Ted Kulongoski: Trendsetter.

The Washington Post reports that four members of Congress - part of the Hunger Caucus - are following the lead of Governor Ted Kulongoski, and living for a week on $21 in food.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) stood before the refrigerated section of the Safeway on Capitol Hill yesterday and looked longingly at the eggs. At $1.29 for a half-dozen, he couldn't afford them. ...

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), co-chairmen of the House Hunger Caucus, called on lawmakers to take the "Food Stamp Challenge" to raise awareness of hunger and what they say are inadequate benefits for food stamp recipients. Only two others, Ryan and Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), took them up on it.

"All of us in Congress live pretty good lives," said McGovern, who ate a single banana for breakfast yesterday and was going through caffeine withdrawal by midday. "We don't have to wake up worrying about the next meal. But there are a lot of Americans who do. I think it's wrong. I think it's immoral that in the U.S., the richest country in the world, people are hungry."

McGovern and Emerson have introduced legislation that would add $4 billion to the annual federal food stamp budget, which was $33 billion last year and covered 26 million Americans.

Of course, it's especially rough in DC:

At yesterday's weekly lunch meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, McGovern was mesmerized by an attractive roast beef sandwich with cheese. He noted the potato chips came in two flavors: sour cream and plain. But his own lunch consisted of some lentils he cooked for himself and brought to work in a plastic container.

This morning McGovern is hosting a fundraising breakfast for his reelection at Bistro Bis, the restaurant in the Hotel George. The catering charge is $20 per person for the breakfast -- nearly McGovern's entire food budget for this week -- but he won't be eating any of it.

And tonight he is to attend a fundraising dinner for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) thrown at the Georgetown mansion of oil heir Smith Bagley. "I guess I'll just drink tap water," McGovern said.

Meanwhile, Congressman McGovern is blogging his experience here - The Food Stamp Challenge.


  • Faolan (unverified)

    I remember being very impressed and proud of my Governor when I heard that Governor Ted was going to go for a week on Food Stamps. I think it's exactly the kind of thing that a leader should be doing. He's leading by example, directly showing people how we lack in areas that we should be supporting our citizenry.

    I am now doubly proud of how his actions have influenced others. After a 1st term in which he did a decent job but had a lot of his time and energy wasted by a Republican State House I think he is really going to do great things with his second term.

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    I saw this, and was rather disappointed that Ted wasn't even mentioned, despite making national news with his effort. It doesn't necessarily follow that these folks did it as a result of Ted and Mary trying it, but it would have provided a bit of context.

    Whatever else is said of our governor, with his funeral schedule and food stamp week (among other things) we can be proud of his strong empathic streak.

  • Alex Davies (unverified)

    Actually, $21 -- the amount the Goob had to spend for the week on food during his publicity stunt -- seems a pretty good start on an adequate one-person grocery bill in Oregon. Add $10 or $15 of your own money (is that so unreasonable?) and maybe a stop at the Food Bank on the way home (and unlike Teddy, shop WinCo not Freddies), and you'll be doing OK.

    The idea that it is other people's moral obligation to finance the entirety of your nutritional intake is absurd.

  • Sean (unverified)

    Live'n like you are poor is definately the chic way to understand what is like to be poor.

    "Oh, I'm sorry Senator, I'm just having lentils today, I'm being poor"

    Well how convicted of you.

    I think all these folks should be a little more realistic.

    They should have go out and try and find decent housing where they'll need to find a second, or third, below living wage job to afford the first/last.

    Perhaps they should spend a few months on a waiting list while they couch surf with other Rep's and their kids until they can find a place to call their own.

    Oh - and what if one of their little ones has a tooth ache. Or breaks their arm. Or worse yet, they break their arm and can't work at two of their jobs....now what was it they were saying about Universal Health Care? Oh that is right - If you work hard in America you can take care of your family - until said work injures you....then you are screwed.

    Hunger is a critical issue that deserves this type of attention - but it is one cog in a vast wheel of poverty that our Gov and the hundreds of other policy makers across the nation can influence/control.

  • Buckman Res (unverified)

    "All of us in Congress live pretty good lives..I think it's immoral that in the U.S., the richest country in the world, people are hungry."

    Please, spare me the moral indignation! Nothing like a good dose of posturing, pandering, and hypocrisy about poverty from a fat-cat politician who gets an automatic pay-raise every year, not to mention pension, health insurance, and travel benefits that average Americans can’t imagine.

    With the cushy life a Congressman leads it’s no wonder you can’t find one in Oregon to stick his head out of their political foxhole and take on Gordon Smith. This post is a strong endorsement for term limits.

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    Next, I'd love to see our electeds try to live a week without a car, like many Americans do.

    A quarter of Americans are too young, infirm, or poor to drive, or lack licenses (while some of these folks get chauffeured around, like politicians, it'd be interesting to experience living without that). And, of course, a small number of folks simply choose to do without.

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    Actually, $21... seems a pretty good start on an adequate one-person grocery bill in Oregon

    First, that is the average amount. There are a number of families that receive less.

