GOP shopper: It’s a SNAP to live on reduced food stamp allotment

A food fight erupted over a House farm bill Tuesday, with a handful of Democrats and a Republican aide wrangling over the cost of groceries.

About 30 Democrats launched a “SNAP Challenge,” intended to show that proposed cuts to food stamps would leave families unable to feed themselves.

EATING WELL: Donny Ferguson said he ate just fine on $31.50 a week.

EATING WELL: Donny Ferguson said he ate just fine on $31.50 a week.

The Democrats claimed that the $31.50 weekly allotment from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the House farm bill in inadequate – and attempted to prove their point by living on that amount.

Republican skeptics countered that the Democrats intentionally bought overpriced food and shopped at high-priced chains to make it appear that proposed SNAP cuts go too far.

Donny Ferguson, agriculture policy adviser to Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, said he was able to buy enough food to eat well for a week on just $27.58.

“I wanted to personally experience the effects of the proposed cuts to food stamps.  I didn’t plan ahead or buy strategically, I just saw the publicity stunt and made a snap decision to drive down the street and try it myself.  I put my money where my mouth is, and the proposed food stamp cuts are still quite filling,” said Ferguson.

“We can cut the proposed benefits by an additional 12.4 percent and still be able to eat for a week,” said Ferguson.  “Not only am I feeding myself for less than the SNAP Challenge, I will probably have food left over.”

What food is left over at the end of the week will be donated to a food bank, along with the $3.92 Ferguson had left over from the $31.50 SNAP Challenge figure.

Ferguson said he did not use coupons our other discount programs.

“I could have bought even more food per person if I were splitting $126 four ways, instead of budgeting $31.50 to eat for one” said Ferguson. “I could have bought cheaper vegetables instead of prepared red beans and rice, but I like red beans and rice.”

Ferguson purchased his food at the Dollar Tree and Shopper’s Food Warehouse located in the 6100 block of Little River Turnpike in Alexandria.  It is served by Metrobus and within bike and walking distance of public housing.

For $21.55, Ferguson purchased at Dollar Tree:

Two boxes of Honeycomb cereal

Three cans of red beans and rice

Jar of peanut butter

Bottle of grape jelly

Loaf of whole wheat bread

Two cans of refried beans

Box of spaghetti

Large can of pasta sauce

Two liters of root beer

Large box of popsicles

24 servings of Wyler’s fruit drink mix

Eight cups of applesauce

Bag of pinto beans

Bag of rice

Bag of cookies

For $6.03 at the Shoppers Food Warehouse next door Ferguson bought a gallon of milk and a box of maple and brown sugar oatmeal.

Earlier this month, the Senate approved a farm bill that would trim nutrition assistance by $4 billion out of nearly $800 billion over 10 years. The House version, which is being debated, cuts $20 billion over the same period.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org and chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at kenric@watchdogvirginia.org

Published with permission from Watchdog.org

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Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a seasoned journalist with experience as a daily newspaper reporter, newsroom editor and online political writer. Kenric has worked at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers and numerous state and national awards for investigative articles ranging from business to education to politics.
About Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a seasoned journalist with experience as a daily newspaper reporter, newsroom editor and online political writer. Kenric has worked at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers and numerous state and national awards for investigative articles ranging from business to education to politics.

  • paulene roark

    I notice that in the food list purchased, there was no meat. Federal Food and Nutrition programs state that a meat portion is required for a well balanced meal. He going to buy enough meat for 21 meals with 3 dollars and some change?? NO, someone is going hungry.

    • Martha

      Pauline, if you read the list closely, he purchased beans and rice, which when eaten together, form nutritional value like that of protein. Having pointed that out, I've stood in line at the grocery store and watched foodstamp users with GOLD teeth, tattoos, piercing and NEW I=phones buying steaks with their foodstamps and then going outside to get in their brand new cars. Pretty disheartening for people like me WHO ACTUALLY WORK and buy less=costly cuts of meat. But then, I'm not a moocher like some people. These people want to buy meat, they can get a job like the rest of us.

      • Duane

        Hello,

        I understand what you are saying. I say if those that get issued food stamps want to be stupid and use it for lobster so what. It means less for everything else.

      • m

        I agree I've seen people with food stamps and they eat better than a lot of people I know that aren't on food stamps, that work for a living. I think these people should have to use their brains and buy things on sale not the prime food they have been.

      • sick of judgemental

        I am sick of people like you judging everyone on food stamps based on what you've seen a few do. I work and am on food stamps. I don't drive a new car, I drive an eight year old van that I take very good care of. I don't buy expensive cuts of meat or seafood, but I could not live on what he bought and neither could he. He says he could eat that stuff but I guarantee you he doesn't. He probably eats filet and delmonicos, especially with the inflated salaries they pay themselves. I want to see them live on our incomes and then tell me he can afford a cut in his food budget. I have bills just like everyone else. You should stop and think before you judge people. There will always be people who abuse the system, but that doesn't mean that everyone does.

