What if you had just $31.50 to spend for a week’s worth of groceries?
That’s the average allotment to those who receive federal assistance through Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as Food Stamps.
Top Obama administration officials, including senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, several members of Congress, and others plan to find out on Thursday during a shopping trip to a Capitol Hill grocery store as part of the National Food Stamp Challenge.
With Congress considering cutting the budget for SNAP, the religious community is leading an effort to focus the country’s attention on the realities of hunger and poverty.
Poverty is at an all-time high in the United States, and more than 45 million Americans rely on SNAP funds to buy food.
The national challenge event marks the beginning of the fourth annual Fighting Poverty with Faith mobilization. Fighting Poverty with Faith, cosponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Catholic Charities USA, and the National Council of Churches includes more than 50 national faith organizations brought together to act on behalf of those living in poverty in America.
Aside from Jarrett, others taking part include Democratic Reps. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.
Other members of Congress taking the Fighting Poverty with Faith Food Stamp Challenge include Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), and Del. Donna Christensen (D-V.I.).
“The goal of the Food Stamp Challenge is to engage Americans of every faith and bring the realities of hunger to those across the country unaware of its pervasiveness and challenges; especially here, at Congress’s doorstep,” says Rabbi Steve Gutow. “If we are to get serious about ending hunger, which we have the tools to do, it cannot be an abstract idea for us. Understanding the challenges of feeding yourself — let alone providing healthy meals for kids, who make up over half of SNAP recipients –- on just $31.50 for one week will help others know just how valuable SNAP is. America is an abundant nation, but that abundance is not seen in the carts of the tens of millions who live on SNAP. Before Congress decides that this program can be cut, we urge them to look at how little we’re able to put in our carts with this budget and see how millions are getting by.”
The 45 million Americans who require SNAP to survive aren’t strangers, says Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches.
“They are our neighbors, co-workers, family members, and they are us. I have been on food stamps,” she says. “I am in better times now. But I remember how much we tried to hide it from those around me. We stand together in grocery check-out lines, yet so many of us have no idea what it is like to struggle to feed families on $4.50 a day. I challenge all of us to share in that struggle for a week, not merely to attract attention to the growing needs of persons in poverty, but as a reminder that God does not expect any of us to turn our backs on others in need.”
Anyone can sign up to take the National Food Stamp Challenge by going online here.
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.