Congressman Deutch Takes on the Food Stamp/SNAP Challenge with Jewish Community Relations Councils (December 1, 2014)

About the Event
Congressman Ted Deutch has once again committed himself to the challenge of living for a week on groceries purchased without spending more than the Food Stamp/SNAP budget. Deutch, whose District 21 covers central and western parts of South Palm Beach and North Broward Counties, stepped up to the Food Stamp/SNAP Challenge on Monday morning, December 1.

The Food Stamp/SNAP Challenge is an initiative developed this year by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs together with the JCRCs of the Jewish Federations of South Palm Beach County and Broward County. This challenge highlights the difficulty those who rely on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) have in purchasing groceries using the government’s allotment of $29.40 per week, per person.

“I participate in the SNAP challenge to raise awareness about the millions of people in our communities who struggle with hunger on a daily basis despite living in the most prosperous nation ever known,” Deutch said.

So on Monday morning, Deutch met Debbie Gober, Campaign Chair from the Jewish Federation of Broward County, and Jill Rose, JCRC Co-Chair for South Palm Beach County at Walmart on Palmetto Park Road and 441 in Boca Raton to purchase his week’s worth of groceries within the SNAP budget. They helped steer the Congressman toward foods that would fill him up and not break his budget.

Gober shared with Deutch the challenge’s very real difficulties. “When doing the food challenge myself, I realized that ‘crying over spilled milk’ is not a saying, it is a true reality,” she referring to how every drop, every morsel counts. With $1.40 to spend per meal, Gober noted the importance of very strategic shopping. Healthy foods are generally more expensive, so “Nutrition is out of the question.”

In Deutch’s District, nearly 60% of households with one or more persons over the age of 60 and close to 41% of those with one or more children under the age of 18 receive SNAP benefits.

Deutch is highly concerned with the staggering numbers of people who need help. “We know that for children, hunger is especially devastating. Kids from financially distressed households are twice as likely to have to repeat a grade and more than two and a half more times to struggle with poor health later in life,” he said.

Being a vegan did not make the challenge easier for Deutch. Because fresh produce usually costs more than frozen or canned fruits and veggies. He was able to purchase only a bunch of bananas ($1.28), a few tomatoes ($.99), carrots ($1.88), one cucumber ($.77) and some sweet potatoes ($.99). That’s $5.91, or about 20% of his budget. Although he didn’t need to buy milk, meat, eggs or cheese, he was still lacking protein, so he ended up “splurging” on hummus. “I don’t eat meat, so the hummus is the tradeoff,” he said.

Picking up a box of pasta and some sauce wasn’t easy either, as Deutch factored in size vs. price. Jill Rose pointed out that it was better to buy the bigger jar of sauce because for just a few cents more, it will last longer. And the pasta? Forget name brand, as generic saves much more money, whether one likes it or not.

“The lack of nutritious, filling or flavorful options shocks me,” said Jill Rose, about the difficulty it is in finding good food with so little money.” It’s appalling.”

By the time Deutch arrived at the checkout lane, his weeks’ worth of meals trended bland: Pasta with jarred sauce, rice and beans, a few fresh vegetables, peanut butter sandwiches, hummus, instant coffee, peanuts for snacking, oatmeal, and artificially-flavored fruit juice. His grand total: $29.71, which went over his allotment by 31-cents.

In taking on this challenge, Deutch hopes to raise awareness and foster changes that will help people afford to eat better food and more often. “I introduced the Food Security Improvement Act in Congress to remedy the fact that most SNAP beneficiaries find themselves skipping meals or running out of benefits every month. My legislation would apply more accurate assumptions about how much it costs to feed a family while struggling in poverty, and in doing so boost our economy, reduce hunger, and help SNAP beneficiaries afford more healthy and wholesome foods,” he said.