Look in your wallet or peek in your fridge, and ask yourself, “Can I feed my family on $5 day, or just $35 per week?” It may seem absurd on its face, but according to area politicians taking part in the weeklong “Food Stamp Challenge,” that hypothetical is the reality for thousands of Philadelphians who may be impacted when the state implements the so-called asset test for individuals and families who receive food stamps — or SNAP — benefits.
Congressman Bob Brady and Mayor Michael Nutter joined state Representative Tony Payton Jr., Senator Vincent Hughes and other elected officials at the Parkside ShopRite on 52nd Street near Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia to bring attention to the plight of SNAP recipients and to implore leaders in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., to repeal the asset test.
“This is a bit redundant, because we only have to do this for a week,” Brady said, “but there are families who have to do this for much longer than a week. There is also the nutrition factor, with our kids getting sick,” by not eating properly due to SNAP cuts already in place. “I want to demonstrate just how hard it is for struggling families to feed their families day after day. I know that $5 a day isn’t enough for three square meals. I don’t think $35 will be enough for a week’s worth of meals that are healthy, nutritious and not just filling.
“I’d like to take this to Washington, to have some of my fellow colleagues take this test.”
The officials present were in unison, deriding Governor Tom Corbett’s measures as cruel.
“It’s just mean-spirited to attack children, to attack those with low income. Why would we cut the benefits to the most needy?” asked Nutter, who arrived at the ShopRite with an itemized list of groceries totaling a little over $34. “SNAP is real important to Philadelphians, and no one should ever be hungry or without food.”
Hughes was disgusted by the very notion of properly feeding a family on $35 in benefits.
“It’s an impossibility to put together a week of nutritious meals on $35; why would we even be considering this in Harrisburg?” Hughes said. “[Corbett] doesn’t have to do this. We can change the policy in May, because this is the wrong thing to do.”
Earlier in the year, Corbett announced the asset test for those receiving SNAP benefits statewide. The asset test is basically an audit of all the possessions of someone receiving SNAP, in order reevaluate his or her worth. The plan, if followed through, will cause a flag to be raised on the SNAP applications of persons with more than $2,500 in savings.
Former governor Ed Rendell stopped the state test in 2008, but Corbett has since decided to reinstate it. Critics have railed against that particular measure, believing that people will spend what little savings they have to get fit SNAP’s new guidelines, and that act alone will force people to be even more dependent on the state for assistance.
Buying groceries on $35 for one week alone won’t draw much interest, as the challenge participants fully understood that they aren’t really in the shoes of those needing benefits; but a few, like Payton, aren’t too far removed from a similar existence.
“This really illuminates the plight of poor people, and those who have their foot on the necks of poor people,” said Payton, who has dozens of folks stop by his office on a weekly basis, looking for foodstuffs and information on food pantries. “People are hurting. They need to stop these foolish policies.
“This is really a wakeup call to pay attention,” Payton continued, citing Corbett’s recent cuts to education and housing. “There are people making decisions that will impact your life and victimize the poor.”