December 4th, 2012
10:11 AM ET
5 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. Chris R

    I think what a lot of people are missing is that while it i s possible to live on $4 a day (that's for an individual) by buying basic ingredients and preparing all of your food at home – a large number of the people making use of these benefits do *not* have the training or skills to do so. You may not believe this but unless you are taught how to cook healthy cheap meals it is actually pretty hard. Food stamps do not come with cookbooks. You do not get cooking classes. You are essentially left on your own to figure out how to make $4 a day work. Now, I guess they could go on line and get some cooking experience that way but then people would be complaining that they shouldn't be spending their money on internet services.

    December 4, 2012 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  2. Calidip

    $4/day = $28/week = $120/month (30days x $4). "living on $4/day" is misleading. Gallon of milk, cereal, breads, flour, eggs. Eating around 2000-2500 calories a day isn't that hard at all. Protein, fruits, and dairy are most expensive, but eating smaller portions and looking for sales is easy. Bolagna sandwiches, cereal and milk, condiments are a one time purchase to stretch food and make it taste better. Mayo, ketchup, mustard. Lettuce. Even ground beef can be stretched. Meat loaf or hamburger helper turns 1lb of beef into two days worth of meals. I can live off $28/week easily and not starve. I cannot live of $4/day if I plan on visiting the grocery store everyday with just $4 in my pocket. That's why "living on $4/day" is misleading.

    December 4, 2012 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  3. Lisa P


    I can't count the times I have seen people come to the Walgreens where I work and use their SNAP card to purchase ice cream. $6.00. Then they use cash to purchase cigarettes. There are very few times I see people using SNAP to purchase bread, eggs and milk. Once a woman bought bags and bags of candy, used her SNAP card to pay and told her daughter she could put the candy in the goody bags for her party. I have also seen people come and use the cards to stock up on snack so they can bring them on vacation. I work 2 jobs and I can't afford to purchase these items for my own child. I don't mind helping others if they would take the sugar/snacks out of the equations. Even if they want a sack, buy the cake mix, and actually bake a cake instead of buying it aleady made. It would be alot cheaper .
    December 4, 2012 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm
    I would bet that if you worked somewhere that was selling fresh food at a reasonable price you would see a lot more SNAP card users making sensible, healthy purchases. Walgreens' food and snack aisle is only for the desperate, the time-crunched, or the stupid. You shouldn't be surprised that that's who you see shopping there, whatever their means of payment.

    December 4, 2012 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  4. Jim

    They must be wealthy in NJ. Most people I know on Food stamps get several hundred dollars in assistance. They are also able bodied, but only work part time to keep their government benefits. Nice program guys.

    December 4, 2012 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  5. Daniel

    ‎1. He's only doing it for 7 days. Not even a full Chanukkah. If he's going to make a big deal about it, at least do it for a month.

    2. Eating on less than $4.00 a day is easy. Even in Hawaii! We eat very well on less than that.

    3. The S in SNAP stands for Supplemental. Therefore, the $4.00 a day is a supplement. The program is not intended to fully fund someone's grocery bill. It's a *supplement* to their grocercy budget. So suggesting that food stamp recipients are expected to eat off only $4.00/day is a bit disengenuous.

    December 4, 2012 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  6. wbxadmin1

    i live on my own and i survive off $3-$4 a day.. people who need $20 a day to survive must have some sort of disability or something blocking their judgement thinking they need $20 a day to survive. America haha

    December 4, 2012 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,[note 1] ...........promote the general Welfare............, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.



    December 4, 2012 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  8. divorced and disabled

    I get $65 a month in food stamps and I supplement with cash. I cook from scratch and try to go meatless as much as I can. Developed a vitamn deficiency, so I now take a generic multi-vitamin. Brutal summers fried my container garden the past 2 years. The doctor wanted me to go on a diet that featured fresh fruits and veggies but I told him the diet was for rich people. It is not possible to do on a severely limited budget. Grapes for $5.98 a container. Ridiculous!!

