni and cheese (water instead of milk) is hard to make when no one has paid the cooking gas bill. It was not my or my sisters' fault that we had to live this way, and though some may abuse the system, we would not be alive today without it.

Now, as an adult, I have been on food stamps twice. The last time I was on them they were cancelled suddenly because someone at the office messed up the paperwork. I refuse to apply until I have had to go at least a few days without eating anything. I work as a minimum-wage, full-time custodian, and after rent, I have less than $200 a month to pay bills and buy groceries. Groceries come last, or never at all. I have not eaten a piece of fruit in months. I have dated men who treat me horribly just to be able to go out and get a meal. Not to mention two years ago my doctor told me I need an MRI and I have not yet been able to save any money to put towards that.

FYI, tuna noodle casserole (noodles, tuna, peas, cream of mushroom) can feed three people for two nights for around $4. Even if it tastes like a wet sock.

Pat Logan

I applaud you for doing this challenge. I've seen the effects of hunger in America, both as a family physician and someone who got free lunches, the free cheese, and probably food stamps as a child. My father was disabled and my mother worked several jobs during our whole childhood. I find it sickening that more in Congress wouldn't participate for one lousy week. Thank you so much for bringing this to people's attention.

Tricia

have mixed feelings about this challenge. At first, I wanted to commend everyone that was participating.

I have been on food stamps at two seperate times in my life. The first time, I found myself as a newly divorced mother of two, my Air Force spouse decided he liked being single in another country. After moving home, I applied for all forms of assistance, and ended up receiving food stamps, title 20, and housing assistance. I put myself through school and became a surgical assistant. I was on the assistance for just a bit more than a year, and was able to find employment and get myself off the programs.

Currently, I am married to a member of the national guard. It's sad that a member of the military needs government assistance in order to survive. We live in a town where there is no hospital for me to work at, and my husband is working full time hours, at part time pay, with no health benefits for a lumber yard. I make daily job applications and follow up calls for any position I am over-qualified for, qualified for, and even under-qualified for. My husband is earning only $152 over the expense of our rent. We are unable to make full car payments, our electric bill or gas payments, car insurance, and forget gas for the car.

If it were not for the food stamps that we are receiving, we would starve. A family of five needs more than $970 in pay a month in order to just survive. I have no idea what it is to live the good life. Or even the okay live. I do a good job deciding what my family should eat. We do not go hungry. I, for one, can get by on the $3 a day for food because I can budget my food expenses, and thanks to my mom, I know how to strech and budget my meals. I still would look forward to an increase of funds, and the eventual end of being in receipt of the benefits.

Then, I thought about all of the members of congress that are not participating. A week is nothing. They could survive it, and it might just give everyone a chance to glimpse inside some every day struggles for real people.

By the way, I would be willing to come to DC and see if I could survive on the meals at the receptions, cocktail parties, and fundraisers that the participates are having to avoid. Where do I sign up for that?

Catherine

I commend the effort, but why just a week? Anyone can go hungry for a week. Try it for a month or two and then I'll be impressed.
I personally think all public officials should be forced to live on what the lower income end of their constituents live on, just to keep them grounded and fighting for what's right. It's much too easy to disconnect from the food stamp experiment as soon as your belly is satiated once again. I truly believe the entire structure of our society would benefit if those fighting for better health care actually had a stake in the outcome, and imagine what SSI disability payments would be if our governing officials had to live on said amount.

