Five Lessons Learned During Our Week on Food Stamps

SNAP Challenge-2

By Matt Ferraguto
January 19, 2016

In 2014, 47 million Americans received benefits through the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). On average, these Americans receive $4.40 per person per day to purchase food.
This month, our Leadership NC class was encouraged to attempt the SNAP Challenge, which involves attempting to live on the same food budget as the average SNAP beneficiary for one week.
Here are five lessons my family learned from my experience, after my wife and I and our two children (4 and 6 years old) completed the challenge.
1. It’s difficult not to feel like a tourist. While the cause behind the challenge is noble, I couldn’t help but feel as though we were making light of the actual struggles that millions of families face. That’s in part because I knew at any point I could “cheat” if I wanted to or had to. Still, the experience was meaningful for us and our kids.
2. Having a family makes stretching your food budget a little easier. It was plenty difficult purchasing enough food for the week on our budget of $123.20 (4 people x $4.40/person/day x 7 days) You can see the results of our primary trip to the grocery store in the header image. But I can’t imagine trying to feed one person for a week with only $30.80 ($4.40/person/day x 7 days). Having a family of four enabled us to buy a larger variety of food and meant we did not have to make as many individual meals last multiple days.
3. Giving up food “luxuries” is hard. At the beginning of the week, I didn’t have enough money for both coffee and Diet Coke, so I chose morning coffee and gave up Diet Cokes (my one true addiction) for the week. And I had to forego any office snacks (which are plentiful) during the day as well, so we were all more noticeably hungry by the time we got home at night.
4. It must be very difficult as a parent to explain food limitations to your child. I had a hard enough time convincing my children that they had to choose between the two generic cereals we’d purchased (they’re used to a selection of at least five or six kinds of brand-name cereals). I can only imagine how painful it must be to explain to a child that we simply can’t afford enough food for that day.
5. No matter how well you plan, it’s easy to run out of food and money. After the first grocery run, we left ourselves with a cushion of $49 for the week, thinking that was plenty to cover any additional food we needed. It wasn’t — we ran out of money (and bread and cereal) on day 6. It turns out that’s the reality many families living on SNAP assistance face. In fact, a recent study found that hospitalizations spike at the end of the month, when families may have exhausted their budget.
As you may know, North Carolina has one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the nation, and that problem is even worse among children. In fact, 1 in 4 children (26.1%) in our state struggle with hunger on a regular basis.
The good news is that individuals can make a difference. North Carolina has seven Feeding America Food Banks, which are the backbone of our state’s hunger relief efforts, supporting thousands of shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens, and schools.
Interested in fighting hunger in your community? Find the food bank closest to you and volunteer or make a financial contribution.
Matt Ferraguto is the Client Services Director at Eckel & Vaughan, a strategic communications agency based in Raleigh. He is also a member of Leadership NC’s Class XXIII.

What happens when a family runs out of food stamps


By Emily Badger December 9, 2015

Toward the end of every month, hospitals in California see a curious uptick in admissions for hypoglycemia, the kind of low blood sugar that can affect diabetics. The pattern, detected in a recent study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, is almost entirely driven by low-income patients. The non-poor don’t show much change in admissions at all.

The researchers suspect this trend may point to an underlying challenge for the poor: Food stamps, given out in a lump sum at the start of each month, run out for many families before they reach the end of it. Grocery stores in poor neighborhoods often report a rise in business when food stamps are electronically debited, and hospitals may see the result when they run out.

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Food stamps will soon require 20 hours of work or classes in NC


Food stamp recipients in North Carolina soon will lose benefits unless they prove they’re working, volunteering or taking classes for at least 20 hours a week.

That federal requirement – which applies to adults under 50 who don’t have children – was suspended in 2008 as the recession hit and unemployment rates rose. But the exemption ended Jan. 1 for 23 mostly urban counties across the state, including Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg.

