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May 17, 2007

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Maggie

Here's a woman who's chronicling the month of May on foodstamps. http://superbabymama.blogspot.com/. At the top of her blog is a quote that calls Welfare a Woman's Issue. Reading Mrs. McGovern's experience with this challenge is more interesting to me because she shares the same perspective as so many people who have to live this way everyday. I think that since women are traditionally in charge of food distribution in the home (even when their husbands are great lunch-packers) they are more likely to think about extending the purchases to cover all bases. They are also more likely to go without so that others in the house will have "enough". Mr. McGovern, you may represent the Polical view of this experiment, but Mrs. McGovern represents the "in the trenches" do the best you can with what you've got, view point that most people who have gone hungry can more readily identify with. That for so many mothers and children this is reality and not something they can walk away from when the week is up, that is the issue and that is what Washington needs to address. Hungry families don't have a very loud voice and I appreciate all you're doing to bring attention to this issue.

Vikki

As I was reading about this interesting experiment, my mid 20s son called to say he will have no work for the next week or 2-he works construction now while applying for jobs (recent 2 yr Americorps worker/college grad).
A few months ago and he was sick for one week with the flu and has no sick days and had to rely on us to pay for food/rent/gas/utilities for that period of time. It completely threw off our finances, his life and finances and was very scary. The really scary thing is that he has been making "good" money but no benefits and the "good money" doesn't solve everything if you go through times of no work. His rent is high even sharing with 2 other people. Everything is high-we pay for his health insurance and his car insurance. It is so much different from when I was his age as far as rent, food, car expenses.
Thank you for calling attention to those who are struggling.

Crystal

Imagine if all the ingenuity and creativity that people living on very low incomes use just to get by day-to-day was able to be directed to much greater achievements? How much is being wasted on just finding the basics?

Look at the wonderful suggestions in the comments, many of which I learned myself the hard way or through 'poor' networking... imagine the power that can be tapped here if put to work on other issues.

Being poor is expensive:
-unhealthy food versus healthy food that you might not have time to prepare between your 3 jobs. - after all isn't time money too?
-no health insurance or premiums you can't even imagine affording
- car broke down? see a check cashing place for a pay day loan you might never payback after getting caught in that loop.
- Have a check you need to cash? Go to the bank it is drawn on and they still charge you 5 bucks.
- finally let go of your pride enough to apply for assistance? Be there at whatever time & day they give you an appointment or risk starting all over. Never mind you might have to work that day.
- add your own experience here.

Alan

Not to make light of the very real problem of poverty, but
it is easy to eat healthfully on $3 per day -- and to feel
quite satisfied (i.e. not hungry). Back in the 1970s, I used
to make a game of eating on $1 per day. My diet included a
variety of foods, emphasizing whole natural stuff like oatmeal,
sunflower seeds, dried peas, and so forth. It is no longer
quite possible to do it on $1 per day. $2 is possible, though
lean and limited. $3 is plenty. What is needed is knowledge
about foods and nutrition, and willingness to adopt as
staples those foods which offer the best nutrition for the
least cost. Example: a half-pound each of rice and peas or
beans can be had for about a dollar. That one pound of
dry food (1500 calories) is quite nutritious and very
filling, and also tasty with a drizzle of hot sauce and
oil. That could be the core of one's diet for the day.
A few steamed veggies, a bit of dairy, a bit of fish,
a piece of fruit, whatever, can round it out. It really
is not hard, if you know what you are doing.

The interesting thing is that this ultra-frugal style of
eating is far healthier than the garbage that most people
eat (at many times the cost). Further, these frugal food
choices are what is needed to limit the depletion of
fossil fuels and the release of CO2 emissions. In other
words, frugal eating solves multiple problems; it is not
only about saving money. It is a superior way to live.
Everyone should do it.