        • Don M

          You're right not everyone abuses the system. BUT that doesn't mean we shouldn't make the system smart enough to get rid of those that do. That we shouldn't prosecute them for fraud and eliminate them from the system, so more can be given to those that DO actually NEED the assistance, that use it responsibly and for it's intended purpose.

        • Spencer

          Sick of Judgemental people :::: I think this person over spent for the food he listed. I live alone, [ I do have a nice 50 lb dog ] my grocery bill has been less than 100 dollars a month for the last year. I buy good food [ bags of beans, peas, rice, corn meal, bags of pasta, very few can goods. I also buy some marked down cuts of beef, pork and chicken in family size packs. My most expensive weekly expense is milk, [ for 75 years I have loved milk ] I use about 5 gallons of milk a month, bought in gallon jugs. I buy large bags of cornflakes ect, and bigger boxes of oatmeal. I eat better now than when I had a wife that spent over 100 per week for the two of us. I do not like to eat out, but do maybe every 3 or 4 months. I am about 40 pounds overweight still, so I must be getting enough nourishment. At almost 76 I can work as much as some of the 25 , 30 year old fast food nourished baby fat kids. I was raised in a enviroment where we ate for nourishment, not glamor and bragging rights.

      • Michael

        The I Phone were paid for under the ObamaPhone program.

      • Libertylady

        Not to mention the custom-done artificial nails with all the bling. Wasteful. Trash.

        And getting behind a fat black woman with multiple ill-mannered kids, her rolls of fat hanging out underneath her tight tank top, who has obviously been on some kind of welfare for 20 years, who STILL doesn't know what her EBT card covers and what it doesn't, doesn't count her money for the extras before she comes to the store, then has to put stuff back, then gets in a fight with the poor cashier, to intimidate her into putting stuff on the card anyway, and then makes everybody behind her wait 1/2 hour while their frozen food melts in the basket.

        Oh YEAH, so DONE with this crap.

    • SamJS

      He could have passed on the Honeycomb cereal, cans of pre-made red beans and rice, the bottle of grape jelly, rootbeer, popsicles, and fruit drink mixes as well as the cans of refried beans. Refried beans are Pinto Beans mashed up, and he has a bag to make his own, doesn't need the extra cash spent on cans just to save self from mashing. With the money saved from those purchases could have bought a small roast and chicken which would be enough for serving of meat every day. Still would have money left to buy bag of red beans and bit bigger bag of rice and still got that for week as well.

      A little cash saved could also get you a fishing license, a way to add fresh fish to your menu one or two days a week. Also can plant small gardens to give you access to fresh vegetables every day. Many vegetables can be grown in small containers, do well and don't require a lot of care.

      • Spencer

        SamJS: Yes you state it correctly. A small crock pot to roast a marked down 5 dollar roast will give almost a weeks worth of meat. It will give a lot of good broth to make a bunch of beans, peas , and rice better. I buy loaf bread for .99 and sometime 1.38 24 oz size, instead of the designer bread for 2.60, all made form same wheat. I do splurge each month and buy a bag of 2.74 froze biscuits, I like biscuits and gravy made with the small amounts of left over meats.

    • suzannarosannadanna

      I agree with pauline. all carbs, no nutrition and no protein. I wish he would have bout a couple cartons of eggs and a big bag of oatmeal instead of the cereal. And some canned veggies, butter and sea salt instead of the bread and rootbeer. Add some cheese/cottage cheese and canned fish for the drink mix. get some crackers to put the goodies on and he probably would have felt fantastic.

      What he had was what we refer to in my house as a high carb butt kickin. <3

    • Edward

      How can you have any pudding, if you don't eat your meat?

    • JASON S

      Both beans and peanut butter are both good sources of protein. No need for the meat.

    • http://facebook nadine

      You are right, someone will go hungry. I work and work hard for little pay, I get fs and I shop things on sale, use coupons or discounted only. I don't waste my fs and stock up on soups and things like that. Some of these places the people are talking about buying food at, many are from Mexico and China and are really nasty tasting items, old often and outdated. I have tried to buy some of them and threw stuff out because they were so old. You can find some things, but I didn't see fresh vegetables, fruits, chicken or turkey or fish or lean meats… milk, juices Some of the stores do not take fs's at all. I have to pay cash the last 1+ week for food. See, I work and make my own meals, sandwiches and left overs. I cannot afford to buy fast foods and so on. I spend $200 a month plus cash and buy extra items of soups, mac and cheese, rice and ham helpers…. Maybe getting fs's should depend on if someone is actually looking for work for real or actually trying and working at any and every job they can. I know many people I work with, the homeless, where half are willing and able and wanting to work and others, the younger ones or those who have been unemployed or sick or users for so long, they want to work or have given up. I think farm subsidies, alternative energy subsidies and so on should be discontinued. Let the farmers decide what they want to grow and sell… let the oil and gas companies do their thing too. Government needs to get out of the health care and banking business along with dictating what we can or cannot do or eat or grow or say or which religion we can openly practice…. Screening and over sites need to be done in many of these Fed agencies and I believe that states should be running more of what the Fed's are or contracting out to the private sector who can manage this program, education, daycare, health care… more efficiently and cost effective. The food stamp program cuts will hurt a lot of families and individuals because the "con and scam artists, fraud and liars" will always find a way to abuse any program any where especially when the government is in control because they have no controls or monitoring programs that are so full of red tape and regulations that no one understands or follows.

