On Wednesday, in recognition of National Hunger Awareness Day, Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04) announced that he is taking the Food Stamp Challenge -- living on $31.50 worth of food for a week, the average weekly benefit for a food stamp recipient.
Rep. Johnson begins the weeklong challenge today to highlight his opposition to the proposed $20 billion in harmful and fiscally irresponsible cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is part of the FY2014 Farm Bill.
"I think a lot of people have a misperception that being on food stamps is somehow a gravy train," said Johnson. "But that couldn't be further from the truth. It's hard to find nutritional food on such a limited budget. There are millions of people in the United States who go hungry every day and who rely on food stamps to get by. Taking the challenge not only highlights hunger in our country, it also gives me a better understanding of the daily reality of millions of Americans," said Johnson.
Approximately 22,000 people in the Fourth District -- which encompasses parts of DeKalb, Rockdale, Gwinnett and Newton counties -- are enrolled in the Food Stamp Program.
Nationally, the program helps more than 45 million low-income people purchase food for themselves and their families. The program is designed as a safety net to help ensure people have access to food during difficult times, with the majority of people leaving the program within nine months. More than half of food stamp recipients are children and eight percent are over 60 years of age.
In addition to raising the visibility of hunger in the United States and creating awareness of the difficulties faced by low income people in obtaining a healthy diet, Congressional participants in the challenge are hoping to build support for improving benefits and access to the food stamp program, which is due to be reauthorized this year as part of the Farm Bill.
Changes to the Food Stamp Program made during the welfare reform legislation in 1996 effectively eroded the purchasing power of food stamps, so while the price of food has increased, the value of the food stamps has not kept pace, resulting in the current average of approximately $1.50 per meal.
"This program provides a critical safety net," said Johnson. "I think it is important for the public to understand how many people rely on this program and just how limited their nutrition options are."
Food insecurity in the Fourth: (the number of people who do not have enough
to eat at some point during the month)
 DeKalb: 148,110 -- 21% of population have incomes below the SNAP poverty threshold
 Gwinnett: 112,180 -- 14% below of population have incomes below the SNAP poverty threshold
 Newton: 18,010 -- 18% of population have incomes below the SNAP poverty threshold
 Rockdale: 15,640 -- 19% of population have incomes below the SNAP poverty threshold
*SNAP poverty threshold = $28,668 of income per year for a family of four.
Rep. Johnson purchased oatmeal, waffles with syrup, hotdogs, bacon, tea and noodles with his $31.50. He tried to buy broccoli, but it pushed him over his weekly budget.