Yesterday, Newark Mayor Cory Booker finished his widely publicized “SNAP Challenge,” during which he subsisted solely on meals he could prepare on an average week’s worth of SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits – which works out to about $1.40 a meal. While certainly difficult, the SNAP Challenge cannot mimic the actual experience of receiving and surviving on SNAP benefits; as others have pointed out, the exercise cannot simulate the “psychic costs” or cumulative effects of living in poverty: hunger, insecure housing, and inadequate healthcare. Moreover, participants in the challenge are neither subject to the often taxing application and recertification processes nor the burden of actually using an EBT card. Ensuring that a given store accepts SNAP; separating eligible food items from ineligible purchases; and enduring the perceived stigma of using an EBT card in the checkout line are all aspects of participating in the program that the SNAP Challenge cannot encapsulate.
Nevertheless, the challenge can play an important role in bringing attention to SNAP’s low benefit levels, as recently documented in a new report by the Food Research and Action Center. Furthermore, efforts like Booker’s can stimulate national conversation about the experience of using SNAP, with the voices of families that have participated in the program often the strongest in revealing both its crucial importance and its structural shortcomings.