A total food budget of $4.50 a day may be tough to swallow, but Congresswoman Jackie Speier plans to try.
Starting Monday, the Peninsula Democrat will begin a five-day challenge to live on a food stamp budget.
Participants, including faith leaders, anti-poverty groups, students and eight members of Congress, hope the Food Stamp Challenge will instill empathy, which they say is especially critical with Congress considering deep cuts to the $64 billion federal program.
With the poverty rate "at a historic high of over 15 percent," Speier said she wants to "experience firsthand how a growing number of Americans are forced to live in this tough economy."
Californians on food stamps received an average monthly benefit last year of $136.75 -- a bit more than $32 a week or roughly $4.50 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also known as CalFresh in California.
"I believe that it is unconscionable to make cuts to programs that feed America’s poor and our nation’s children during the height of an economic crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland. “We must fight against any efforts to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans."
Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP provides more than 3.6 million Californians with benefits to help them purchase food for them and their families.
SNAP benefits can be used to buy foods such as breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meats, fish, and poultry.
Benefits cannot be used to purchase food consumed onsite, hot foods, or alcoholic beverages, cigarettes or tobacco, according to the USDA.
Speier is assembling a group in the community to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge. Students, faculty and staff at one Southern California college are undertaking a similar challenge this Sunday in which members of Occidental College will try to feed themselves for a week on the same $4.50 per day budget.
California's median household income plunged by 6 percent to $57,708 between 2006 and 2010, and nationwide, earnings fell by 4.4 percent, according to a recent census report. The gap widened between rich and poor throughout the state, with the wealthiest 40 percent enjoying a spike in income.
The percentage of people living below the poverty line San Mateo County fell from 7.4 percent in 2006 to 6.8 percent last year.
— Bay City News Service contributed to this story