Anita

Dear Mrs. McGovern,
Thank you for joining your husband in The Food Stamp Challenge.
For the last 5 years America's Second Harvest, a nationwide network of food panties and soup kitchens, have announced in their annual reports each year beginning 2003 a continued and alarming increase of individuals and families needing food aid throughout our nation. Studies by Second Harvest have shown that the majority of those seeking food assistance are working two or more jobs. In addition, Second Harvest has reported food organizations, soup kitchens, and food pantries throughout our nation consistantly run out of food, and are struggling to fill the need for food assistance. Further reported is a dramatic increase in the numbers of persons and families seeking food aid considered "middle class", also including many homeowners, which economists have suggested indicates a problem with our nations economy, and that hunger in America today is like that of the 1920's. Bearing in mind that government figures are conservative and offer an inaccurate accounting, giving only a sense of the level of hunger that exists in America, your involvement to join your husband with taking the Food Stamp Challenge will hopefully be the beginning of bringing much needed attention into the areas and issues regarding food insecurity to our congressional lawmakers. Again, thank you!

valentine

Reading all these comments is a far more powerful voice than anything that the privileged, over-paid congressmen (with their FULL pensions and FREE health care) could ever hope to communicate.

I've been blessed. Yes, I had some (extremely) lean years in college because I was paying for it myself (and it never occurred to me to go deeply into debt, rather than working like a dog to pay as I went a long), but nothing compared to these people who have commented above who have children or disability or both.

That said, how is this "experiment" (or whatever it is) any different than the ones where someone able-bodied gets into a wheel chair for a day (or seven) to "empathize with the physically challenged" or where someone puts on a fat suit to "understand" the discrimination against the obese (some tv news magazine did this one recently, I think). At the end of the experiment, the "sensitive" person can stand up from the wheel chair, the thin person sheds the fat costume (Tyra Banks did this recently?...), and they resume their normal lives, convinced they now know how some segment of our population lives.

No they don't. Because through every stunt like these, the people doing it always know that it will end soon.

I don't think many people on Food Stamps do it for just one week. I think the health issues and the feeling of grim helplessness and the chronic hunger doesn't set in after just one week.

At the end of the week, the congressmen will celebrate their "awful" week with a good bottle of wine and a feast. ("I really understand poverty now," he will declare solemnly, while she will nod sagely and respond, "Yes, that was a very hard thing to do. We are so wonderful for doing that when we didn't have to. I think even better of us. Do pass the hollandaise, dear...") Anyone can "play" at being poor, but isn't it handy that it is only a week? How utterly not inconvenient. Oh, boo hoo, he was hungry on a Tuesday. Thank goodness that this publicity stunt will only be for ONE Tuesday.

I'm sure this idea sounded brilliant - to people that have more than enough for themselves, their kids, and a hundred other people. And I do think that their hearts are in the right place (however offensively misguided). But to those of us who work hard - with no cushy full pension or free fabulous health care - it is obviously a stunt.

Doubt it? Remember the Marie Antoinette had a dairy farm built at Versailles (albeit a very idealized version) so that she could play at being a milkmaid. After which, of course, she would ride in her carriage and be driven back to the palace. This is still universally considered an obvious indicator of how far removed she was from the rest of the population. How is this different?

Let the congressmen live in the apartments that Food Stamp recipients can afford for a month, sleep in a neighborhood where you know damn well that you aren't actually safe...Let the congressmen live that life long enough to feel the permanent anxiety of worry - that something will happen today that will upset the delicate balancing act, someone in your family will get hurt, someone will hit your car beyond its value, or maybe you get mugged. Let the congressmen do that for a while (a month? maybe six?) and then they will "know" the plight of, well, the rest of us who don't get to simply vote in our own pay raises.

(By the way, MORGAN SPURLOCK did this the right way: he and his wife got minimum-wage jobs, rented an apartment based on that pay and lived like that - with an unsafe apartment and no health care - and they did it for a month, chronicling the hardship of public transportation and mean bosses and health care emergencies, etc.)

Heather

While I think this effort can't hurt, I'm not sure how much good it's going to do. There will still be hungry children at the end of this trial period. I'd like to know why this experiment wasn't done for a month. That is what we are expected to do.

