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May 16, 2007

Comments

Kathleen Murphy

Dear Mrs. McGovern,

I applaud your effort in taking the Food Stamp Challenge. As a senior citizen living on $983 a month in Social Security, I am eligible for $10 a MONTH in food stamp benefits - $21 a week would seem like a fortune!

I particularly appreciate your thoughtful comment about the consequences of inadequate nutrition.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Murphy

Ken

People with pending workman's compensation claims can also have problems with food security. As bills mount up and claims wade through the courts without resolution, some people are forced to sell assets or drain their savings until food stamps are all that are left.

Kyle Hamilton

Food Stamps are only part of the solution. When I was a teenager, my family used to get boxes every few months of Department of Agriculture surplus -- corn meal, frozen cheeze, big boxes of powdered milk, sometimes some canned pinto beans. It would only be there, for the pickup, for about 3 hours, and we literally had to plan things around it. I remember being 13 and being the only one in the family well enough to go get it, and they didn't want to give it to me because I wasn't old enough to sign things.

We have a situation where the homeless can't store anything, so they're stuck buying the much more expensive single-serving stuff. They can't cook anything, so they have to buy prepared meals (high in fat, high in sodium, 'low-calorie' -- i.e., low energy potential... and low-nutrition). These people don't have the energy necessary to do much besides their 'routine'. These people also generally don't know how to get help.

We have a situation where even $5 per day -- the amount that I got in food stamps when I was pending Social Security disability -- is impossible to live on. We have a situation where the rules are so arcane that it's impossible for anyone but a social worker to figure them out. We have a situation where there's no way for anyone in even the working poor to eat enough to be able to get ahead.

Yes, school lunches help, for kids still in school. (please don't cut that out of the Farm Bill!) That at least takes one meal a day out of the realm of what the food stamps need to feed -- but the food stamp allotment doesn't go up during the months that the schools aren't running. (I remember one exchange with my mother: "Can I have a glass of milk?" "Why?" "Because I need the calcium." "What do you mean?" "School is out, and I don't get milk with my lunch at this point." ... "Oh. You're right.")

Our kids are taught about the basics of nutrition, but the adults learn via the media. We have an entire generation which doesn't know how to cook -- and we have an entire generation which doesn't have any obvious way to learn how to cook, too.

There's a lot more that I could say, but I expect I'm only preaching to the converted. I will say that I wish my Senators and Representative would take part in this. (I'm in Nevada at this point.)

Thank you for your time.

-Kyle Hamilton

Jo

Thank you so much for doing this. When you reach a position of privilege in society, its hard to remember the reality of what it is like for people who are in difficult times.

Think of people who are not only living on food stamps, but have medical conditions that rely upon good diet to successfully treat their condition. In some cases, survival diets have caused the condition.

I remember spending three days living on rice, flavoured with a bit of sugar and a lemon - the only things that I had left in my cupboard after paying the rent, the phone, transport and college fees. I had $80 a week to live on at that point. Christmas and birthday presents were literally a large hamper of food and other groceries. I never want that level of stress again.

Takhys

I know that this is a bit above your budget, but years ago I found this website [ http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/40dollarmenu.htm ] and it really has been a lifesaver for me.

I'm a Canadian university student getting by on government loans, grants and bursaries, and that has prepared me well for 'getting by' on whatever is available. I really do appreciate what you are doing and I will be linking to this journal from Livejournal account.

Thank you,
-- Takhys.

