Jun 13, 2007

The Food Stamp Challenge—Part 1

Beginning the week of May 15, four members of Congress, including Ohio’s Representative Tim Ryan (D), learned what it was like to try to survive on food stamps for a week. (Read a Washington Post article about this experience.)

The four had $21 each, which they spent at a Safeway near Washington, D.C. They stuck to purchases such as bread, pasta, spaghetti sauce, and peanut butter and jelly. An eye-opener for these lawmakers as they introduced legislation to increase the food stamp budget in the upcoming Farm Bill, this week of poor nutrition and frequent hunger pangs certainly drew attention to the growing problem of food-stamp inadequacy. (Tim Ryan’s blog,Rep. Jim McGovern’s (D-Mass.) blog.

Nationally, according to the Washington Post article, about 26 million Americans receive food stamps. Locally, here’s what that translates into for Athens County:

Last year (FY2006: July 2005 through June 2006):
-An average of 6,614 people per month received food stamps.
-Their average allotted spending amount was $99.82 per month, which is about $25 per week.
-Food Stamp recipients don’t actually get Food Stamps anymore. The Ohio Direction Card, which works like a debit card, has replaced food stamps and removed some of the stigma attached to getting public assistance. They can be used at most local grocery stores.

Other food stamps considerations:
-ONLY food is allowed to be purchased with food stamps. Some examples of excluded items (imagine living without them): toilet paper, napkins, tissue, sanitary supplies, soap, shampoo, dishwashing soap, laundry supplies, diapers.
-Because $25 per week is often inadequate to feed a family member, families often must turn to food pantries to get supplemental food. Job & Family Services operates an Emergency Food Line in conjunction with the Athens County Food Pantry Board that allows qualifying families to receive one box of food along with a few dollars per person in food vouchers every 90 days. ($10 for a family of one to three, $20 for a family of four to six, and $30 for a family of seven or more.)

A growing trend continues to drive home the point that Food Stamps scarcely provide families with their basic needs. A "http://athensnews.com/index.php?action=viewarticle§ion=news&story_id=28408" target="_blank">recent article in the Athens News reported that local food pantries are running low on provisions to hand out as demand increases.

Four members of Congress took a weeklong challenge to get an idea of what it’s like to live on Food Stamps. It was certainly an admirable attempt to empathize with their constituents and understand what changes must be made, but the issues surrounding hunger in America are far from over.

Since their inception, Food Stamps have been intended to provide only 75 percent of the necessary food to individuals, based on the Thrifty Food Plan set by the USDA; they are expected to pay out-of-pocket for the other 25 percent. However, low income eligibility requirements to qualify for Food Stamp benefits pretty much guarantee that these people have no other resources to turn to. This is a catch-22 that needs to be addressed, because it is leaving millions of Americans—including children—hungry and undernourished.

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