      • richardc

        Nadine, that is one of the best responses I have seen. I have worked in the grocery retail business for 15 years and would say that the stereotyping of the SNAP benefits recipients is tending to be more accurate over the last 10 or so years. That said, I do believe that many people on the program could genuinely use a helping hand to get things turned around for themselves. I also know that many states use the SNAP benefits program to subsidize foster families in order for them to be able to financially support their foster children. Sadly enough I see that the majority of those receiving these benefits are abusing the system which likely causes people who could actually benefit from and actually need those benefits to keep from getting them because they do not want to be grouped with those who are defrauding the system. I have also seen firsthand how some people are milking any assistance they can get. While delivering Christmas presents for a homeless shelter I would go into the people's homes to bring their presents and see Flat screen TVs, Xboxes and Playstations. I couldn't believe it, the people that lived in those houses I was serving acted completely indifferent to the presents I was bringing (at their request). Every once in a while I would go into a home where it was very evident that the presents and food I was bringing was needed, and at those homes, the people were slightly ashamed they needed help and were overly gracious for the assistance.

        I would venture to guess that the Feds could cut spending on the SNAP benefits program, hire an outside firm to oversee the delegation of benefits in order to eliminate fraud and increase the amount of benefits that the non-fraudulent recipients receive. I would also venture to guess that those who need the assistance problem have more issues going on than just needing some help with groceries. Many times there is a lack of education including college degrees that could be addressed. Instead of stringing a little assistance out over a long period of time, many times decades, if there were more of an effort to correct the underlying problem in 2 – 4 years you could help the people become self sufficient which would be beneficial to them as well as the tax payers. That is exactly why these programs should be operated by private sector firms who can give one on one attention to each person who needs assistance instead of just throwing money at the problem. They would probably discover that people need less help than what they are getting. They might discover that somebody who has been receiving benefits for 3 years actually only needs to take another 4 or 5 classes in college to finish a degree but for one reason or another had to quit school and are now stuck with an entry level low paying job. For what the government has spent in one benefit it could have used for another and fix the problem. That is exactly why big government is not the answer, they cannot even keep a budget themselves, just look at the Senate and Congress banking scandals where representatives bounced millions of dollars in cheques (checking accounts) without any repercussions. This is America, the greatest country in that has ever existed, we can do far better than what is being done now. The problem is the government is designed to create more people dependent on the government. Look, let's find more ways to help, really help, those who need it and penalize those who are trying to defraud the system. It would be far more beneficial to everyone if that were done instead of sticking our head in the sand and keeping things the way they are. You would probably also find that it is far cheaper to fix the problem instead of treating a symptom.

        Just my two cents worth, and a pipe dream!

  • paulene roark

    are you having spaghetti every night for dinner and maybe red beans and rice for dinner on the weekend? and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch all 7 days..you are a joke if you think this would fly for more than a week or two

    • Martha

      They don't like it, they can go get a job and make enough money for a menu with more variety. Maybe the monotony of the foods affordable to them would encourage them to do so.

      • Aint2nuts

        Oh it is SOO easy to say, and so difficult to do. Especially for seniors, children and the disabled like me – maybe a seperate program for those people?

      • Edward

        God is going to curse you Martha in the end you will be doomed to eat what you can't, and after you retire be forced to greet people in walmart. I curse everything you stand for trash.

    • John

      Get a job and work like the rest of us!

      • Edward

        Us google the jobs Right now, and unemployment in your area.Knucklehead wise up John!

        • Allison

          Edward, before you insult Martha and John, perhaps you should consider that if people like them weren't working and thus providing tax dollars/funding for food stamps, you wouldn't have anything to eat at all.

    • Lisa

      I don't get SNAP and we eat like this everyday, as a matter of fact I have had Brown beans and corn bread 4 days this week and pasta the rest of the time. Family of 6 trying to live on 40k is difficult.

      • Edward

        Let pride Kill you, and your fat children.