If it was not for the Food Stamps we receive every month we would have a diet (what little there would be) that is desperatley lacking in vitamins and minerals, so don't get me wrong...I'm extremely thankful for them. My children are 17, 14 and 11, and like someone said, are repeatedly told "No, you can't have that" or "No,we can't afford that." I have $2.74 a day to feed a family of 5 on. One way I have found we use less food, and thus stay within our food stamp budget, is to let the kids sleep late in the summer and have brunch, instead of breakfast and lunch seperatley. Then we have supper, of course. We make a simple dessert for Sunday night..the only sweet for the week. I've found the kids are a little bit more agreeable to a strict diet if they can have a treat once a week. Milk is extremely rationed. Dry milk is mixed 1/2 and 1/2 with 1% milk, so you get two gallons instead of one. Meat is eaten only 2 or 3 nights a week, and a 3oz portion is allowed. Get good at cooking dried beans. Give up on fresh produce and vegetables with the prices as high as they are. Frozen is cheaper. If you have a weight or health problem your pretty much outta luck. You can either eat to be full or healthy, but I've found it extremely hard to do both with the price of food what is it right now.
I'm sorry if I can't feel sorry for the ones participating in this endeavor. Next week they will go back to eating whatever they want, and I will still have to worry if my kids are getting enough healthy things to eat. My children's doctor wanted to put them on a special diet for health and medical reasons, I had to tell them there was no way I could afford it. That hurts...knowing you can't even give your child the healthy diet their doctor recommends for various reasons.

I wish you luck, but I wish the families like mine even more luck. Worrying about whether your children eat healthy or not should not be a problem in America.

susan

Thank you for conducting this challenge and for bringing attention to this very difficult problem. It is shameful that in this country, with such wealth and talent, there are so many people who go hungry every day. I have known such people over the years--there are many who struggle to pay their bills and to eat. As long as this society continues to depend on low-wage earners but refuses to take responsibility for figuring out a better way to more equitably distribute its wealth, this will unfortunately remain a problem. Thank you again for bringing attention to this critical issue. If you haven't already done so, you may want to read Nickel and Dimed, another expose on low-wage earners and their struggles.

Maya

Bless you for bringing attention to this issue.

In addition to your challenge, there should be a minimum wage challenge as well. (The four of you should be exempt from it and those born with silver spoons should be required to participate, in my opinion). The minimum wage is not a living wage.

Imagine living off of those food stamps for five years while working 40 plus hours per week with no health insurance. Try that and you'll have a real idea of what the working poor live with.

Elizabeth

please, while you are working on food stamps, please consider what food stamps DON'T buy:
soap (of all sorts, from bath to dishes to clothes)
toilet paper
tooth paste
"feminine products"
dental floss
vitamins
home cleaning products (clorox or mr. clean, etc)

...

there is a quite long list that i could type out, but i believe that the point is there. there is, nominally, a "cash assistance" program that goes with food stamps - and that cash is generally eaten up with bills. (internet is not necessary, yet, electrcity IS because one can be evicted if one does not have electricity, not to mention heat and the stove...)

i, myself, am disabled waiting for SSI and SSDI. it takes MONTHS just to get the first rejection. there is a less than 1% cheance of NOT being rejected the first time one applies - out of hand. in the mean-time, i am waiting for cash assistance, i get food stamps... and thats it. i have no way to pay my bills, or my rent, and there are no programs that are really set up to help BEFORE everything is lost (example - there is a program here in Ohio that will pay my rent (once only) but only AFTER i get an eviction notice!).
and i'm almost out of tooth paste and deoderent. i'm glad that i bought the 2for1 shampoo, otherwise i WOULD be out of shampoo.
this, i think, needs to be addressed along with food stamps.

also, while you are at it, look at those "welfare: back to work programs". really wanna get people off of the US dole? don't "retrain" them to only be able to work in jobs that still mean they have to have food stamps! put college, or at least tech schools, back in!

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