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My Year on Food Stamps and What the Cuts to SNAP Will Mean

With the passing of the Agricultural Act of 2014, I feel it especially important to share my personal story of food insecurity. After long and painful negotiations over our nation’s agricultural and nutrition safety net programs, the Agricultural Act of 2014 has finally passed. Unfortunately, the bill included $8 billion in cuts over the next 10 years to SNAP (formerly Food Stamps). This means that 850,000 low-income households will receive fewer benefits to help them keep food on the table.

I am disappointed by these cuts and recognize that now, more than ever, it's important to share my story.

There are 50 million Americans who struggle with food-insecurity every day. For a year, I was one of them.

I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco, where I was fortunate enough to start and end each day by sharing a meal with my family. I actively participated regularly in service projects with my family and youth groups. I even started a philanthropic event to help fight local hunger in college. I believed in what I was doing, but I was always doing the work for “them,” not realizing that someday it would impact me personally.

After earning my degree from the University of Missouri, I accepted an AmeriCorps position with College Bound, a non-profit in St. Louis that helps highly motivated, under-served high school students prepare for college.

The AmeriCorps position provided a monthly living allowance of about $800, a meager stipend that the program suggested could adequately sustain me. Unfortunately, it really wasn’t enough. So on August 2, 2010, at the age of 22, I went to the Missouri Family Support office to publicly admit that I could not afford to feed myself and needed assistance from SNAP.

My AmeriCorps stipend of $800 was considered a “living allowance” rather than income, so I qualified for the maximum benefit. My monthly $200 would be provided through an Electronic Bank Transfer (EBT) card, which would be automatically recharged with my SNAP benefit at 12:01am on the 6th of each month. I remembered having seen “EBT” as a payment option on pin pads at grocery stores, which I had always thought was interchangeable terminology with “Debit.” I quickly learned that the two were quite different.

Having only $200 a month for food – $50 a week or $7 a day – was definitely challenging. No longer could I browse the grocery store with a list and also pick up extra things that caught my eye. On SNAP, my list had to be strategically planned, and there was no room for items that I hadn’t planned on purchasing. The simple act of grocery shopping itself was indeed profoundly different.

The quality of the food I consumed that year changed too. I did my best to include nutritious foods in all my meals, but fresh foods like fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy are expensive. Who would ever think a package of strawberries would be a luxurious treat that I could rarely afford? By the end of the month, my budget was often so tight that a $0.79 box of mac and cheese was my only option. My commitment to living a healthy lifestyle could no longer be a top priority.

For a year, I was one of the 50 million people in America struggling to make ends meet, and I am humbled by the experience. I never could have imagined that I would ever struggle to put food on the table. I can guarantee that most of my friends and family never would have guessed I would need federal assistance, either. But I did, and I am grateful that SNAP was there to help sustain me when I truly needed it. I’d be willing to bet, whether you know it or not, right now there are people in your life who are grateful for that too.

To protect those who struggle with food-insecurity, speak out to your local legislators about protecting food safety net programs. We need to call upon Congress and the Administration to develop strong and meaningful strategies to address the very real needs of those families and individuals that have been affected by these unjust cuts to SNAP.

Today, I am the Youth Outreach Coordinator for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an organization that is committed to ending hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds. Join MAZON in our fight to end hunger by signing up for our advocacy alerts.

Together, we can transform how it is, into how it should be.

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