    Those that receive the higher amounts make very little money. That means their ability to add even $10/week is extremely unlikely. Especially since they still need to have funds for things like toilet paper and soap, gas or bus tickets, etc. The vast majority of people on food stamps work, you know.

    And $21 is not a "good start." Most people spend at least three times that for a single person per week. In households in the middle income ranges, you go over $100/week. Eating on $21 a week is difficult, and it usually means you're not getting much in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables or lean meat. There's a huge difference between $21/week and $70/week, believe me. It's the difference between a nutritious diet and not eating enough.

    When our family of three was on food stamps, we received less than $1/day per person. And we had very little money left over after paying rent, electricity, phone (absolute basics on the phone -- we needed it so I could make/receive calls about jobs), car insurance, and gas. But we did buy health insurance, which cost more than $100 per pay period, which counted against us. They saw that as money we could have used for groceries. But you can only get out of your insurance during the enrollment period, and it isn't responsible to drop insurance when you have a baby and a wife with regular health problems.

    I challenge people to try eating on $21/week. That means no cheating, either-- no eating food at work that isn't purchased with your $21, no meals purchased by other people, etc. It's extremely difficult. And people at this income level are also not going to have access to a garden in their yard, either. Most don't have yards, and those that do don't have the money for it, and many work multiple jobs and wouldn't have the time.

    Try doing it for even longer. It takes a toll on your health.

  • Eric J. (unverified)

    $21 adds up to a lot of Cup-o-noodles and really nothing else. That is not a healthy diet in anyone's book.

    Also, when I was young, there were more times than not when the stamps ran out and my family dove into garbage cans for the can redemptions. This was after we had to pay rent and doctors, ect. I know what it is like to do without and sometimes we did without going to the doctor in exchange for more food.

    Yes, Jenni - it does take a toll on health - physical and mental.

  • Alex Davies (unverified)

    Most people spend at least three times that [$21] for a single person per week. In households in the middle income ranges, you go over $100/week.

    Hmmm, Jenni, looks like you've pinned the tail on the Big Blue Donkey's fat ass re: Oregon's nation-leading obesity problem.

    Seriously, if you're spending more than fifty bucks a week on groceries FOR ONE PERSON, then you're eating either a. too much or b. at a level of processed convenience or gourmet sophistication beyond the financial reach of someone of very limited economic means. In neither case is it the government's responsibility to subsidize your vices.

    My mother's sage advice would be something along the lines of "learn to friggin cook, and quit turning your nose up at leftovers."

    As I said, other people may perceive an obligation to their own moral conscience, immortal souls or sense of spiritual well being to help the less fortunate feed themselves. But if you are an adult Oregonian of sane mind and capable body, then it is your responsibility and yours alone to make sure you have enough to eat. Period. If you don't and won't, then it isn't society failing you, it is you failing yourself.

  • Michael Wilson (unverified)

    Mr. Mandel mentioned the problem with the poor and the lack of transportation. A nice subject that is constantly avoided and one that might prove solvable with some simple actions, or at least we could put a dent in it if we tried by simply opening the transportation market to private businesses.

    Here are some comments from the National Academies, previously known as the National Academy of Sciences, from a study the did a few years ago, titled TCRP 49. It is apparently no longer avaiable on the web. “Despite the broad availability of the automobile, considerable segments of the population do not have access to the highway network because they do not own a car. These segments of the population, which include the nation's youth, the elderly, and low-income groups, remain dependent on public transportation systems. However, public transportation systems have not kept pace with changing land use patterns and, as a result, many transit-dependent users now find fewer essential destinations available to them. This lack of personal mobility has economic, social, and human costs, such as higher unemployment, reduced tax revenue, greater welfare and medical costs, and limited social potential. There is a need to define and measure the economic, social, and human costs of personal immobility and to identify public transportation services that will help reduce such costs.”

    “In 1990, 9.2% of American households did not have an automobile. Almost half of those without an automobile are persons 65 years or older and of these, 81% are women.”…

    “ 23% of full-time working mothers and almost 60% of part-time working mothers have non-traditional work hours. This reduces women’s ability to join carpools or find appropriately-scheduled transit options.”…

    “Nearly 40% of central city African-American households were without access to an automobile, compared to fewer than one out of five white central city households.”…


  • Michael Wilson (unverified)

    BTW I should mention that the Sociologist William Julius Wilson notes in his book "When Work Disappears" that one of the biggest handicaps central city minorities have is the lack of transit and that is true in Portland. MHW

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    "the lack of transit and that is true in Portland."

    come again?

    And it's true what anti-transit folks say--TriMet is in fact subsidized beyond what it takes in from fare revenues. So what private company would want to take that on, and why would we want that level of service?

