CASE STUDY: SOCIAL JUSTICE & DEMOCRACY
Annie E. Casey Foundation
Congress SNAPS to Attention with the Food Stamp Challenge
In 2007, the United States Congress was negotiating the Farm Bill, which included funding for Food Stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). At the time, the average benefit was just $21 per week per person for food, and families relying on food stamps had a serious need for an increase in nutrition benefits. To draw attention to this issue, The Hatcher Group organized The Food Stamp Challenge on Capitol Hill. This project received funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
We challenged members of Congress to live on the food stamp budget for just one week to get a small taste of the challenges their low-income constituents tackled on a daily basis.
The challenge began on May 15, 2007, with four initial U.S. Representatives pledging and inviting other members of Congress to join them. They included James McGovern (D-MA), Jo Ann Emmerson (R-MO), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Tim Ryan (D-OH), along with McGovern’s and Emerson’s spouses and additional Congressional staff taking part in the challenge.
“This is more than a gimmick,” McGovern said upon announcing his participation. “This is a statement that we have a serious problem with hunger here in America and we need to deal with it.”
Through toolkits, a blog, and media events, including a Hill briefing and a grocery store trip for legislators, the Challenge gained national attention and received media coverage from the Boston Globe and the Washington Post, among others. Later that summer, two more members of Congress joined in: Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
The response to the Challenge was both widespread and heartfelt:
- Advocate groups and reporters joined the challenge, and individuals reached out to the participating members of Congress to share their personal experiences of struggling to put food on the table for their families.
- By humanizing life on food stamps, the Food Stamp Challenge helped make the case for increased funding. The Farm Bill that went into effect on October 1, 2008, invested $10.3 billion in nutrition programs, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily further increased benefits.