Legislators learn $21 per week isn't much

Published May 19, 2007

WASHINGTON - Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, stood before the refrigerated section of the Safeway on Capitol Hill this week and looked longingly at the eggs.

At $1.29 for a half-dozen, he couldn't afford them.

Ryan and three other members of Congress have pledged to live for one week on $21 worth of food, the amount the average food stamp recipient receives in federal assistance. That's $3 a day, or $1 a meal. They started Tuesday.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., co-chairmen of the House Hunger Caucus, called on lawmakers to take the "Food Stamp Challenge" to raise awareness of hunger and what they call inadequate benefits for food stamp recipients. Only two others, Ryan and Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., took them up on it.

"All of us in Congress live pretty good lives, " said McGovern, who ate a single banana for breakfast Tuesday and was going through caffeine withdrawal by midday. "We don't have to wake up worrying about the next meal. But there are a lot of Americans who do. I think it's wrong. I think it's immoral that in the U.S., the richest country in the world, people are hungry."

McGovern and Emerson have introduced legislation that would add $4-billion to the annual federal food stamp budget, which was $33-billion last year and covered 26-million Americans. The proposal could be incorporated by Congress into the new farm bill.

"We're trying to get this debate going, " McGovern said. "There are more working people today getting food stamps than six years ago. ... There's not a member of Congress that doesn't have hunger in their district."

"No organic foods, no fresh vegetables, we were looking for the cheapest of everything, " McGovern said. "We got spaghetti and hamburger meat that was high in fat - the fattiest meat on the shelf. I have high cholesterol and always try to get the leanest, but it's expensive. It's almost impossible to make healthy choices on a food stamp diet."

On the Web

Reps. Jim McGovern and Tim Ryan keep blogs about the experience, McGovern at foodstampchallenge.typepad.com and Ryan at timryan.house.gov