The Common Good

Planning for Poverty: The SNAP Challenge

I’ve said before that privilege often is invisible until you don’t have it. So in that light, I’m doing a little experiment in a few days with our family, and I encourage you to join in.

A lot of us never know what it’s like to try and live below the poverty line, and I tend to think the statements we hear about the poor that lack sensitivity for their situation point to this. It’s easy to say things like, “people on public assistance are lazy” (in fact, 47 percent of SNAP recipients are under 18; a majority of the remaining recipients have other income from work, and this doesn’t account for seniors and those who are disabled) and that food stamps are a “free ride” that are so attractive, it keeps people from wanting to work and get off of the assistance.

So let’s find out just how easy it is.

“SNAP” stands for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” which is the new name for food stamps. Basically, families receive $4 a day per family member to cover food costs, so the SNAP challenge is pretty simple (in theory, at least): Live on the same amount with your family for a week.

For a family of four like us, this means we’ll have $112 to spend on all groceries for the week. If you’re single, you’re stuck with living on $28. Couples get $56, and so on. And there are a few ground rules:

  • You can’t raid your existing food in the fridge or cupboard without counting that toward your weekly total. Condiments and spices are an exception, though use them sparingly to be fair.
  • If you go out to eat, the whole ticket amount counts, including tax and tip.
  • If someone brings you a meal or buys you a meal, you have to count the full cost of it as if you had bought it yourself.

My hope is that a few things will come of this. First, we all can use a little reality check from time to time to keep in perspective how incredibly privileged we are, and how much of the rest of the world actually lives. If you think about it, this allowance for food totals just under $1,500 per person, per year. Now, consider that the average worldwide per capita income is $7,000 a year, and that because of the dramatically uneven distribution of wealth in the world, 80 percent of the global population lives on less than that.

We really have no idea on a day-to-day basis what reality is like for much of the world, but maybe this is at least a good start in that direction.

Our family is doing the challenge starting on August 20, and we’ll continue it through the night of August 26. I’m inviting members of our church and all who read this to do the same. Please pledge your commitment to the challenge by posting a simple “I’m in!” comment below. Then spread the word to others and encourage them to join us. I hope that those who have an audience with a blog or other media outlet will talk about the experience and use it as an opportunity to inform people about the challenges of poverty.

Finally, I encourage you to consider what you would normally spend in a week of food (dining out, fast food and ordering in all included) and to donate the difference for that week to a local shelter or food pantry.

If you’re not quite ready to take part, at least commit to following along for the week to see what it’s about. My hope is that this is something we can do as a network of people each year, partly as a spiritual practice, and also as a way to raise both awareness and money.

So, who’s ready to do the SNAP challenge?

Need helpful tips for making this work? Check out resources HERE.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of "Banned Questions About The Bible" and "Banned Questions About Jesus." His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called "PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date."

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