Massachusetts Legislators Take on SNAP Program to Try Living on $5 a Day

Two Massachusetts legislators took on a week-long challenge from two major food banks to see if they could live on $5 a day.

State Rep. Natalie Higgins has been living on quick oats, lentil soup, beans, rice, peppers, broccoli, and apples. Higgins took on the challenge from the Worcester County Food Bank and the Greater Boston Food Bank to see if legislators could live on the same financial restrictions as those who buy food from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

"I’m living on $4.56 a day. That’s what the average SNAP beneficiary gets," said Higgins. "You can buy a latte at Starbucks for more than that."

The challenge was sparked by the reauthorization of the farm bill that would cut $20 billion from the program over 10 years. That bill didn't pass this time around.

Higgins thinks it’s important to put herself in others people's shoes. She said it's been an eye-opening reminder that some families are balancing nutrition with expenses when getting what they need at the grocery store.

"We are trying to bring down the stigma of it to make sure people who need help get help," said Higgins.

The Spanish American Center in Leominster is one place that helps fill the gaps for countless families who have SNAP but still can't make ends meet. The center helped 541 people last month, a 315 percent increase from last May.

"The cost of living is going up, rents are going up but peoples' finances are staying the same or going down," said Mickey Guzman of the Spanish American center.

Some people argue cuts could cut down on the number of people who abuse the extra financial help.

"I've entered the grocery store on more than one occasion and I've been approached by someone who wants me to purchase their food stamps for cash and I think they are taking advantage of the system that way," said Hailey Butler, of Fitchburg.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's report on hunger, 41 million people in the country don't know where their next meal is coming from.

"As a state as wealthy as we are in, Massachusetts, we should not be having those problems," said Higgins.

Higgins ends her challenge on Friday along with a few other freshman representatives. While she said the challenge was doable, she said she didn't feel like she got all the fruits and vegetable that are ideal.

In addition to Higgins, Rep. Andy Vargas also took on the challenge. Vargas has not yet shared his experience but told the Boston Herald he always tries to understand the "lives his constituents live."

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