No Room for the Unexpected

Aside from tight budgeting for food as mention in Planning Ahead and Proceeding with Caution post, this Challenger discusses aspects of living on a restrained budget in general. After paying essential bills and utilities leaves no room for emergencies. Just imagine how unexpected medical bills or a loss of a job can take a huge financial toll on CalFresh recipients.  I started the CalFresh Challenge today and had one egg for breakfast, and later I had black-eyed peas and bread for lunch and yogurt with fruit and cereal for dinner.

As I prepared for the Challenge I thought about what it would mean for me, outside of the food aspect, if I qualified for CalFresh Benefits. Not only do people trying to get enough food to eat face the challenge of hunger, but there are other challenges when one faces severe financial hardship, as the vast majority of CalFresh beneficiaries do.

As a household of one, the income limit for me would be $1,245 per month, or 130% of the Federal Poverty Line (as of Oct 1, 2013). After paying about $200 in taxes I’d have around $1,045 available to me. I pay about $800 for rent and about $30 per month in utilities. So after paying those expenses, I’d have $215. I would need to use that money to pay for gas for work, payments on my education loans, car insurance, telephone expenses, food, and personal and household items. From what I can estimate, I’d be well over my budget, by as much as $300. I’d need to renegotiate my education loan repayments (which would mean I’d have to pay more in interest over time) and I’d have to do whatever I could to avoid unexpected and emergency expenses.  Even if I could find a less expensive place to live, I would likely be over budget each month.

Living at 130% of the Federal Poverty Level means I would not have any extra money to boost our economy by purchasing clothing, entertainment, internet access, dining out, or really much of anything besides the very bare minimum. If I was able to qualify for SNAP/CalFresh benefits I’d probably get about $98 (much less than the $200 limit for one person, due to the federal formula for determining benefit levels). I could at least spend that in a local grocery story and not only get a couple weeks’ worth of groceries but also help fund the jobs of those employees.

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 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reviewed 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. In fact, they share commentary on how the SNAP/CalFresh program actually encourages people to get back to work. Additionally, the program will shrink even more if the working poor have a minimum wage above the poverty line.

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 a CalFresh Challenger