December 4th, 2012
10:11 AM ET
6 years ago

Cory Booker spending week on food stamps

(CNN) - Hoping to break any stigmas of government assistance, Newark Mayor Cory Booker of New Jersey will live on food stamps this week–a challenge that first began as a Twitter conversation.

The Democratic mayor will operate on a food stamp budget of about $30 a week ($4.32 per day), roughly the same amount provided to people in New Jersey who take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

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Booker, who's considered a potential gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey's 2013 race, vowed to go on the budget after getting into a debate last month with a Twitter user, who argued "nutrition is not the responsibility of the government."

"In my own quest to better understand the outcomes of SNAP assistance, I suggested to this specific Twitter user that we both live on a SNAP equivalent food budget for a week and document our experience," Booker wrote in a blog post Monday.

To promote the experiment, Booker, who's known for his frequent Twitter posts, will use the hashtag "#SNAPChallenge."

More than 47 million Americans used SNAP benefits in August, according to the latest monthly data available. In New Jersey, 787,460 participated that month.

Those using the benefits are allowed to purchase breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, and dairy products. They are not permitted to buy alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption.

The Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, also states that soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream count as food items and are therefore eligible items. The list also includes seafood, steak, and bakery cakes.

Filed under: 2013 • Cory Booker • New Jersey
soundoff (199 Responses)
  1. bibleverse1

    4 dollars a day for a single person is not so bad.

    December 4, 2012 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  2. Eric

    I live in Ohio, and our family of four has a grocery budget of $525 per month. While I concede that it would cost more for four adults than two adults and two children, we are making it of $4.32 per person per day. Some of this grocery budget goes toward cleaning supplies like dish washing soap or bleach and supplies like Reynolds Wrap.

    We eat pretty well and a pretty healthy, balanced diet if a bit heavy on the red meat. We used to feed on less, but as our income increased, we spent a bit more.

    I am frankly stunned when I hear people talking about $800 or $900 grocery budgets for similar sized families. I have no idea where the money is spent.

    December 4, 2012 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    $30 a week is a Ramen Noodle budget. You can't stock up your pantry on that with the rising cost of groceries.

    December 4, 2012 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  4. cjsk00

    Get real. The food stamp program was intended to be an "assistance" program. Never meant for people to feed themselves on the assistance, choices we make have consequences.

    December 4, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  5. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Booker not only talks the talk but he walks it. It's time to take away the salaries of those Republicans in Congress who do nothing but wine and dine themselves off taxpayers and complain about people living off $4.00/day.

    December 4, 2012 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  6. voriand

    Can you live on $4 a day. You bet. But eating a healthy diet of limited red meat, lots of vegs and fruits, whole grains and no processed food. Not a chance. That costs about $7 a day per person.

    Food that you can buy for $4 a day WILL make you fat and eventually kill you.

    December 4, 2012 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  7. Dmadam

    If one eats healthy and excludes junk and does not over use meat it is not hard to do. Many just don't know how to buy. As a vegetarian I have no problem doing it.

    December 4, 2012 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  8. Krandal

    While I applaud this experiment, I would think that doing this for a week is nothing compared to months or sometimes years.

    Now why some people are on assistance for years is a different topic....

    December 4, 2012 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  9. Anne Nelson

    The primary thing that is accomplished by having politicians and newscasters living on food stamp is that as they make their daily food choices, they cannot fail to realize how limited their food choices are. Even if they only do it for a week, they cannot help but imagine what it's like to eat that way month after month. Nutrition may not be the job of government, but neither is allowing children to starve to death because our society fails to provide their parents with inspiration and resources sufficient to escape the cycle of despair. I've never been on food stamps, but I have spent years eating P&J on day old bread, rice cooked in chicken broth with peas, tuna casserole (sometimes w/o cheese), and other low priced (EVERYTHING bought on sale with coupons!) and in my youth long ago, scouring the ditches near my house for pop bottles just to have that. It's not a life that inspires people to believe they can do better! Hunger is no fun.

    December 4, 2012 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  10. Christy in Nebraska

    I live on a $25 a week grocery budget. I look at the weekly ads to buy what is on sale. I also use coupons. I eat well and I eat fresh. I eat a ot of fresh vegetables and meat and I eat very little processed foods. It is not that hard to do, you just have to be diligent about it.

    December 4, 2012 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  11. sue

    It's a really cute idea but basically they are going on a diet for a week or two. I doubt if they themselves are going to do the shopping and cooking. And of course there will most likely be necessary 'working' lunches and dinners during that time. But go ahead and play 'poor folks' for a week or two. You can drop a couple pounds then pat yourself and feel self-righteous.

    December 4, 2012 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  12. billmosby

    I've spent about $4.67 a day for groceries, or less, for quite a few years now. Not sure what all the fuss is about.

    December 4, 2012 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  13. matt

    Eric, I thought about it that way too. But then I realized I was not counting food I ate outside (restaurants). My wife and I are very thrifty (budget of $230 grocery and $120 eating out per month). So when I count our entire food budget it comes out to about $5.90/day... granted we do have people over for meals occasionally.

