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Minnesota Religious Leaders Take the Food Stamp Challenge

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PHOTO: Around a dozen Minnesota religious leaders completed the food stamp challenge, using $31.50 to purchase food for a week, the same amount as the average SNAP recipient. CREDIT: John Michaelson
PHOTO: Around a dozen Minnesota religious leaders completed the food stamp challenge, using $31.50 to purchase food for a week, the same amount as the average SNAP recipient. CREDIT: John Michaelson
November 29, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. - They haven't walked a mile in their shoes, but some Minnesota religious leaders have spent a week at their dinner table. About a dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders recently completed what is called the "food stamp challenge," where each lived on the average food stamp benefit.

The Rev. Patricia Lull, executive director, St. Paul Area Council of Churches, says the experiment taught her that food really does matter - and not just to offset hunger.

"It's how we gather with other people. It's how we re-frame the day in gratitude for what we have been given by God. And when there is a very, very limited budget for food, it makes it more difficult to do that."

Each religious leader was given $31.50 to spend on food for seven days, which is the national average a person receives in what are now called SNAP benefits.

Lull says it is assumed that the families who get SNAP also have some other income to go toward food, but often by the end of the month both cash and benefits are gone. More families could find themselves in that situation if the proposed cuts to SNAP are in the final Farm Bill.

"That will have huge implications to the supplemental benefits to families. We cannot put more and more children and adults and elders at risk, so there's some political action that we need to be taking."

Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Interfaith Conversations special consultant to the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, also took part in the challenge. She says some have had a preconceived notion about who uses food stamps, but after the Great Recession and the foreclosure crisis, it is neighbors, friends and family.

"It's more likely to be a small child, an Iraq vet. It cuts across all education levels, races, previous socioeconomic strata. It's really people like us."

Eilberg says one plan to help more people who have trouble putting food on the table would be to expand the eligibility for free- and reduced-price school lunches. Legislation to that effect is expected to be introduced when lawmakers return to the State Capitol in January.

More information is available at http://frac.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN