Right-wing congressman Steve Stockman (R-TX) is calling for billions of dollars in additional cuts to food stamps, after one of his staffers claimed to save money and gain two pounds after taking the “SNAP challenge.”
Last week, a group of House Democrats responded to their Republican colleagues’ plan to cut $20 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — better known as food stamps — by attempting to live for a week on a food budget of just $4.50 per day, to raise awareness about the difficulties of living on SNAP.
In response, Donny Ferguson — Rep. Stockman’s communications director and agriculture policy adviser — decided to take the challenge himself. According to a press release from Stockman’s office, Ferguson “was able to buy enough food to eat well for a week on just $27.58, almost four dollars less than the $31.50 ‘SNAP Challenge’ figure.”
“I wanted to personally experience the effects of the proposed cuts to food stamps. I didn’t plan ahead or buy strategically, I just saw the publicity stunt and made a snap decision to drive down the street and try it myself. I put my money where my mouth is, and the proposed food stamp cuts are still quite filling,” Ferguson said in the statement. “We can cut the proposed benefits by an additional 12.4 percent and still be able to eat for a week.”
“Not only am I feeding myself for less than the SNAP Challenge, I will probably have food left over,” he added.
In the press release, Stockman’s office provided a list of the groceries that Ferguson purchased for his $27.58:
Two boxes of Honeycomb cereal
Three cans of red beans and rice
Jar of peanut butter
Bottle of grape jelly
Loaf of whole wheat bread
Two cans of refried beans
Box of spaghetti
Large can of pasta sauce
Two liters of root beer
Large box of popsicles
24 servings of Wyler’s fruit drink mix
Eight cups of applesauce
Bag of pinto beans
Bag of rice
Bag of cookies
Box of instant oatmeal
The list features a notable lack of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat; the statement from Stockman’s office declined to speculate on the health effects of living on a beans and fruit drink mix diet. This would presumably be a problem for the 47 percent of households receiving SNAP benefits that include a child, however.
“I could have bought cheaper vegetables instead of prepared red beans and rice, but I like red beans and rice,” said Ferguson in the statement. “Folks aren’t buying fast food instead of vegetables because of benefit limits, they’re buying fast food because fast food tastes great and vegetables taste like vegetables.”
According to Stockman’s office, Ferguson’s experiment “debunked” the “left-wing publicity stunt intended to make it appear proposed cuts to food stamps would leave families unable to feed themselves.”
“Democrats have been intentionally buying overpriced food and shopping at high-priced chains to make it appear the cuts go too far,” the statement claims.
In a follow-up statement to Think Progress, Ferguson insisted that he is “feeling great,” and gained two pounds on his SNAP diet. ““As for criticism, liberals issued a challenge and I took them up on it,” he said. “It’s not my fault it backfired on them. Reality has a way of mocking liberalism.”
Reality also has a way of combating Stockman’s talking points. According to the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the average cost of food at home already exceeds the $133.41 that the average SNAP beneficiary receives in a month.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2012 SNAP helped 47 million low-income Americans to afford a nutritionally adequate diet in a typical month. One would think that Stockman, who was once homeless for a full year, would understand the value of food security.
Additionally, the Center for American Progress estimates that every billion dollars cut from SNAP costs the economy 13,781 jobs — meaning that the cuts which Stockman supports could cost over 275,000 jobs.
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