Commissioner Monahan Lives on Food Stamps for a Week

CHELSEA, Mass.—”I never realized how expensive cheese is,” Stacy Monahan said as she picked up a generic pack of slices in a crowded Market Basket in Chelsea.

The Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner is the latest in a string of Democrats across the nation have been walking in the shoes of people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—colloquially referred to as food stamps. The “SNAP Challenge,” as it has been called, dares politicians to survive on $31.50 worth of groceries for the week, or only $4.50 per day. Participants have included Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) and campaign leader Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

The grocery store was full of mothers with their young children trotting next to them or sitting impatiently. Those most heavily affected by hunger in the United States are parents of young children who need proper nutrition for their physical and mental development. And the lack of proper nutrition further compounds existing socioeconomic disadvantages.

Commissioner Monahan spent $31.47 on turkey, chicken legs, bread, tomato sauce, a cucumber, a zucchini, a couple of apples, an onion, a couple of bananas, cheese, eggs, frozen broccoli, tuna, black beans and rice, chick peas, nuts, basil, beans, and spaghetti. Every step of the way, she used the calculator on her phone to meet her stringent budget.

While this made shopping arduous, the physical trip to the grocery store can sometimes be the hardest part for low-income individuals.

“A lot of times people who don’t have transportation have to rely on going to small convenience stores or their area bodega to get their food,” commented Monahan, “It’s typically more expensive and there’re [fewer] choices. That’s a real challenge.”

Massachusetts has four recognized food deserts, located in Lowell, Fitchburg, Brockton, and Springfield, according to a study commissioned by the Massachusetts Public Health Association and conducted by The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based non-profit organization. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a food desert is a low-income, low-access community where at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population resides more than one mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store.

Politicians participating in the SNAP challenge cannot fully understand the cumulative effects of living on such a limited food budget in just one week. Yet, with the House Farm Bill debate coming up—which as written would cut $20 billion from the SNAP—people on government aid may be forced to make due with even less.

When I asked Commissioner Monahan whether she thought her food would last the week, she answered, lucidly, “Well it has to.”

–Jonathan Igne-Bianchi

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