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Santa Fe New Mexican - Surviving on $4.50 a day

Op-Ed

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

By Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Last week, I lived on just $4.50 worth of food a day. It wasn't some fad diet or summer weight-loss scheme. I joined dozens of my congressional colleagues in the SNAP Challenge. We limited ourselves to the weekly food budget of the 442,000 New Mexicans, half of whom are children, who receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. We wanted to highlight the vital importance of food assistance and prevent Congress from inflicting cruel cuts on children, working families, seniors, the disabled and veterans.

Our efforts worked, for now. I voted with most of my colleagues in the U.S. House to reject a farm bill that would have cut $20 billion from the SNAP program. We need to pass a farm bill, because New Mexico's ranchers and farmers need the tools to provide American consumers with a safe and affordable food supply. But I could not support a bill that would take food out of the mouths of New Mexicans in need. Families in my district don't want these SNAP cuts, and until now, nutrition programs were never unfairly singled out for budget cuts.

The day before my SNAP Challenge started, I went to a local grocery store to purchase my food for the week. With just $31.50 in hand, I browsed the aisles, trying to find enough food to last me the entire week.

After nearly an hour of shopping, I anxiously waited for the cashier to ring up my items. My final tally: $31.12 -- just under budget. For the seven days, I'd be living mostly on rice, beans (I am from New Mexico, after all), pasta, peanut butter sandwiches, Top Ramen (which I swore I'd never eat again after law school), six eggs, a few pieces of fruit and a small package of ground beef. Notably missing from my purchase were vegetables. I couldn't afford any.

By happenstance, I suffered a sports-related injury during my SNAP Challenge. I visited a doctor, who recommended that I increase my vitamin and protein intake to help me recover. If it were any other week, I would have followed these instructions without thinking twice. But I had already run out of all of the fruit and nearly all of the protein I purchased for the week. So I would have to wait until the next week to follow my doctor's orders. But those on food assistance aren't so lucky. If a child on SNAP broke a leg or caught pneumonia, how would she heal on just processed foods and carbohydrates?

During this long week, I thought about how I only had to feed myself. If I had a teenager at home, I don't know how I could feed them on just $4.50 a day. I would probably skip meals so they wouldn't have to go to school and try to learn on an empty stomach. In a state where 1 in 3 children already suffer from chronic hunger -- the worst in the nation -- this is a sacrifice that many parents in New Mexico make every day.

What did I learn from my SNAP Challenge? It's certainly possible to live on a SNAP budget, but it's impossible to feed yourself or your family healthy, nutritious food. My SNAP Challenge lasted just one week, but the hunger challenges facing far too many New Mexicans last for months or even years. We should be working to expand nutrition assistance, not cut it. Nobody in this country, the richest on Earth, should ever go hungry.


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