Newark mayor Cory Booker, a prolific Tweeter and potentially 2013 NJ gubernatorial candidate, made news this week when he challenged a Twitter follower to join him in living on the same amount of money provided by food stamps for a period of time.
Booker’s challenge came in response to a remark by the follower on Twitter, who doubted that any family is truly ever too poor to afford breakfast. Booker hopes to raise awareness about the realities of living on food stamps. According to the responses to his challenge, he may have inspired others to take the challenge as well.
Booker is not the only politician to embark on this mission. In 2007, four members of Congress brought the issue to the national stage by taking the Food Stamp Challenge, pledging to live on an average food stamp budget for a week. Last year, over 600 members of the clergy, members of Congress, and activists across the country took place in the Challenge. Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D - Wash. D.C.), Tim Ryan (D - Ohio), and others ate on a budget comparable to the average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget of the average recipient in their respective states.
Are such challenges publicity stunts? Of course they are. That doesn’t negate, however, the very real benefits they bring. Like Booker’s Twitter follower, many in the U.S. believe that food stamps adequately feed the average family, with enough nutritious benefit to help kids succeed and adults get through the work day. Many politicians believe the food stamp program is "out of control." In reality, however, the benefits are scarce, and due to the high cost of nutritious food, combined with food deserts around the country, gaps in coverage, and so on, many people may end up subsiding on very little, or on food that doesn’t provide sufficient nutrition. When politicians take this challenge, they are able to see firsthand the impact of their decisions on the lives of those who try to get by on SNAP benefits.
For more information about the Challenge, as well as on possible improvements to SNAP, head on over to the Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) website.
Oh, and will this have an impact on Booker’s decision about 2013? Probably not. It seems that Hurricane Sandy, and not Tweets, have influenced Booker to push back his decision until mid-December.