    December 4, 2012 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  9. rrock

    Actually an individual would get 200/month with the amount per person declining slightly depending on the family size. My daughter lived on 150/month in college. I got food stamps in college for 2 months and thought I was living like a king because I could buy meat.

    December 4, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  10. DavidH

    Doing this for a week is not a test of anything - it's a stunt. Try living on that budget for a few months at least.

    December 4, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  11. Calidip

    1lb of ground beef = $4.50. Who in the world eats 1 pound of ground beef in a single day?! I can stretch 1 lb of ground beef in 3 days = $1.50/day. Even if I made something with no filler, that's 3x 1/3 pound patties. Bread = $1.30 for white loaf. I'm NOT going to eat an ENTIRE loaf in 1 day. A loaf of bread EASILY last me almost 2 weeks. 1 week if I ate 2 slices every day.

    December 4, 2012 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  12. MOJarry

    You live in Hawaii and complain about prices??? And, the Sunday paper is free on Monday. T.P? Use water to clean yourself (free). Live in Jersey? Our local gas station has openings for $9/hr with benefits, and a nice apartment is $400/month. Another 6 months on unemployment on top of 6 mo's unemployment payments plus 99 weeks of Federal unemployment and you still can't find a JOB? Get real! I'm tired of supporting your lazy attitude after 3 years of benefits. Grow some of your own food, cancel your subscription to the newspaper and magazines, cancel your cable T.V. and use an antenna (free), get a $10/mo cell phone, quit buying $4 Starbucks, walk or bike instead of driving your SUV 3 blocks, etc. etc. There's lots of stuff both we and the Gov't needs to do to stop all this waste of taxpayer's money, but I don't see anyone wanting to step forward and implement the changes that are needed to reverse the obvious path we're now on that will surely destroy our country. Taxing the working poor and rewarding the Corporations and rich is just the wrong thing to do.

    December 4, 2012 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  13. Nate DIckman

    787,460 people a month using this benifit, $30/week, 52 weeks/year... that's well over $1 trillion a year spent in NJ alone. Amazing. Think of the other places that money could go, and for such a small benifit per-person (only $4.32/day)

    December 4, 2012 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  14. Eric

    @Rudy NYC – So, basically you are telling those of who ARE living off $4/day that we are the ones out of touch with reality? I can't say I've shopped in NYC. It might be much more expensive to live there and shop for food, but then why live there if you can't make ends meet? And then why insist that I subsidize someone's lifestyle because they want to live in NYC? I make six figures and eat off the budget that welfare recipients are turning their nose up to?

    Here is the liberal part of my economic policy
    1) I will gladly subsidize or completely support someone who cannot work.
    2) I will gladly give to those who are trying to better their lives in such a way that supports that betterment.

    Here is the conservative/libertarian part of my economic policy
    3) If you can work but won't, you can starve.

    Like it or love it, that is my view. I tick off the right with 1 and 2 and tick off the left with 3.

    December 4, 2012 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  15. Chris R

    I also find it interesting that people think that it's *easy* to live on $4 of food a day. I would like all of the people saying it's easy to actually add up how much they are spending and get back to us. I think they'll be surprised that it probably runs quite a bit more than they expect.

    Also, I think a lot of people here are forgetting a basic part of the relationship between the government and it's people. It's called the social contract. We, the people, give up some of autonomy and freedoms in exchange for the support and protection of the government. As part of this contract we can call on the government and the government can call on us. One of the ways the government can call on us is through selective service (aka the draft). So the government can demand that we fight and die in the service of the government (this is not hyperbole – we still have selective service registration and it can be activated pretty quickly). In exchange isn't it acceptable that the government provide at the *least* a certain quality of life for those most likely to be called upon (traditionally the underclasses)? Just think about it in these terms for a minute.

    December 4, 2012 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  16. Observer

    Let's start at the beginning, its not living on four dollars a day, its eating and that's all. Those of you who say its easy to live off four dollars a day should make the point your talking about eating and not living, as eating is only one cost in the price of living. Now what does four dollars a day buy you, and its a good thing that Mr. Booker is doing this to bring the realiity home, but some Americans have to do thid year after year because of disabilities, that could either be mental or physical, and its not something to be made light of, this is absolutely an exhausting way to have to feed yourself. For those who are living with this curse, I wish that the country could do more to help you survive with dignity and respect.