Becky

Mrs. McGovern,
This is an interesting experiment you are doing. I am a single mom who has gone back to college to get a elementary education degree. Last year I made 2000. I was on food stamps all last year and have only recently fallen off because they sent the new paper work out during finals week. I hope to get that fixed in the next few days. Right now the two of us are eligible for about 100 in food stamps.
I am telling you this because my son and I never went hungry, not once. Now we don't eat much meat, maybe once or twice a month and we only get fresh fruit and veggies when they are in season and cheap. We eat a lot of beans, rice, pasta and potatoes and I picked up a bread maker at Goodwill to help out. You can make burritos really cheap particularly if you cook your own beans. (Crock pots are awesome.)
One thing I really want to tell you, like I said before, is that no matter how hard it is or has been, my son has never missed a meal. He hasn't always like what he has eaten, but he doesn't go to bed hungry. With or with out food stamps he won't ever go hungry either.

clio

Dear McGoverns,

I really appreciate what you and your husband are trying to do. It is needed. I am old enough to recall similar awareness efforts in the 60's and 70's, but they have been out of fashion in the last 20 years or so. While the rich have gotten richer the working class has begun to starve. Now hunger is reaching the middle class.

Hunger is a major problem in this country and, as you note, quite a bit of it is hidden. I expect the problem to grow as more and more middle class families, who have never needed help for basics, experience falling incomes. These families don't apply for food stamps because it doesn't occur to them to do so. Advertising that benefits are available to anyone would be helpful.* Anyone can apply for benefits.

It would also be of great help if aid offices were open hours that did not conflict with work and/or transportation availability. Say 7 AM to 10 or 11 PM. The idea that applications can be made on line is interesting, but ultimately of little use: if a family is struggling with food, Internet access is an unimaginable luxury and even gas to get to a library, provided there is a library within a reasonable distance, may be out of reach. Further, showing up at an office is usually required sooner or later, and if taking time from work is impossible or transportation unavailable...

The website, Hillbilly Housewife,** - http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/index.htm - has helpful ideas about surviving on poverty rations and a menu for a whole week. Click on the "Emergency $45 Menu" under 'Beginner's Shortcuts.' Perhaps you would like to pool your food stamp allowance with another congressperson and do one more week using these ideas.

*advertising does increase food stamp participation. Not done, therefore, by government agencies or Congresses which are cutting non-defense budgets.

**I have no connection with Hillbilly Housewife.

macrumpton

Thank You so much for making this sacrifice to bring attention to the absurdity of trying to live on foodstamps. The definition of what constitutes a livable wage in this country is insane. You might be able to just barely survive, but only if you stay perfectly healthy and have no unexpected expenses, and you have no hope of changing anything in your life.

We live in the wealthiest country in the world, and we have children going hungry, not because we can't afford to fix it, just because we don't want to give anyone something for nothing.

rachel

First of all I just want to say that it is a noble thing that you and your husband are doing. I suspect that this period of trying to live on so little will teach you both a lot. I hate to be the devil's advocate on this issue, but the foodstamp system is absurdly abused, at least here in Pennsylvania. Before anyone gets angry about that comment, let me clarify that I think that the idea of helping families in need is a very worthwhile effort. I recently graduated college and am in the process of working out the details for grad school. In the interim, for the past four months I have worked at a gas station due to lack of better opportunities in the area. At that job, I witnessed constant daily abuse of the system in question. I would have mothers of several children come in and buy $20 or $30 worth of soda and junk food, nothing with any nutritional value at all, and then turn around and pull a wad of cash out of their wallets and play the lottery, some as much as over $100 a day wasted on a game of chance. Another example I frequently dealt with were other college students, my peers, driving brand new cars into the parking lot, and obviously spending $100s of dollars a month to keep their hair, nails and tanning up to date. These students would pull their foodstamp card out of a name brand bag worth more than I was making in a month to purchase junk food and bar munchies. Witnessing this kind of abuse of the system every day for four months has been enough to make me wonder what kind of failsafes, if any, are in place to handle such abuse. I want to reiterate that I am not against the system as a whole, I just believe that if there was a little more accountability in place, which I realize costs more money to carry through, the people who actually need the benefits would be able to live on what they are given every month. I realize that it would take an army of accountants to keep watch on what the money is actually going to, but that's the only idea I can come up with that would get the abuse under control and get the people who are more than capable of taking care of themselves out of the system. I sincerely apologize for being the killjoy on the comment board, but I felt I needed to share my experiences with all of you.

