The other day, I received an e-mail from someone who brought up a valid point about the SNAP Experience.
(For those who aren’t following my intriguing and insightful tweets where I detail when I’ve eaten a banana or a bowl of pasta, the SNAP Experience is a 5 day challenge to eat as healthy as possibly on $20.30, the average amount one person receives on the Food Stamp Program.)
The ‘S’ in SNAP stands for Supplemental, which means it should supplement a person’s income, not be the sole source. So, that begs the question, is the SNAP Experience–which only allows you to eat on $20.30 a day– a fair interpretation of what people on SNAP actually experience? Should that money be viewed as a supplement to your budget, rather than your only way to buy food?
To qualify for SNAP, a lot of factors are taken into consideration, such as a person’s income, how many people live in a household, if a member of the household is a senior citizen, or a child. Every situation is different, so it’s difficult to quantify how many people are supplementing their food budgets with SNAP money, and how much of a boost it actually is to a person’s normal food budget.
The Nevada Department of Welfare says it doesn’t keep statistics on how many SNAP participants depend on the food stamps as the only portion of their food budget. Although a study from the Food Research and Action Center found 25-33% of American households could not contribute extra money to their food budget, the stat is from five years ago. Jocelyn Lantrip from the Food Bank says it’s hard to say how that percentage has changed.
An employee at the Nevada Department of Welfare sent me a list of the 14,625 households in Nevada that would lose benefits if Congress approves proposed cuts to the Food Stamp Program. These households are essentially the most well off participants in the program. Remember, the numbers are so varied because it takes into consideration a person’s income or unemployment, rent, utilities, day care, etc., but here are a few examples of what some SNAP participants are getting on a monthly basis:
One household of five with a monthly income of $3,078.48 receives $18 per month in SNAP benefits. Meanwhile, another household of three has a monthly income of $2,752, but receives $284 per month. A household of one with an income of $1,215.99 receives $57 per month, while another household of one with an income of $1.827.9 receives $16 per month.
I spoke with one man today who went on the SNAP program for nine months when he lost his job. He and his wife took care of their four nieces, who ranged in age from two to eight years old. They received around $400 per month. Although he said he had very little cash to supplement and his family basically lived entirely on the SNAP benefits, it is impossible to gauge from the Department of Welfare’s information just how much of this money is a supplement or how much is their entire budget.
So what does this mean for the SNAP Experience as a whole? It shows every situation is so completely different that it would be impossible to organize a challenge like the SNAP Experience without giving a base number to use as a guideline. Jocelyn Lantrip with the Food Bank says the ultimate goal is to generate discussion and open people’s eyes to the concept of eating on a very limited budget.
Personally, the challenge has made me rethink a lot of the purchases I’ve made before I started. A $5 coffee seems much more outrageous than it has in the past, and a lunch out at a restaurant–even a fast food joint–is a quarter to half of a $20.30 budget. So if the goal is to make people reflect upon their choices, for me, the program seems to be working.