    December 4, 2012 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  17. bj

    i think the snap program should closer resemble wic where only certain foods are allowed. Meat, produce, dairy, canned fruits n veggies are fine, but its irritating to see bday cakes from bakery, etc. If u cant afford to feed your family "food," u shdnt spend it on luxury n junk!

    December 4, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  18. Lord Toronaga

    Mortgage interest deductions are already limited to the first 500k in the loan amount per individual. This still benefits the middle class the most....which is a good thing. Poor people actually do not benefit that much from this deduction because they do not fall in a high income tax rate. Nor do they benefit much from the property tax deduction. However, these deductions may help them qualify for child tax credits...which can be substantial. So be careful democrats messing with this deduction.

    December 4, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  19. Danielle

    My family of 5 has a grocery budget of $100/week...including non-food items. I coupon and we take part in the Bountiful Baskets produce co-op (there are Bountiful Basket sites in many states). I buy $25-30 worth of fresh fruit/veggies each weekend from the co-op and we eat a pretty clean diet with few processed foods. I cook, we eat left overs, and we try not to waste any food. My son takes his lunch and snack to school and my husband takes his lunch to work. It's more planning on my part and takes some work, but we manage quite well.

    December 4, 2012 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  20. midwstrngrl

    You can live on that if you cook at home. But many people dont have easy access to good grocery stores or have really no idea how to cook from scratch like grandma did. There are bigger issues here to confront than just $4 a day

    December 4, 2012 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  21. Mike Morgan

    This twitter user is correct. It is not the responsibility of the government to act as a baby momma. Get a job people unless you are actually in need of assistance

    December 4, 2012 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  22. MarylandBill

    Its possible.. but not necessarily easy. Of course the biggest issue will be access to a decent grocery store. Often times inner cities (where a large number of food stamp recipients live) have no easily accessible grocery stores. That being said, on $4.32 a day, meat becomes a sometimes food... which is probably a good thing anyway. Many convenience foods have to go too (also likely a good thing since they tend to be high in salt and fat).

    So lets budget by the week since that makes shopping easier. $4.32 comes out to be $30.24.

    So what can you eat? Well, lets start with the basics. Rice (preferably brown) and Legumes (beans and lentils) are both inexpensive and have traditionally been a staple food in poorer cultures. I suspect that $10 would buy plenty to feed an average person for a week (But you buy the dried version, no convenience versions allowed). Heck, if you buy in bulk (since in their dry form, both will keep for months on the shelf), you can probably get plenty for even less. Then another $10 or so for frozen veggies and fruits. Sure fresh is better, but frozen is cheap and relatively healthy. That still leaves $10.24 for miscellaneous (milk, fresh fruit, seasonings, etc.

    December 4, 2012 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  23. Mark

    Yes, it's possible. I've done it. I've taken left over chicken and turned it into soup, left over eggs and turned it into fried rice or added it to top ramen. I had to cook a lot at home. I had to use coupons. No drive thru, no take out, no alcohol, no cakes, I had fruit in season. I ate decently. But it's actually $28/week, no one goes to the grocery store daily with $4.

    December 4, 2012 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  24. themanceaser

    This is so stupid. The percentage of america on Food stamps is so small its laughable. it has no effect on the economy. Who cares about foodstamps and govt assisted housing. Its Social security and medicare is where all the money is going!!! entitlement programs that are not medicare/medicaide or social security make up less than 5% of federal spending.

    SO WHO CARES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 4, 2012 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  25. Libacryte

    ChrisR – that's the point – you are NOT supposed to "live" off of 4.00/day because you are NOT supposed to "live" off of taxpayer assistance!!

    That is the warped mindset that folks like you have!! It should NOT be "easy" to live off of 4.00/day because struggling like that SHOULD make you want to GET OFF OF THE PROGRAM & BETTER YOURSELF!!

    December 4, 2012 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
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