Dana Delibovi

Thanks so very much for doing the foodstamp challenge. It highlights the suffering--and also the great creativity and ingenuity--of poor Americans.

I would applaud the use of my tax money to boost food stamps. Feel free to take the money away from Iraq appropriations.

Carina

Dear Mrs. McGovern,

I am very pleased to see someone taking an interest in addressing the hunger problem that faces so many families here in the United States. I know that there are people here in the U.S. that live a somewhat comfortable middle income lifestyle. However, most of the families I know, live so far below the "poverty level" that they feel there is no hope of ever making enough to see the poverty line.

Has anyone in Government ever considered that by giving people ability to eat healthy food they would be reducing the amount of money they spend on medical benefits? When people are able to eat a balanced healthy diet and get adequate rest they miss fewer days of work and are less likely to become ill and need medical treatment. It may not seem like it at first, but I would bet, since most families that qualify to receive food stamps also qualify for Medicaid, if people were able to afford healthier foods on food stamps, the cost of suppling that healthy food would be compensated at least a little by a lower cost in benefits used by the Medicaid recipients.

I know if you spend a enough time planning and preparing you can feed a family with very little. I have thanked my mother countless times for teaching me how to cook as they did in the depression. I can do amazing things with flour, water and salt. But as a single working mother, it is also very hard to find enough hours in the day between jobs, school and raising children to prepare those type of meals and still get a few hours sleep. You can only do it for so long before your body starts to shut down and get sick.

Even now with a college degree it is still tough to find jobs that pay enough to support your children on one paycheck. I don't regret all the hard work it took to get a degree, but sometimes I wonder if it was really worth it when I am trying to pay back my loans and still can't seem to make enough to find the poverty line. Now I don't quite make enough to make it but I make just too much to get food stamps at all. We still seem stuck eating the low quality food we did on food stamps.

I hope your efforts don't go unnoticed. I hope this will remind those who get healthy food everyday that there are those of us who don't here in the U.S. too. The starving don't all live in third world countries.

Thank you for listening to my one humble opinion.
Carina

margalit

Um, I eat one meal a day. One. We cannot afford to feed me more than that. My kids get free lunch at school. They qualify for free breakfasts but the food is so disgusting they will not eat it. We usually get cereal from the food pantry, but milk is rare in our house. We use 2 gallons per month. For 2 children. I don't drink it at all.

So dinner is my meal. I only shop the perimeter of the store because any packaged food is too expensive. I shop a lot at trader joes, so we can eat fish and chicken less expensively. Ditto for frozen veggies. We eat no fresh because they tend to go bad too quickly. Frozen is fine. We do not touch canned veggies because I'm both diabetic and have congestive heart failure, so salt is my enemy.

Note... I'm diabetic and eat one meal a day. My blood sugar is totally out of control. I can't do anything about it because I live on carbs, which are terrible for my health. Because I DO NOT QUALIFY FOR FOOD STAMPS on SSDI.

I really hope you're getting the gist of my anger and frustration about this topic. I KNOW what the solution is, and I cannot get anyone to care. Nothing will ever change without the poverty rate changing. If it isn't made equitable, everything else is a waste of time and energy because there will always be families like mine that are living on the edge but cannot get any state or government help.

Oh, and while you're saying you're interested in the poor, how about doing something about the Section 8 problem and the vast corruption in state housing in MA. You want to talk depressing? Try being on a 20+ year waiting list for housing and never ever moving up due to complete corruption in the agency.

Andi

I would like to comment how much I appreciate that you and others (although not many) are doing this. It is impossible to believe that anyone is expected to live on so little. I have always been lucky enough to always have enough food, but I've known many people who weren't so lucky. I spent a lot of time working with children in some pretty impoverished areas, where if it wasn't for the food they got at school, they may not be getting much of anything to eat. It is a great idea to bring attention to this problem of inadequate assistance. I applaud you for sticking to the challenge, even when faced with tasty food at events. Hopefully you will truely make a difference.

ian

Lisa

I'm thrilled that you are a part of this. As somebody who has the bottom fall out from him in 2001, I know how the program not only can bloat and fail people, but also humiliate them. Apart from the obvious beef with the program, the administrative burdens are formidable and the frustrations many.