Linda

I am very happy that you took this issue on. I am a divorced mother of 4. I am disabled with 3 conditions that rely on nutritious foods for me to survive. The main one Diabetes is very hard to deal with on food stamps. Further I have an 11 year old Autistic child that has feeding issues. Although my son and I both receive SSI/disability in ohio the standard is very close to the $1 per meal that you guys are working with. Believe me we are not eating steaks and shrimp. Most of the time I have to rob from the utility companies each money to buy groceries because the food stamps usually last about a week and a half. There is no cost of living increase for food stamps and whatever amount is given annually as a cost of living increase from SSI is taken away from food stamps dollar for dollar. The other thing that is forgotten is that a lot of disabled people even with Medicaid are not covered for personal supplies that are only needed due to their ilness. I have many things that I have to try and ft into my budget monthly and certain things I have to go without. There is even a device that all but totally eradicate one of my illnesses but it is not covered bu medicaid and I canot afford $180 per month to rent it. Because of not having this machine I already spent 7 months away from my kids in a nursing home which I am sure cost way more than $180 a month. Child Support barely helps because my ex only makes a little above minimum wage and I am unable to work outside the home, though I hav tried to find work from home online it just usually turns into some sort of scam.The worst part about this is Summer is coming and my kids wont have the free lunch and breakfast prograsto fall back on so we will be trying to live off approximately $6 a day. With the increase in fuel prices I am just wondering how much groceries are going to go up.

Julie

When I first heard about this, I was also a bit skeptical. A week won't really teach you what it's like--but I'm glad I read your blog, because now I see that you know that, too.

We're a family of 3--my son is 2 years old. We live in rural Idaho. My husband drives 45 miles (one way) to get to work. I work from home. He makes $8/hour; I make about the same, although my pay is production based. We have no health insurance, except our son who is covered by Medicaid. We receive $81 per month in food stamps. We are barely above the poverty line, but we're doing a reasonably good job of making ends meet and keeping our bellies full.

For one thing, people in my family hunt and give us meat. My husband plans to hunt this year, too. Of course, if we spend the money to get the license and he doesn't get anything, it's bad, but--keep your fingers crossed! He fishes, too. We also have turned most of our backyard into a vegetable garden, and I do much home canning.

Also, unless you get a really good sale, forget the canned beans, sister. What you need are the dried beans. We know them well. Cook a whole bunch in the Crock-Pot and then portion them out and freeze them. As convenient as canned, but considerably cheaper.

This is a bit embarrassing to admit, although not quite as embarrassing as being on food stamps and Medicaid, but we also make extensive use of weeds. Dandelions are 100% edible, and we eat plenty of them. We had wild mustard that was popping up all over our yard tonight with dinner. We have found weeds like these previously even in urban areas, although they are more likely to be contaminated there with car pollution and herbicides and so forth. Last year we lived in Alaska and hardly ever bought vegetables because the edible weeds were so plentiful. Indeed, the WIC office up there even gave us handouts on some of the nutritious and delicious foods that were to be had for the picking everywhere you looked. I would urge other WIC offices to do the same. Dandelions and other weeds are all full of vitamins and minerals (some of the wild edibles we find are even rich in protein), so we manage to stay fairly healthy.

Anyway, if the cost of gasoline would go down or (even better) if my husband could find work closer to home, we'd be doing alright, I think. We spend as much on gas every month as on food, and it is second only to our housing cost. Can we get gas stamps?

Suzanne

Dear Congressman McGovern,

I applaud you, and your wife, for opening up the nation's eyes on how the food stamp program doesn't seem to have grown much, if at all, to match the inflation rise of our food products.

It has horrified me to actually look at prices in the grocery stores and realize that, no matter where you go, one single orange now costs 50 cents. This may be due to the frost issues this spring, in California and Florida, but that seems like a very steep increase.

I admit that I've just been used to throwing anything in my cart and not being too fazed at the total cost in the checkout line.

I decided to participate in this challenge as well, and shopping for it was a bit difficult, but as I am a vegetarian it may have been an easier shopping expedition than you went through. My rations, as I'm referring to them, consist of peanut butter, bread, milk, apples, carrots, potatoes, onions, yogurt, and pretzels. I admit that some of these items were on sale. My total for all of these came to $19.99.

I'm sure the money stretches a little further here in New Hampshire than it would in Washington DC, or even Massachusetts, though.

I have secluded one cabinet in my kitchen for the dry goods supplies I have bought for the week, and I am pretending my other cabinets don't even exist.

Some of my friends, through my blogging about my own challenge, are very interested in it, and they may do their own challenges next week.

