Day 1 and Already Wondering: What if this was my life?

CF groceries JT 2012

Today is the first day of the CalFresh Challenge. I made a menu and went to Food 4 Less to see what kinds of deals I could find. I noticed more frequently how often I had to choose between less expensive items loaded with additional sugars and chemicals, and the more expensive but healthier foods. I spent almost the entirety of my weekly budget for the ingredients for my black bean salad, red lentil hush puppies, yogurt and cereal, peanut butter sandwiches and a few snacks. Before starting the Calfresh Challenge today I thought about what it would mean if I actually were eligible for CalFresh Benefits. Not only do people trying to get enough food to eat face the challenge of hunger, but there are financial worries that go along with it.

The income limit for me would be $1,180 gross income per month: 130% of the Federal Poverty Line for my household of one. I estimated that I’d pay about $200 in taxes each month, which would leave me with no more than $980 of net income. I went through my budget to figure out what I would have to eliminate. Some of you may be all-too-familiar with this exercise: No more gym membership, internet or cable. I’d need to find a less expensive plan for my cell phone (which would likely mean less chance to communicate with people via text and email). I’d have to eliminate any sort of savings (both for emergencies and retirement) and I wouldn’t have anything left over for “luxuries” like holiday or birthday gifts for others, travel to see my family or clothing.

Even then, I’d still be about $300 over budget and likely have to limit or eliminate my health care coverage (I wouldn’t be able to afford my current copay unless a less expensive plan was available); I’d need to renegotiate the repayments of my education loans or ask for a deferment (which would be helpful in the short term, but the interest on my debt would still accrue making it harder to pay off in the long run). If I was able to do both of those things I would have just enough for rent and electricity, car insurance and gas to get to work only, and my telephone. There would be no money left over for food or personal care or anything else.

When I ran the numbers in our CalFresh calculator, it told me that with the modified budget I’d created, I could potentially qualify for about $98 per month in CalFresh benefits.  Not enough to last the month but it would still be helpful.

This was just an exercise on paper for me. But for many people these are the impossible choices they are forced to make. They are the real situations of real people who need real assistance like CalFresh. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities review the SNAP program (the federal name for CalFresh and has credited the Program for doing exactly what it is supposed to do: responding in times of need by expanding and it will, they have shown, shrink automatically as the economy improves and less people need help. Over 84% of benefits go to households that contain vulnerable populations: children, seniors and people with disabilities. (Find more stats about CalFresh here) The SNAP/Calfresh program is vital to low income people and needs to be strengthened, not cut, so that it can continue to successfully decrease and eliminate hunger.

Submitted by Jennifer Tracy, Executive Director, SDHC