Many of the program offices are in terrible condition, an overworked staff shuffles applicants around like cattle whilst they type on green screen computers (meaning they have not changed for at least 20 years), applicants fill out a mountain of forms to comply with various federal/state laws, are fingerprinted (which made me feel like I had done something wrong), appointments are not kept and there is a general feeling of entitlement. This is of course my experience. I am a capable and earnest individual who fell upon very bad times. But the process of applying for food stamps is humiliating and woefully inefficient. I can only hope that one day all lawmakers will be subject to the same administrative hurdles they create.

- ian (campaign staff in '94!)

telesilla

Mrs. McGovern,

I'm incredibly impressed that you, your husband and his colleagues accepted this challenge. I'm also impressed that you admit that it's a publicity stunt--a phrase so often associated with frivolous displays. This is anything but frivolous, and shows that yes, publicity stunts can be a good thing. I dearly hope it works and that it brings some light on the horrible tragedy of Americans going hungry while we send money on more "important" things like wars and pork barrel projects.

Like some of the other people replying here, I've lived on a very limited budget--$725 in urban Sacramento, CA which only got me the $10 minimum food stamp allotment--and I quickly learned that while rent and utilities had to be paid so I could continue to live where I did, food was the only place I could cut corners. I ate a lot of pasta and very few veggies, and not surprisingly, my health suffered for it. I can't imagine trying to bring up children like that and yet I know that frightening numbers of families do just that.

Thank you for making this effort,

Ruth

Deacon Mike Evans

We serve 50 to 60 families each day we are open (twice a week) at our local food pantry. We depend heavily on the Emergency Food and Shelter Grant funding we receive each year. For the past 10 years, our county's allocation has not increased at all. But over the past three years we have experienced a 100% increase in the number of families we serve.

In our state (CA) SSI recipients get no food stamps at all. After they pay rent and utilities, there is nothing left in their in budget for food. Yet their medical issues are quite enormous and they are forced to live on a totally unhealthy diet as a result.

Please invite your colleagues to even try to survive for a couple of days on a food stamp allowance. Where are the 'sisterhood' of single moms and elderly grandmothers as advocates for struggling families?

Chris

One thing I highly recommend is not shopping at safeway, look for a Food4less in that area.
Safeway when I was growing up used to be the peoples store with good prices.
I am glad you are doing this if only for a week.
If I had my way I would have a law passed that any one running for state or national office would have to spend at least 2 weeks on minimum wage (including the whole family, unless there is a medical condition)

Jennifer A.

Mrs McGoverns,

First let me say that it is wonderful that you are doing this experiment! I am so happy to know that you care enough about others' situations to actually experience it yourself.

I am a single mom of one (he is 15 months), a college student and employed part time (which is all the time in my day). Fortunately, my son and I have never gone withough anything. I have been on Food Stamps for alittle over a year now, and I have done well inspite of a very difficult budget. I have only been working for 5 months and I make enough to cover the necessary bills (ie: rent, PG&E, phone, and one school loan). I am not ashamed to say I bring home $800.00 a month! However, my Food Stamp allotment is only $186. Do the math. . . . that's only $6.20 a day!!!

There are other things that you might need to concider when planning your grocery list for the month. For instance, when a person is on Food Stamps AND Welfare, the Food Stamp allotment goes up. But when they get a job, even if it is minimum wage, their Welfare assistance is affected as well is their Food Stamps. I know many young couples that can barely pay bills with what they actually EARN and live in absolutely scummy conditions, and their Food Stamps go about as far as mine do. Please remember, what you are supplied with in Food Stamps is based on income, NOT on what you need to live.

