December 4th, 2012
10:11 AM ET
1 year 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. ST

    Is this man married? I guess so. So, his family will eat differently from what he eats for a week!!!, then he will join them again even eat more during Christmas time. It sounds funny to me.

    December 4, 2012 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  2. Tim Krieger

    Cory Booker's example of living on food stamps should be followed by the politicians and others who make decisions that affect all of us. They make decisions without ever stepping into a classroom,living in public housing, working without benefits for minimum wages, having children and no medical benefits or just struggling to keep their heads above water. We are legislated by the elite who cannot and do not understand the problems of the least of us.

    December 4, 2012 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  3. Eric

    There are two Eric's posting now, one is me the other isn't :)

    @Matt – Yes, I do have a separate eating out budget. We generally do so 2 or 3 times a month. If we ended that, it would not impact our grocery budget much at all. When my wife and I were making less (she was staying home with kids, my career was doing well, but still early and not making as much), we got by with $400 or so a month. It wasn't the most healthy in the world, but well under the $4/day per person.

    So,I still think $4/day is doable. The one part I resent, however, is the assumption that taxpayers are responsible for covering the food expenses for nearly 20% of the US population and then being told we aren't giving enough. I donate to our local food bank, but also know that a good portion of what we are taxed/give are going to folks who are making poor life decisions. One couple I know bought a house they couldn't afford (I told the husband so when he was looking). Two unskilled workers taking on a mortgage that was 50% of his salary. Now they get food stamps and supplement with a food bank.

    I am all for helping people get on their feet. I am also for supporting folks who cannot help themselves. But when we have 50 million Americans on food stamps, something is seriously wrong. The economy is soft, but we are nowhere near a recession. Yet more than 1 out of 6 of us can't even feed ourselves? Something isn't right...

    December 4, 2012 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  4. wow

    Will make sure that future generations arent plagued with idiotic and dependent americans who cant figure it out.

    December 4, 2012 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  5. GOP = Greed Over People

    Agreed that the program is for supplemental nutrition but indeed, in many cases it is the only source of food for many.

    And all you self righteous, judgmental, holier-than-thou types, remember whether you rent or own, you are getting your "guvmint handout" in the form of a mortgage deduction or your land lord is getting one.

    The only difference is you live in your government handout and folks on food stamps eat theirs.

    I suggest you move further away from your "chri$tian values" and closer to being more Christ like!

    December 4, 2012 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  6. realistic menu

    Martin2176: if you ever were forced to live on $27/week for your food budget, you would learn really quickly that meat is seldom, if ever, on the menu. I had to live on $20/week for 8 months during one of my student rotations back in the mid 1990s and it definitely can be done. The menu? The menu was nearly homogenous with rice and beans as the main constituent. The result? No student debt and I chose and worked towards my degree very seriously. I'm thankful I have a good job but I also know I chose well and was very disciplined along the way. Success = good choices + hard work + some luck. Always do your best.

    December 4, 2012 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  7. mikael

    a bag of kale and a half gallon of milk a day, and drink water all day. he'll be healthier than when he started.

    December 4, 2012 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  8. martin2176

    breakfast: oat meal + milk + banana + coffee = 3$ needs correction
    that would be 6-7$..(coffee brewed at home with little to no wastage)
    still can make it wit 30$/week.

    December 4, 2012 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  9. TX Guy

    I love to go to .99 Cent Stores. They have all kinds of food/drink for $1 each. Great place for anybody.
    (I am an Engineer with reasonable good income).

    December 4, 2012 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  10. Eric

    I am absolutely amazed by the folks who think $4/person per day isn't close to sufficient for a food budget. It makes me really respect my wife and her money management skills that she keeps us to that level, and still provide balanced meals. She is a marathon runner, and though I am nowhere near her fitness level, she makes sure we are eating healthy.

    I will thank her when i get home. For the rest of you, please learn some money management, and while I want to help people who need it, I don't see how 50 million Americans need me to subsidize their entire food budget and then complain it isn't enough when I live off of that budget.

    December 4, 2012 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  11. Golden Girl

    He might find out that he'll eat better if he has a few kids.

    December 4, 2012 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  12. MOJarry

    Healthy living includes contributing to your own well-being. We grow most of the food we need in our back yard garden, a small city lot. $30 of seed will produce $600 worth of food, but you have to be willing to put forth the effort to do it. Our food budget for the month is $350 for 2, and we eat steak, shrimp, and cook gourmet meals. Learn to cook! It's not easy, but eating fast foods and prepared meals just because you're lazy isn't an excuse. I don't think just because you want to live in Jersey or Manhattan in a cramped apartment that the taxpayers should subsidize your choice of lifestyle.

