Newark Mayor Booker’s food stamp challenge could offer incomplete understanding of SNAP experience

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Rising Democratic star Newark Mayor Cory Booker is living on a food stamp budget for a week to raise awareness and better understand the plight of the more than 47 million Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The mayor began his highly publicized “Food Stamp Challenge” on Tuesday, eating for a week only what he could buy with $29.78, while documenting his journey and struggles on social media.

According to Booker’s office, his goal is to “raise awareness and understanding of food insecurity; reduce the stigma of SNAP participation; elevate innovative local and national food justice initiatives and food policy; and amplify compassion for individuals and communities in need of assistance.”

While the mayor is trying to experience life as a SNAP enrollee, his simulation might not offer a complete picture of the benefit.

Parke Wilde, a professor in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, recently explained to a University of Minnesota Food Thought blog that SNAP is just meant to supplement people’s food budgets — not cover the entire spread, as Booker is attempting to do this week.

The United States Department of Agriculture sets participants’ monthly SNAP allotment by calculating the cost of a month of healthy food purchases, or a “thrifty food plan.” According to its website, the USDA expects that households will spend 30 percent of their net income on food and subtracts that number from the monthly maximum allowance — which in the case of a single person is $200.

Given that Booker’s monthly SNAP benefit would be about $119, the USDA’s model assumes that he would be spending $81 per month of his own income on food, or about $22 extra dollars weekly.

Further, based on the United States Department of Agriculture’s criteria for calculating SNAP benefits, an individual claiming $29.78 in weekly SNAP benefits would be making an estimated annual income of $3,235, according to staffers on the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee.

The calculated income does not, however, include additional federal benefits, such as tax credits, deductions, housing assistance, and the like — which as staffers told The Daily Caller, can be thousands of dollars — especially if Booker had a child in his simulation. In that case, he could qualify for more than $25,000 in federal benefits, even if his household income was four times as high.

To be sure, there are others who note that the week-long simulation is not nearly long enough to fully understand the struggles of low-income individuals.

“If I don’t have food stamps, I get my daughter dinner and I don’t eat,” SNAP participant Heather Tarrant, a 34-year-old waitress, told MSNBC, which reported that she runs out of her monthly SNAP money after the first three weeks of the month.

ABC News reported that a study released this week found that a third of Americans either went hungry or worried about somebody near to them going hungry this year.

Watch Booker’s Day 1 Reflections:

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