The government has made it so that if a person doesn't have an income they're rewarded with lots of aide and such. However, if a person is out in the world and really trying (a single mom, for example) and earning a "below poverty level" income, their aide will be taken away little by little. It's all based on what they (we) earn. Which usually isn't much!

I was impressed to read the articles in your blog and the news I saw on the web. I will be even more impressed if something actually changes!!!

C. Ingersoll - Seattle, WA

Thank you for doing this - I understand the sacrifice that this puts you through.

Since 1998 I have been disabled, for years I did not qualify for food stamps because I had too much money in the bank from my lump sum payment. (I had to appeal three times and finally qualified in 2004) Strange that it does not matter what your income is - but what your savings are, that 25,000$ in my savings account was supposed to be my savings for as long as I was alive. I had to spend nearly all of it before I could qualify for long term help.

Slowly that amount dwindled, going here and there on food and medical bills (since Medicare only pays 80% of the total bill) until I was below the savings allowance, then I qualified for 84$ a month in food stamps living by myself.

I make 684$ a month on Social Security Disability; my rent in Seattle for my 65 square foot "apartment" is 435$ (505$ a month with utilities like heat, electric, telephone and internet) - I suppose I pay too much for a chance to live in a safe neighborhood like Capitol Hill, but in the end if that's the price that I have to pay to be safe and close to my doctors then so be it.

Since my "apartment" has no kitchen (just a sink and a microwave) I remember fondly the times that I could cook. Now I look at a 0.89$ bottle of 'Mountain Dew' and dream. Each day my meal consists of a 2 lb pre-packaged burrito for 2.59$, I break it in half and eat half at noon and half for dinner. My doctor tells me now that I have "Fatty Liver" disease, from eating too much junk food. Yet junk is all that is available to me at the little bodega within walking distance of my place. Food shelter programs are made for people with full kitchens at their disposal. I went once and had to eat cake mix straight out of the box and the rest was useless to me. I stare at this hand-me-down computer and wonder how much food the 200$ I could sell it for and the extra 10$ a month for the internet service would bring me, but it is my sole form of entertainment since I have no television, I would hate to give it up.

So that's my story - I'm afraid that I do not have any recipes for you to share or any success stories to give you encouragement. In the end I would like to thank you again for bringing humanity back to the millions of people just like me who never asked for their poisonous fate. I watch the President cut funds for programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and guaranteed student loans to 'balance the budget' and take "loans" against the Social Security account that never seem to be paid back and wonder what will happen to me in 10 years, and worry. Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs states that nothing can be achieved until the extremely basic things in life are met first; food, shelter, then safety. Only then can a person hope to achieve more. The Food Stamp program helps me with that. Keep up the good fight - as long as I have the strength my vote is yours.

Kym

Mrs McGovern,

I'm glad that the government is finally paying attention to this issue. My one wish is that they would change their qualifications. I'm 28 years old and a full time student who works part time.

By the time I'm done paying my bills every two weeks, buying necessary toiletries and putting gas in my car, I'm lucky if I have $30 for two weeks. It doesn't go very far, but I can make it stretch. I generally don't eat breakfast, because it costs too much to buy milk or eggs all the time. Even bread is almost to much anymore.

I stick to cheap spaghetti sauce (Hunts is the cheapest, it's actually good too) and spaghetti. That one can and box can make four meals, for $1.50 in the midwest. Next, Michaelina's has cheap meals in the frozen section of Walmart. In the midwest, they're usually 97 cents a box. I eat a lot of their pizza and alfredo meals. Another choice is soups, a lot of campbell's chicken noodle and tomato for me. Sometimes I'll pick up a box or two of Mac&Cheese and a pint of milk for variety.

I have tried to get help three times now, and each time they turned me down because I don't have children. As you can see, I barely have enough for me, why would I go and have a child? It would be nice if they would change the rules for those of us who do have jobs, may be in school, but are not elderly and don't have children.

