He sits on one of the most powerful legislative bodies in the world, and on Wednesday afternoon U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright had a 57-cent box of macaroni and cheese for dinner, accompanied by some iceberg lettuce topped with oil and vinegar.
Oh, and two slices of wheat bread.
“I’m a little cranky, I admit it,” Cartwright, D-Moosic, said of his reduced daily intake, a one-day protest he said was designed to highlight cuts in the proposed House Farm Bill. The plan would, over 10 years, eliminate more than $20 billion from the $80 billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, he said.
Taken together with two smaller meals, the cost of Cartwright’s food intake for the day fell just under $4.50 — the current daily average SNAP benefit per person under the program formerly known as food stamps.
Efforts to reach a spokesperson for the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., were not successful Wednesday. According to The Associated Press, Lucas called the proposal the “most reform-minded bill in decades,” saying it would make needed SNAP cuts as well as eliminate $5 billion a year in subsidies paid to farmers, regardless of whether they grow crops.
The legislation would achieve some of the food stamp cuts by partially eliminating what is called categorical eligibility, or giving people automatic food stamp benefits when they sign up for certain other programs. Lucas said the cuts would still allow people who qualify to apply for food stamps, they just wouldn’t automatically get them, the AP reported.
The House is debating 103 amendments to the bill, including a Democratic proposal to eliminate the SNAP cuts.
Nearly three-quarters of the nation’s 47 million recipients are families with children, Cartwright said, with 1.77 million recipients in Pennsylvania, or 14 percent of the state’s population.
His day began with 4 ounces of toasted rice cereal, 6 ounces of skim milk, and 3 tablespoons of ground flax seed to help fight cholesterol, all washed down by two cups of homemade coffee. Lunch was a sandwich of wheat bread, one slice of turkey, one slice of American cheese and iceberg lettuce.
Mary R. Ehret, a nutrition expert with Penn State Cooperative Extension in West Pittston, pointed out that SNAP benefits are rarely the sole source of food money for most recipients, although her agency understands the challenges many face in allocating limited nutrition dollars.
The agency offers classes to educate low-income families on healthy, cost-effective food choices.
The key points, Ehret said, are cooking at home, making nutritious choices and sticking to budget. The USDA’s official food-plan recommendations say that a family of four can eat a “thrifty” weekly diet of healthy, homemade fare for $190 per family of four, or about $6.78 per day each.
Cartwright doesn’t disagree, but argued that the House proposal would eliminate SNAP benefits altogether for 2 million people, with long-term effects on their nutrition and health.
“We need Congress to understand what these harsh austerity measures mean on a personal level rather than as a budgetary numbers analysis,” Cartwright said of his dietary protest.