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Cory Booker Food Stamp Challenge: This Might Just Be a 2016 Publicity Stunt

It’s likely that many of us spend about $4 a day on coffee. 

On Tuesday, the ever-unorthodox mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, will be spending that same amount — just over $4 dollars a day, or about $30 a week — on his entire food intake. That’s the reality that over 44.7 million Americans who rely on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) face every week at the grocery store register. 

The challenge arose from an exchange on Twitter between the mayor and one of his followers; among local, state, and federal politicians, perhaps no one is more accessible and voluble in the Twittersphere than Booker. 

Booker hopes to not only raise awareness of the limited assistance families in poverty are given to buy food, but also illuminate the challenge of access to nutrition. Many beneficiaries of the SNAP program do not own a car and are confined to buying food in their own neighborhoods, where fresh produce is often scarce. 

The mayor’s endeavor has not come without criticism, and many argue that the SNAP program is designed to be supplemental to a family’s food budget, and so the challenge is invalid. To qualify for SNAP benefits, recipients must make less than $931 per month.

When asked of his objectives in completing the challenge, the mayor commented, “To cut through a lot of the ignorance and prejudice, frankly, about people who use [SNAP] and get to people who have a higher level of consciousness and thus higher level of empathy.”  

Public empathy is not a soft goal, and has enormous consequences on the way policy is made. The portrait of food insecurity is not what one might envision. Shockingly, nearly half of participants in the SNAP program are under 18. Only 8% of SNAP participants receive cash welfare as compared to 31% who pull their own earnings.

And according to a report from the Department of Agriculture, “SNAP has a powerful anti-poverty effect. When SNAP benefits are added to gross income, 13 percent of SNAP households move above the poverty line.” 

Booker has raised our awareness to a phenomenon that over 750,000 New Jerseyans, and millions of Americans, are already all too aware of.

The hardest part? Four dollars a day leaves little left for a cup o' joe. 

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