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Council Member Rodriguez’s Op-Ed on the Food Stamps Challenge from the Manhattan Times

September 29, 2010

Living on $4.33 a day

by Ydanis Rodriguez

Last week I spent five days living off of a food stamp budget as part of a “Food Stamp Challenge,” organized to give people a brief taste of what 1.76 million New Yorkers, who rely on food stamps, experience daily.

For the first three days I ate only what I could afford with $4.33 a day. The next two days I spent $3.75 a day – what many people will have to spend after federal budget cuts.

It was a serious effort. I usually was out of money by lunchtime, my ability to concentrate suffered, and by Friday, I had no other choice but to go to a food pantry for extra food. The hardest part was when my friends or colleagues went out to dinner and I had to stay at home, hungry, because of my commitment.

Despite the growing number of Americans living in poverty, Congress is considering pulling funding for the food stamp program (now known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program –SNAP) to pay for other legislation. In August, Congress cut $11.9 billion from SNAP/food stamps in order to pay for the Federal Aviation Administration Bill, which includes aid to states and funding for teachers’ salaries and Medicaid. In the coming weeks, Congress will decide whether to make an additional $2.2 billion in cuts to the SNAP/food stamp program in order to pay for Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR), which determines funding and access to child nutrition programs.

I do not need to repeat what we already know – that it is impossible to still eat a healthy balanced diet off $4.33 per day, the amount a low-income individual might receive from food stamps. When I was able to plan ahead, I could cook rice or other dry goods and perhaps have enough to eat for the day and not be physically hungry. But vegetables, fruits, or any source of dairy or protein was out of the question completely. For a few days, it is okay to live this way, but not for the long term. On especially busy days, when I could not cook or go to the grocery store, I had maybe a cup of coffee and a slice of pizza, or an order of platanos y queso (plantains and cheese) – for the whole day.

Ironically, Congress is considering paying for child nutrition programs by cutting the already insufficient amount of funds for food stamps – a move that will make children less healthy! Low-income families rely on both child nutrition programs and SNAP/food stamp benefits. Congress should not cut one program to pay for the other.

Ydanis Rodriguez is a City Council member representing parts of Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill.

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