    December 4, 2012 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  14. tammi

    I have a family of 4 and we live on less than 400 a month for food but that is because we have food stamps. When i didn't receive them I could only afford 150 a month. You learn how to cook different things and realize you probably will not buy anything fresh other than a bag of salad mix and maybe bananas or apples. The meat is always hamburger, hot dogs, tuna, some chicken and maybe some pork, but can say it wouldn't be the high end parts of those meats. Shopping at Aldi's or using coupons is a must, and always use your left overs, which probably consist of some type of pasta or potatoes. The carb intake is very high, which leads to higher risk of medical conditions or just a low energy level and possibly depression. It isn't that the jobs that I work can't feed my children and myself, but with food stamps it helps relieve the pain of never having enough money to pay your basic bills, such as electric , gas , water and rent. This guy would have to shop for entire month on his $30 a week budget to make it work well. It is cheaper to buy for a month than just one week since you can buy in bulk and buy for the entire family at once.

    December 4, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  15. Alverant

    One week is nice, but people on food stamps have to use them for months or even years. Let's see him try a month or two on nothing but food stamps. That's assuming he's being honest. I bet he has some food stored somewhere just in case so he won't lose face when he finds out it's not as easy as he pretends it to be.

    December 4, 2012 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  16. Padraig

    Booker is an opportunist. As many have pointed out you can have a healthy diet and stay within a tight budget. You need to look sales, coupons, avoid fast food resteraunts which hits your budget and health hard.

    People need to be sensible.

    December 4, 2012 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  17. Rob

    Can someone live off $4 a day? Yes, easily. Can they eat healthy food? Maybe. I just saw a pic of what was supposedly Booker's receipt for the week's worth of food. It came out to a little over $29. It also was mostly beans and broccoli. And most of it was on sale (I think he saved $21 because of the sale price of the items). A week of that? Easy. A year? Seriously?

    December 4, 2012 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  18. Iowan

    As the SNAP program gives money per person, it's interesting to see how the benefits increase with family size. For a family of 4, this comes out to $120 per week, or $480 per month. That's not bad at all!

    December 4, 2012 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  19. Ratty

    Get real folks. Great story, really tugs at the heart strings doesn't it? You libs really love skewed stories like this one to use as a poor attempt to make some errant point. Except as one other person commented, this is not supposed to be your only means of's assistance. Most if not all people have other income. Ya gotta love it.

    December 4, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  20. fernace

    I think Cory Booker is 1 of the few politicians who takes his job seriously! By himself, he's renovating what it takes to be a representative of the people & a good neighbor! I hope the obstructors in Washington take heed, because they are Not thinking about the people while fighting for 1upmanship in this, so-called, fiscal cliff! BTW, for $30 a day you're Not going to buy steak & cake, even though technically you can! You're going to get the food that stretches & is most nutritious to feed your family, like any1 on a strict budget! It's doable & foodstamps help in that regard, but it should not be a lifestyle! Most people want to earn their own $$ & not have to depend on the government! It's a huge fallacy that 47% of us like being dependent & expect government handouts! Working & being independent is the American way, but w/our economy as it is, these measures are necessary now, for more people than ever before! Kudos to Booker for understanding that!!

    December 4, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  21. Guest482

    Not sure what the problem is here. I just went grocery shopping for a family of 4 last night for our 2 weeks worth of dinners and paid 57.00. Including but not limited to, 2 Hormel Cure 81 Hams, which were BOGO, sign up on their site and Hormel has tons of coupons, I happen to have 2-2.00 off coupons for ham, 8 lb.s of Goldnplump chicken, sign up on their website and they send you coupons every month, I had some 1.50 off 1's and along with being on sale, my cost came to 4.00 for 8lbs. of breasts. I could go on but my point is you can eat like a king for pennies if you know how.

    December 4, 2012 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  22. Eric

    Feeding people is not the role of the government. It's obviously ripe for abuse and it's paid for with stolen money. Let private charities administer food assistance.

    December 4, 2012 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  23. AC

    Food may be a bit cheaper where I live and there's only one of me. Still, I've quite successfully lived on a $2.50/day budget for extended periods of time and eaten very healthfully. For me, the keys were knowing how to cook without opening boxes and bags of processed food, planning meals ahead of time and sticking to that plan, and realizing that leftovers are meals and not trash. In some ways this budget is easier since I'm buying for only one but in other ways it's more difficult. It's hard to take advantage of bulk packaging on such things as meats. But even on $2.50/day, I was still eating fresh produce, good quality meat and chicken, cheese and dairy. My suggestion is: learn to cook! Don't just zap, warm up, open a bag, dump in a box, pour in a mix. And before someone says it, I work 50-60 hours/week, I have a social life, and a couple weekly volunteer commitments.

    December 4, 2012 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  24. Mat

    You have to remember that some people are buying the minimum required with their SNAP debit card (which I've heard is only like 2 cents) and getting cash change for the rest. Secondly, the debit card is taken at Papa Murphy's which is a quality uncooked pizza chain...the take and bake guys. I have a job and can't afford to live like that, we should be supplementing with quality foods like chicken, red meat, vegetables, and pasta...not luxury items.

    December 4, 2012 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  25. General Specific

    A loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and I can eat for a week.

    December 4, 2012 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
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