Across the country, shoppers are participating in what’s called the SNAP Challenge. The SNAP program — formerly known as food stamps — provides an average of $31.50 a week per person, so the challenge was to shop within that budget. One high-ranking participant took the challenge in Springfield today (Wednesday). Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz and his wife Kathleen stopped by the Save-A-Lot Food Store in Springfield’s Liberty Heights area to shop for their family of three. Polanowicz says even with the store’s cheaper prices and discounts, he found it difficult to make nutritious decisions on what he describes as a modest benefit of less than five dollars a day.
“I didn’t start keeping track right from the very beginning. And as you started to fill things in, I was worried, you know, am I going to go over. So…I felt ourselves making decisions on well I guess, maybe we shouldn’t get that because we’re not sure how close we’re going to be to the amount.”
Polanowicz says some 880,000 Baystate residents, or about 1 in 8, received SNAP benefits. About 35% are children and another 15% are elderly. He says the majority of recipients have jobs. But critics have attacked the program as promoting long term dependents who scam taxpayers. Kathleen Polanowicz says those critics should try walking in a SNAP recipient’s shoes.
“I think that people overestimate what’s characterized as fraud and abuse. I think that this a program that people have to qualify for. About 80% of people work in the year after they receive SNAP, it’s a leg up. And no one wakes up in the morning hoping to be on SNAP benefits.”
The US Senate this week voted to cut $4 billion in SNAP benefits as part of a farm bill. A House version would cut up to $20 billion over the next ten years. Polanowicz says those proposed cuts are in addition to an automatic cut expected in October, when federal stimulus money goes away, further reducing a family of four’s benefit by $25.