    December 4, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  13. Terry

    I think he is just budgetting, using so much money a day or for the week. Dont think he is getting stamps issued to him. I think it is great that he is doing this and getting an idea what it is like to be limited. My daughter lives on the edge, makes just enough to not get any help. So when something goes wrong, like the heat going out, or the car breaking down, they have a real tough time making it.

    December 4, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  14. Scott B

    For one whole week. Oh noes. Perhaps he should try this for a few months and see how he feels.

    December 4, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  15. Shlom

    Poverty has multiple components. Most folks who get SNAP _DO_ work. I lived on little to nothing for a couple of years, my unemployment insurance pricing me out of SNAP eligibility. If you've got a family of four with two minimum wage working parents, there's barely time to buy the food, let alone cook it. And that's the crux: cooking means a functioning kitchen and, most importantly, TIME to do the cooking. Folks who work tend to use public transportation, since they can't afford a car. That commute adds significant time to their day. Kids need to be fed at reasonable times, with food that's available and at hand. So it's not just buying, and cooking, but having full meals prepared and ready to reheat. The logistics are the killer here. SNAP money isn't the issue: poverty and its surrounding extra expenses are.

    December 4, 2012 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  16. jobezark

    $4.00 a day is so easy I can't even believe it. I shop at a co-op (read: fresh, local, organic) and spend between 30 and 40 a week! Try oalmeal, beans, rice = 5 or 6/wk total, 5/wk for top end milk, 4 or 5 for a organic noodles (I eat lots of noodles), 5$ in meat (usually a pound of grass-fed beef, but sometimes a pair of tilapia filets), then about 10 in fresh fruits and veggies or frozen veggies. Good God. Our nutrition education program is failing.

    December 4, 2012 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  17. Justin

    @ Bill...

    Over 250 ever other week? You sir need to learn how to shop... you are paying way to much unless you have a family of like... 6 or 7...

    As a full grown 6'1" adult, I spend about 150 a month, and I eat VERY well.

    December 4, 2012 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  18. Laura

    What about laundry detergent, soap, cleaning items, toilet paper? Seriously...I spend $30 a week (minimum) on needed non-food items.

    December 4, 2012 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  19. Amy

    "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."

    I'll be in favor of SNAP when USDA eliminates eligibility for all of these and expands payments for fresh foods. Be grateful for what you're given, as many working poor are not eligible at all.

    December 4, 2012 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  20. GatorDude

    So, what's his under the table side hustle going to be?

    December 4, 2012 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  21. Heidi

    First SNAP and cash aid are two different things and together they are a substance level exsistance not living high. Second many people on food stamps do not have the money for the sunday paper, computer access for online coupons or transportation so it is not feasible to coupon or comparison shop. Also storage and refrigeration are usually very limited. Last people who are disabled, low ranked military, mentally ill and who have lost their jobs due to the economy are not being lazy or abusing the system. We are surviving and more or less trapped at the time being. This mayor appears to care about people so more power to him.

    December 4, 2012 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  22. Da Ghost

    I quick added up my food budget the last couple of daz......about $5.00 per day ! I can't afford more, I'm the poor working bastard paying taxes to support everyone that's NOT !
    Sitting here now eating my $1.00 can of chowder thinking how good I got it......

    December 4, 2012 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  23. EarnYourOwn

    Does anyone live in NJ that can tell us the prices, bceause the prices people kep putting on here for groceries are like from 1990.

    In Hawaii Milk is $6 a Gal, eggs are $4-5 a dozen. Bread is $3-4 a loaf. It would cost me 30 dollars jsut to provide my 2 young sons with brakfest for a week. Ceral is anywere from 4-6 Dollars a box.

    All the prices i listed are from whoesale places like Sams and COSTCO, or when they ar on sell at hTarget, Wal Mart or the Grocery Store.

    Hawaii's allotment is 53 dollars a week and that would not allow you to buy fresh veggies or fruit, because the basics would eat your allotment.

    December 4, 2012 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  24. Rudy NYC

    @KJB – It is human nature to judge the actions of others by determining what course of action you would take if you were in the same situation or scenario. This is exactly the wrong way to look at things.

    Your price list is a textbook examople of what I mean. He's living in Newark, New Jersey. You can pretty much increase all of your prices and costs by 50-100%. In fact, most of the food prices in the tri-state area are double of what you have cited.

    December 4, 2012 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  25. Barbara

    Anyone and their families included, that runs for office should be required to live on minimum wage for a year. No outside help only what the average person gets. They have to pay medical, food, rent, utilities,gas for heat and car and anything else that is required. Then they can truly say they represent us.

    December 4, 2012 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
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