What is the definition of poverty in Pennsylvania?
A yearly income of $10,890 for one person, $22,350 for a household of four.
Clearly, the formula used by the Census Bureau to define poverty grossly understates the real needs of families. Established in 1964, with four modest revisions, the formula sets the poverty level at approximately three times the cost of a “thrifty food basket.” Developed by American economist and statistician Molly Orshansky, this was a meaningful threshold back when when the average family used about one-third of its income for food, but it hasn’t kept pace with the times.
Today the costs of housing, child care, health care and transportation render the food-basket formula hopelessly out of date and dangerously low.The Census Bureau is taking baby steps to revise this one-size-fits-all formula, but it can’t happen fast enough.
Meanwhile, there are those in our government who propose cutting food stamps by $127 billion over the next ten years. Food stamps (AKA the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) put food on the table for more than 45 million Americans this year, more than half of them children. Without SNAP, those millions would have gone hungry and faced serious nutritional and other health issues. Even with SNAP, it’s tight.
Who among us foodies, busy fancying up our mac and cheese with truffles, can imagine what it’s like to live on the food budget of the average food stamp recipient? That’s $31.50 for the week, $1.50 per meal. The hotdog and cola pictured above cost $1.5 at Costco.
Welcome to the Food Stamp Challenge, a personal opportunity to experience the challenges of a food-stamp recipient for one week. There have been many versions of the FSC over the years, and many heart-wrenching news stories written, but I like the one sponsored organized by Jewish Council for Public Affairs and other faith-based anti-poverty advocates because it ties the challenge to action. This Food Stamp Challenge asks participants to spend only $31.50 on food for the week of October 27 through November 3 — and ask their member of Congress to take the challenge with them.
Interested? Here are the Participation Guidelines
1. Each person can only spend a total of $31.50 on food and beverages during the Challenge week – this translates to $4.50 per day, or $1.50 per meal.
2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out must be included in the total spending.
3. During the Challenge, eat only food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).
4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including food at receptions or coffee in the office
5. Please keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.
6. Share your Food Stamp Challenge by writing an op-ed for your local newspaper, blogging, sharing a reflection on the Fighting Poverty with Faith website, advocating for feeding programs, and more.
7. Donate the additional money you would have spent on food during this week to a local food bank or anti-hunger advocacy organization (optional).
Coward and food-lover that I am, I can’t honestly promise that I’m going to do this myself. If I do, you will be the first to know. I can tell you, though, I never forget that for me the challenge is an option, not a necessity.