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Take the food stamp challenge, April 22-28

Oregon Food Bank‘s April Advocacy Alert arrived in the mail at work today. It included an article entitled “Take the food stamp challenge,” which asked for volunteers to sign up to live on a $21 food budget per person for a week, the average food stamp subsidy in Oregon. Starting Sunday April 22, many Oregonians, including our governor, will be learning first hand what it’s like to live for a week on a food budget comparable to those of our state’s most poor and vulnerable.

I received food stamps while I was in college; since I received federal Work-Study funding, I was eligible for $145 a month in food stamps. Not all Oregonians receive the full allotment, which is now around $150/month, since household income levels are used to calculate the subsidy amount. Receiving even $604 a month in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, which is barely enough to cover housing costs, let alone transportation to medical appointments, results in a disproportionate decrease in food stamp benefits–to the extent that some of the formerly homeless people we serve actually regret receiving SSDI, as they can no longer afford food once they have SSDI income used to calculate their portion of their housing expenses and counted against their food stamp benefits.

After reading the announcement, I picked up my phone and called Jeff Kleene at the OFB. I wanted to know how they had arrived at $21 as the entire food budget, when at that rate of subsidy, I know that the household contribution is expected to be about $10/week for food. Jeff told me that they had considered how expensive it is to be poor, and that the costs that participants would incur in pursuit of cheaper food would generally balance out the difference. Many poor people are forced to buy their groceries at the local corner store, which research has shown to be up to 50% more expensive than grocery store prices, or must travel greater distances to find reasonably priced, high-quality food. Participants also will not be worrying about being able to pay utilities, rent, health care, and other basic needs that low-income people are often not able to meet themselves and which daily threaten their ability to obtain food.

After satisfying myself that OFB’s food stamp challenge is based on reasonable assumptions about how low-income households use their money, I told Jeff that I’d do it.

Starting Sunday, I’m going to try to live for a week on a $21 food budget. No cupboard or freezer raids are allowed; what I eat during the week needs to be purchased out of that $21 budget or gotten for free. The one problem I anticipate is that my birthday is on the 30th, and some sort of celebration involving food is likely to happen next weekend. Regardless, I intend to do my best and report in daily.

Care to join? If so, email OFB to let them know, do a blog entry about the challenge to spread the word, and keep us posted on your progress. Any questions can be asked in the comments, and I’ll try to help. Good luck!

Oregon Food Bank Press Release
Take the food stamp challenge” advocacy alert
Email OFB to let them know you’re participating: Contact