I'm thinking of continuing this for a month or two. And I'm thinking of shopping a different store each week, to find out the place where I can stretch my $21 the furthest. Any change leftover from the $21 is being put in a container in my kitchen, as emergency funds which I hope I will not be digging into through the extent of the whole challenge. Because I really am curious at what other stores can give me, out of the same types of products I bought this week, for my $21. What will be left out? What will I not be able to buy next week if I shop at this store in my town?

I grew up in a single-parent household with my sister, and I remember my mother never spending more than $20 or $30 for groceries each week, for all three of us- and this was in the 80's. It is unbelievable that now, in this decade, the allotment for food stamps for a single person is still only around $20.

And you are absolutely right- many people on the food stamp program do have jobs, yet are still struggling. I hope something is also done to increase the national minimum wage, through this challenge having happened.

a. nony mouse

I have mixed emotions about this challenge. Yes, I suppose it's a fair tool to raise awareness, but it would be better if it were longer-- maybe six months? Then you would truly know what it's like to live on so little. It takes a toll that can't be fully explained. Yes, you are hungry most of the time, but for those of us who have to live this way year in and year out with little to which we can look forward, it is much more than just low energy and eating what we have not what we want. It takes away our hope.

There are three adults in my household. I am too disabled to work, yet not disabled enough to get SSI, apparently. My mother, (who is a wealthy republican who lives in a two bedroom 8,000 square foot million dollar home,) gives me a "pity allowance" of $200 per week. In return I have to sit and take her verbal abuse anytime she feels like dishing it out. I have been called lazy, worthless and told I was, "...a waste of air."

My son works at a full-time job for a "leading" fruit processor for nationally distributed products. He works hard in the hot sun, every day for the six months out of the year that the plant is open. He makes eight dollars an hour.

Our other household member got laid off from her restaurant job due to a downturn in business. She gets $48 per week unemployment benefits.

Let me tell you, before my son got called back to work it was really rough for the three of us to live on $200 per week. There have been times when we could only afford $25 or $30 for the week's rations. Yes, when it is $10 per week, per person, it absolutely *is* rationing.

Top Ramen becomes your best friend because it is a filling meal for ten cents, sometimes, when it's on sale, it's only eight cents. Potatoes and eggs are a treat to which we have looked forward. I'm a wizard with big pots of rice and beans, usually with Mexican seasonings and a little grated cheese on top. "Good" frozen burritos can sometimes be had four for a dollar, but usually twice that price. In the lean times, we eat very little meat. Most of our protien comes from tuna, eggs and vegetarian food combinations that make complete protiens like beans and corn.

Of course, almost none of this is what I'm supposed to be eating, considering I'm a diabetic. I have a very painful condition called neuropathy, (which is made worse by my starchy diet,) that requires a very expensive drug. It costs a little more than $10 per day at my current dosage, and the dosage has to be increased every few months. Luckily, I found a prescription help program that sends me three months of medication at a time for $20. Sometimes that $20 is a struggle. Believe me when I say that I am grateful for my county's adult medical program, even if it won't pay for much anymore. At least it pays for my other prescriptions and my monthly doctor's appointments.

The thing that gets to me the most about my situation is that I really tried to do everything right. I went to college, got married, had a baby a year and a half later and was divorced by his second birthday. I had no choice but to apply for welfare, food stamps and medicaid. I haven't received more than $2,000 in child support the entire sixteen years I was entitled to receive it. Of course, my ex did eventually pay off his child support debt, but the county got it all because we got public assistance.

While I may not be proud of having received public assistance, I am proud that *I* raised my son. I was there for him and he wasn't raised by some daycare center. He had a mother who he knew loved him and took good care of him, in spite of the tight budget. He is now a wonderful man with big hopes and dreams that I know he will fulfill. Plus, he now takes care of me. He may be my son, but he's my hero, too.

Texas Taxpayer

This system is so abused it sickens me. Im not posting about the elderly or legit disabled who need some help but I am posting about the worthless drug addicted and/or drug dealing scumbags that I allways manage to get behind in the grocery line. I love watching them talk on their cell phones while they buy the best meat, etc. with a Lone Star card then buy smokes. etc. with cash. Instead of pulling some political stunt go out in the real world and watch the abuse.

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