Food Stamp Challenge Highlights Needs of Many

By: Nicole Morten Email
By: Nicole Morten Email

For those of you who are watching, do you think you could individually spend only $29.40 for groceries per week? If you break that number down, that's only $4.20 per day. That's the reality for some single individuals who rely on food stamp assistance across the US. But due to federal cuts to benefits, now, the record number of Americans relying on federal aid to put food on the table will have to make do with less.

News 3's Nicole Morten took what's called a Food stamp, or SNAP Challenge for one week to highlight how critical this lifeline is for so many families.

An estimated 46.5 million Americans live in poverty; that's 15% of the entire population. Because of those staggering numbers, an estimated 48-million people rely on Food Stamps.

According to the latest statistics from the Health and Human Services website, in October, 18,092 people in Brazos County received food stamps; if you take a closer look inside the Brazos Valley's seven county region, a total of 69,121 people relied on these benefits. But due to recent changes, $39 billion dollars is expected to be slashed from the program over the next decade.

The Brazos Valley Food Bank gave me a budget to start my challenge with $31.50 per week, which is the amount we were told, a single person would receive before the November 1, 2013 cuts took place.

According to the Snap Challenge Rules, I couldn't eat food that I had purchased prior to starting the challenge and I had to avoid accepting free food from friends, family.

I took a grocery shopping trip to Village Foods off 29th and Briarcrest in Bryan to see how I’d fare with only $29.40 for the entire week. I knew I had to have a plan, so one thing that really helped me was writing out an organized meal- plan list for the week: Based on the foods I eat regularly each week, I knew exactly what meals I would make that would last me all week.

Food stamps are meant to supplement income, however for some who don’t have a job, that assistance is all they have for the whole week. Theresa Mangapora said, “Food stamps are only meant for food. You cannot buy cigarettes, toiletries, diapers, or soap.”

I brought a calculator inside the grocery store with me to help guide me and tally up my list so that I wouldn’t go over on my grocery bill. When it came time for check out, I actually spent $27.16, which was $4.34 less than my budget.

After my trip I contacted Meghan Windham, a registered dietician and nutritionist at Texas A&M to grade the items I purchased.

“I would give you a B+,” Windham said. “There are a few things in here that I would recommend a little bit different, but realizing it is on a budge, I think you've done an excellent job here. When you are on a budget, or even on assistance, I think of more of the meals you can stretch further, like spaghetti, but using less meat and more sauce and even using more veggies.

Windham said buying in bulk would also be beneficial.

“Buying things in bulk that you can use continuously; things like canned fruits and vegetables, things like pasta and breads that you can put in the fridge,” Windham said. “Also thinking outside the box making breakfast, like eggs for dinner would help stretch your food and your dollar at the same time.”

Windham went grocery shopping with me a second time and pointed out a few helpful tips.

"When buying bread, if you're buying 'Whole Wheat', make sure to look at the back of the label to see the very first ingredient," Windham said.

The bread that I had purchased when I went shopping by myself said "Wheat Bread", rather than "100% Whole Wheat Bread."

"The first ingredient of the "Wheat" bread you purchased said "bleached" and that's something some people don't recognize," Windham sais. "Just because the bread says wheat, does not mean it's 100%. So it's very important to pay attention to the label. Just because you are on a budget, doesn't mean you cannot eat healthy."

But here's the caveat.

In November, the government made a 5% cut for those receiving SNAP benefits, which means my $4.50 per day has now been cut to $4.20 per day.

“For the average person they'd be losing on average about $11 on their grocery bill each month,” said Theresa Mangapora, Executive Director of the Brazos Valley Food Bank.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the SNAP program, a family of four will receive $36 less each month because of the reduction; and a household of eight would see benefits reduced $65 a month. That may not sound like a whole heck of a lot to the average person, but Theresa Mangapora says for someone who relies on the benefits, it means less food and more strategic planning at the grocery store.

“I think it's just stressful. That's the word I would use,” Mangapora said. “People who are food insecure household think about food more than the rest of us. And they're not thinking, 'oh what am I going to eat today because I'm craving this,' it’s more of, literally, 'what am I going to eat?' “

It's a change that will make the most vulnerable families even more vulnerable.

According to the Health and Human Services Website, Montgomery County has the highest number of food stamp recipients for the month of October in our seven-county region with 36,000 recipients. Brazos County comes in second with a little more than 18,000 recipients; and Grimes County is third with 3,000.

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