In The News


Food Stamp Challenge: Live on $25 for a Week
By Cheryl Winkelman, Staff Writer

Here's a challenge: live off the average food stamp budget for a week. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski dared residents to try it last week to raise awareness about hunger and the affordability of nutritious food.

In Oregon, the average food stamp budget is $21 per week per person. That's $3 per day, or $1 per meal. In California, each food stamp recipient is a little luckier, receiving about $25 per week, or $1.19 per meal.

According to Oscar Ramirez, a spokesman for the California Department of Social Services, nearly 2.03 million people who received food stamps last year took the challenge unwittingly, and it may not have been easy.

Healthy eating is simpler for the middle class, who have access to cars, a working kitchen, a grocery store and the time to cook, said Deborah Reed, an economist with the Public Policy Institute of California. But for low-income people, "it's harder to live healthy on a food stamp budget," Reed said. In the Bay Area, for example, there aren't produce-stocked grocery stores in many low-income neighborhoods, Reed added.

Food stamp eligibility is not only based on income, but that is the most notable factor. The federal government sets its poverty benchmark around $18,000 annually for a family of four. About 13 percent of Americans lived under the benchmark in 2004, the most recent year data was available, Reed said.

If California's high cost of living is figured in, that percentage jumps to about 16 percent. Because San Joaquin County is a cheaper place to live than, for example, the Bay Area, about 14 percent of its residents lived in poverty, Reed said.

As such, it is possible to purchase 21 healthy meals at the Tracy Grocery Outlet, one of 124 extreme-value grocery stores located in the western part of the country. Though the menu may not be overly varied, those on a budget do have access to healthy food. According to the store's owner, Verla Braun, "it's hard to eat healthy, but you can do it here." The total price: $24.81.