    • http://facebook christine

      took bad get a job if you want more …..THIS IS THE POINT

    • JASON S

      Guess you have never been poor. Otherwise you would know how dumb this comment sounds. Besides, many people around the world eat beans and/or rice everyday. Your logic is not solid. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich everyday for lunch is better than what my grandparents had growing up if they even had breakfast or lunch. It never included meat.

    • http://facebook nadine

      So true. I think many people need to take a month and life on what they think others should do. They also need to count every penny and I think they would find out, they don't know a lot.

  • Terri L. Adams

    It isn't easy. Thank goodness for Publix "buy one get one free" specials. I ONLY buy what's specially priced. This creates a glut of some foods and it takes a while to balance meals, but it is possible to feed familes on food stamp allotments. No Cheetos or tv dinnets (I don't think anything but fresh meats and produce should be allowed like a WIC program). Don't forget – these kids are getting free breakfast and lunch, too

  • denis

    You are free to feed yourself you want something u are free to go and buy it w ur own money not mine.

  • Karen

    I think he did pretty good on less than 31.50 a week. For protein, he could have added eggs, but if he was doing a vegetarian menu, looks pretty good. OH and BTW, I have lived on $25 a week, and I wasn't on food stamps nor was I eligible– I made just over what the allowable amount was. I got really good at pinching pennies and when to shop so I caught the marked down items. Soup, stews and casseroles are your friends and while it isn't pretty, it is very doable. I agree with the PP about SNAP being like WIC–I think that would be a better use of the money.

  • June Lamson

    Not a very healthy menu…just saying.

    • Aint2nuts

      I agree. Apple sauce and spaghetti sauce does NOT equal fruits and vegetables in the amount a child needs or the variety — much less an adult.

  • Amy B

    I work full time. My husband works full time and we have 3 teenage boys living at home. If I have to find a way to feed my family for LESS than what food stamp recipients are receiving then SO CAN THEY!

    Here's a thought – stop taxing me to pay for them and I will be able to feed my family better. You know, out of my paycheck, that thing you get when you work for it.

    • http://mcbluefire.blogspot.com Marc

      Amen, Amy.

    • sick of judgemental

      Some of us don't have 40,000 a year jobs. I am a single parent with 2 kids in my house I make 20,000 a year and work every day, so if I need help feeding my family I don't feel bad. I have put my tax dollars in the system for 28 years and I don't feel bad for getting a little bit of it back.

  • James Huff

    Many times I've seen morbidly obese people use their food stamps to purchase several extra-large pizzas! Government policy is sending people to their early graves…

  • Peter

    There is something that isn't taken into consideration here. These stores don't exist in every community. there are millions of Americans who live in rural area's where there are no cheap stores to buy food within 60 miles. I do a majority of my shopping at the local grocery outlet where I live, Which has only been open a couple years. My dad and step mom live in Mullan Idaho where the closest Dollar tree is about 50 miles away and it's over the Fourth of July pass which during the winter can be closed on a moments notice due to weather conditions.

  • Grush

    Wait! I see a problem here. A list like this means someone will actually be required to know how to cook. Where are the "ready-to-eat" and microwavable items?!?

    • Leon

      What a lot of people here are not taking into consideration is while SNAP is a federal program it is state run and what is legal in one state may not be in another.I understand in Californa You can buy prepared foods like McDonalds or pizza with a SNAP card!Not so here in ct., Can't even take advantage of the local grocery stores "Daily Special" prepared meals that most often sell for less than the combined ingredients if you bought separately then went home and cooked them.The stupidest part is that you can't buy the meal hot ready to eat BUT let that same whole roasted "Pre cooked"chicken be in the cooler across the Isle at the exact same price and you can buy it! I don't know of a Dollar Store here that takes SNAP cards either also no one is thinking of different cost per region "Cheap Hamburg" here right now is 3.99 per pound and as for Obeast people on SNAP every cheap stretchabele food like Rice,Pasta,Potatoes,Hamburg,Hot Dogs,Etc.just add starches and weight so no surprise SNAP people might be fat!I'd like to see a real hospital dietitian put together a menu for 1 week on the allotted amount that is a proper "healthy " diet! In Ct. I just read that SNAP allows 4.21 per person per day that's for 3 meals, The director of the best outreach program in our area just tried to live a week on what SNAP allows here and couldn't do it These are the people trying to teach you how to make it! Let me tell you they run a fine program that really cares about those in need, She just decided that to better understand and help She should "Walk a mile in their shoes". As for "Growing your own" being able to buy seed with SNAP means nothing if you don't have knowledge to maintain a garden or can food or a freezer big enough to store you crop for long term Bushels and bushels of fresh veggies in August (If your that lucky) Means NOTHING in November if you can't process it and forget trying to sell it at farmers market to stretch your budget becauise then you have made income and must by law report it to SNAP which will now reduce your SNAP benefit,Don't report it and get caught and loose SNAP entirely and maybe pay a fine or do jail time besides!