Newark Mayor Cory Booker recently took up a “SNAP” challenge where he lived on $30 per week in groceries. He’s getting some kudos for his efforts of exploring how exactly the people on these programs live and how hard they can have it. I’m impressed at his effort as few people, in my experience, take the time to get down and see how things actually work on the ground level.
Of course, SNAP isn’t supposed to be something one lives entirely on. SNAP is an acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “Supplemental. Assistance.” Not “Guaranteed Subsistence Food Grant” – which would be a mouthful. (Bonus Pun!)
It would be no different than if the good Mayor (and he really is a good guy – he even saved people from a burning building – swear to god) had decided to live in a inflatable life raft for a month. Or, if he decided to wear disposable contact lenses for a couple of weeks. Using anything for other than the purpose for which it was designed is misleading. It also puts the emphasis on the wrong problem.
Clearly, we’re to believe that $4/day is too little to subsist on. I agree. EVERYONE agrees. That’s why it’s supposed to add to the other money one makes to take care of themselves. Not making money for themselves? That’s a tough one.
There could be multiple reasons someone finds themselves without income altogether and without savings at the same time. Regardless, there is family, charity, and opportunity in the free market for work – even daily labor. It doesn’t pay the best, but then it’s not supposed to.
The problem isn’t that these programs aren’t generous enough, it’s that the assumptions about what they’re supposed to do are all wrong. If Mr. Booker thinks free food should be a new guaranteed benefit then he should probably say so.
A safety net isn’t the most comfortable thing to hit when falling from terrible heights, but it’s a damn bit better than solid ground.
I think the problem in Newark isn’t the low level of SNAP benefits but the abysmal conditions in the city. Maybe more efforts by the Mayor to see how crime could be improved in his city would fare a better chance of actually moving the needle for the better.
Unfortunately, Mayor Booker took the wrong challenge.