While the 77 other counties are seeing a slower economic recovery and could continue the federal exemption, the state legislature acted last year to restore the work and education requirement statewide starting July 1.

The change affects 115,000 North Carolinians who will have to document work, volunteer or education activities or lose their food stamp benefits. Recipients can still get up to three months of benefits without meeting the requirement.
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Unemployed People Are Getting Kicked Off Food Stamps

WASHINGTON — If you’re a working-age person without a job, a disability or a kid, then soon you’re not going to have access to food stamps, either. In another sign of eroding sympathy for the jobless amid a tepid economic recovery, states are restricting benefits for the unencumbered unemployed. Indiana is next.
Earlier this year, the Hoosier State notified roughly 50,000 of the state’s 836,000 food stamp recipients that they would be getting the boot come October unless they met work requirements set by the 1996 federal welfare reform law. That Gingrichian measure requires childless adults without disabilities to work 20 hours a week in order to qualify for more than three months of food stamp benefits. More at:

House Budget Would Slash SNAP by $125 Billion Over Ten Years

Food Stamp shopperBy Dorothy Rosenbaum and Brynne Keith-Jennings
March 20, 2015
Food Assistance
SNAP Federal Legislation and Policy
The House Budget Committee’s budget plan would convert the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) into a block grant beginning in 2021 and cut funding steeply — by $125 billion (34 percent) between 2021 and 2025.[1] Cuts of this magnitude would end food assistance for millions of low-income families, cut benefits for millions of households, or some combination of the two. The prior Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, proposed similarly deep SNAP cuts in each of the last four House budgets. Read more at

Do America’s Hungry Children Matter?

Child lunchJanuary 21, 2015 by Mariana Chilton

In President Obama’s State of the Union address last night he asserted that American children really do matter to our nation’s top politicians. “I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood — your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids.”

2015 was supposed to be the year when America ended its child hunger crisis. That was the promise then-president-elect Barack Obama made during his first campaign in 2008.

At that time some 12.4 million children lived in homes that self-reported as food insecure — in other words, they couldn’t afford enough food for an active and healthy life. Today there are 15.8 million such children.

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USDA Says Most Likely Reason to Apply for SNAP is Recent Loss of Income

Food Stamp shopper

A food stamps success story

Food Bank DockBY MILES CORAK December 10, 2014

It is an understatement to say that the welfare reforms of the 1990s were intended to give a little spring to the social safety net.

The intention was much more radical. The reforms involved a major make-over of income support, and turning what was imagined as a net ensnarling many Americans behind a welfare wall, into a springboard that would incentivize work and allow them to ride a wave of prosperity to higher incomes that would lift their children out of poverty.

But this kind of reform is hardly what is needed when times turn bad.

The only virtue of a trampoline when employment falls by more than 8 million, when the unemployment rate more than doubles, and when median incomes drop by over $10,000, is that it catches you on the way down. More at:

Program connects farmers and struggling families

Farmer's marketBy Virginia Bridges, December 16, 2014

RALEIGH — For years, Britt Farms has resisted taking payment from recipients of the modern equivalent of food stamps.

“It was so expensive and hard to do,” said Jennifer Britt, who oversees sales for the Mount Olive farm that sells vegetables and produce from the State Farmers Market in Raleigh.

But earlier this month, farm owners Jennifer and Vernon Britt listened to a 30-minute spiel and then got in line to sign up for free equipment that would allow them to accept credit, debit and Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program funds, commonly referred to as SNAP, through Electronic Benefit Transfers.

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Employment in NC still below 2007 levels

The Progressive Pulse

by Alexandra Sirota  November 26, 2014


In December 2007, just as the Great Recession started, 62 percent of North Carolina’s working-age population was employed. As of October 2014, employment had fallen to 56.5 percent as measured by the employment to population ratio.

Despite the important milestone Employment Levels in USof replacing all the jobs lost during the Great Recession, North Carolina still has not reached pre-recession employment levels.

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