-Kym

Tom

Here is a recipe I copied off a website created by someone called "Homesick Texan", It's a good recipe and is cheaper than buying bread, You DO know how to cook right?

Still think you are way off base and grand-standing for doing this, but now at least, you and the people who read this can have something that taste's good and doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

Home Made Biscuits

Ingredients:
Two cups of flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of sugar (can add more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 stick of butter, cold (8 tablespoons)
3/4 cup of buttermilk, cream or half-and-half

Method:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Mix all the dry ingredients together.
Cut the stick of butter into pieces, and work into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until it resembles pea-sized crumbs.
Add the liquid, mixing until a bit loose and sticky.
Pour dough out on a floured surface, and knead for a minute. Dough should be smooth and no longer wet. You can sprinkle more flour on the surface if you find it’s sticking.
Take dough into a ball, and hit it with a rolling pin, turning it and folding it in half every few whacks. Do this for a couple of minutes.
Roll out dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick, and then fold it in half.
Using a round cutter (can use a glass or a cup if don’t have a biscuit cutter) cut out your biscuits from folded dough.
Place on a greased baking sheet close together (so they rise up not out), and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
Makes 10-12 biscuits.

LK

Thank you for bringing so much attention to this issue!

In addition to the difficulty of maintaining such a tight food budget, there's also the non-food stuff such as toothpaste, dish soap, shampoo, toilet paper, deodorant etc that are also part of a family budget. Add in stagnant wages, rising gas prices, and all the other bills (such as rent) that must be paid and it is very difficult for the less wealthy of our country to maintain a reasonable standard of living. And then there's healthcare, something that at least 43 million Americans go without.

We have so many issues that need to be addressed in our country. I hope your act this week will raise awareness of them, and help us think about what the solutions should be.

Connie H.

When I was a child and my father died, we lived on SS and Veteran's Benefits. I later found out that we could have qualified for foodstamps but my mother refused -- in retrospect, I want to kick her lightly because we could have used the help! Later, as a post-college grad working two part-time jobs, I scraped by on my own, and faced the reality of budgeting and strategizing, and yet not having enough money by the end of the week. (And I walked places, because public transportation costs bit too much into what little money I had!)

I remember all too vividly that time, and even though I'm getting professional salary now, I know that with what were very good skills and knowledge and =discipline=, it still was almost impossibly tough. I can only imagine how much tougher it may be to also manage for a child, or if I'd been disabled, or caring for a disabled relative.

Not long ago, I was behind an immigrant woman at the supermarket checkout line (Vietnamese, my guess) who was using our MA WIC system with her toddler along that day. The clerk very politely told her that she had to put back the box of cereal she'd chosen, because it was 10.5 ounces rather than the 9.5 that the system allowed.

There has to be some middle ground between stiff rules to prevent abuse of the WIC by cheaters, and moms who get tripped up by an extra ounce of cereal for their kid.

Thanks for doing this "publicity stunt" which really does involve you personally making the choices and talking about them.

PS- Oh, and rather than cheap hamburger meat, I suggest ground dark turkey which has good flavor and enough fat (still qualifies as lean, though) and is overall more healthful and ecological, yet is dirt cheap compared to the cheapest hamburger.

Tonnvane Wiswell

From my days living on minimum wage (and NOT qualifying for food stamps), I recommend you give up on meat altogether and stick with rice, beans (dried, you'll need to soak them), and pasta. It's very filling and fairly healthy. Supplement it with fresh vegetables (whichever you can afford) and you should be doing pretty well, at least in terms of not being hungry.

Mike

I have just read about you adventure. Here is what you forgot to do: factor in the countless hours the working poor must take off from work to spend waiting in offices for initial food stamp program approval and periodic re-approval; spend eight hours a day at the hard physical labor typical of America's working poor, which requires a higher caloric intake than that of office workers; sleep in room that is too hot in summer, too cold in the winter, which further depletes your body's energy; walk because you cannot afford bus fare; let illness sap your remaining strength because you cannot afford medical care. Bon appetit.

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