  • TR (unverified)

    Making sure low income people have enough to eat goes beyond the food stamp program. It requires the legislature to stop and look at what they are doing wrong that has an impact on the increasing price of food. For example, using corn for fuel raises the cost of food including staples like milk. Additionally the price of milk can vary as much as a dollar a gallon between grocers. Yet even in low income neighborhoods, tax subsidies, property tax abatements and property offered at below market value are routinely offered to the boutique type high end and higher priced grocery stores that appeal to the affluent, while discount grocers like WinCo, WalMart & Food 4 Less, often called big box development, are both discouraged and their plans locate a store attacked, including by politicians. This way of thinking needs to be reversed. Keeping the price of food within the means of people on low and fixed incomes is just as important as any food stamp program.

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    you're eating either a. too much or b. at a level of processed convenience or gourmet sophistication beyond the financial reach of someone of very limited economic means. In neither case is it the government's responsibility to subsidize your vices.

    Alex Davies, I suggest you try the $21/week diet -- and report back on how it goes.

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    Actually, eating on more than $50/week could mean that you're eating healthy. That you're buying fresh fruits and veggies, lean cuts of beef, chicken breasts, and fresh fish.

    It isn't unreasonable to spend $10 per day for three meals and some healthy snacks.

    Eating fatty foods and such is cheap. Eating healthy is expensive.

    For example, I was just at the grocery store about an hour ago. I bought four apples (my toddler's favorite snack). It cost me $2.92.

    For just 57 cents more I could buy two large bags of Doritos ($3.49, BOGO).

    You can get a heck of a lot more snacks (plus chips for brown bag lunches, to go along with home lunches, etc.) out of two big bags of Doritos than you can out of four apples.

    However, we choose the apples because they're healthy. As one of Abby's shows (Lazy Town) says, they're her "sports candy."

    You can buy 20-30% fat hamburger meat for around $1.99/lb (even cheaper at Albertson's monthly meat sale or when Safeway or Winco has it BOGO ). Lean beef is typically going to cost $4.99/lb+ and chicken breasts that much or more.

    Believe me, it's a lot cheaper to eat fatty foods that are no good for you than it is healthy. When you have less than $100/week to buy gas and feed a family of three, plus any little things that come up (such as toilet paper or a doctor visit at $30), you watch very closely what you buy. You learn who has the best prices on meat, veggies, etc. I could get a lot more food for cheaper if I bought junk food, fatty foods, etc. But I value my family's health too much. We've been able to instill in Abby the belief that healthy foods are what you want to eat -- they make you strong, they make you healthy, and they make you smart. She's only 5, but she gets it.

  • Garlynn - http://undergroundscience.blogspot.com (unverified)

    I've thought about taking the Food Stamp Challenge myself, and blogging about it.

    My question, for those of us who obviously haven't been living on $21/week up until this point, is this:

    What's fair game for the challenge? What are the ground rules?

    That is, if I go out and buy some pasta, some lentils, some beans, some rice, maybe some fresh vegetables if they don't bust the budget, some oatmeal, etc...

    ...then I get home. Am I allowed to use my existing stock of olive oil, spices, etc.?

    Or am I pretending that I just fell off the boat and have never seen the inside of a kitchen before, and therefore don't know how to keep staple condiments/oils/etc. stocked?

    I would definitely want to cover these issues in the blog, but would like guidance. What's accepted fair game?

    Existing tupperware, silverware, knives, dishware, water filters -- we'll just disregard all that stuff, right?

    And beer, we're Oregonians, we can't forget that -- but it counts as a food item, too, correct? Can't afford much beer if you've only got $21 a week and your first concern is food. Even if you made a batch six months ago and still have some bottles in the pantry... it would kind of be cheating to open one and drink it during the week, wouldn't it? Or could you assume that, since the ingredients are only $29 for a batch of 52 bottles, you might have scraped together that much in spare change over a few months and bottled it anyways...? :-D

    OK, no beer.

    But, you see where I'm going with this -- there's a reason it's called the food stamp CHALLENGE. It really would be CHALLENGING to properly, honestly and truly undertake a challenge such as this, and I think it would be worthwhile to have some blow-by-blow (er, day-by-day) blogging of it, agreed?

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    And beer, we're Oregonians, we can't forget that -- but it counts as a food item, too, correct?

    I do believe that the stories about Gov K said that he was specifically lamenting the prohibition on digging into his beer fridge.

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    I think it would be fair to dig into the staples like spices, oil, and flour, but not into things like peanut butter, jelly, etc. that you already have.

    But, in reporting how you did, it would be great if you could say how often you needed to dig into those staples. It's something that a lot of poor people don't tend to have, since they're often costly when you first purchase them (even if they do last a while).

    I'm lucky enough that I grow my own herbs on my patio. I've had them for years. So I regularly have fresh basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, etc. even when I don't have any money.

    When it comes to dishes and stuff, it depends. If it's just knives, tupperware containers, etc., I say it's fair game. If it's some specialty tool, like a pasta maker, food processor, etc. that is key to you being able to make the meal, then it would be off limits. If the food processor is used just so you can chop veggies in seconds, rather then taking longer to chip by hand, I'd say that's fair game as well.

    It would be very interesting to see people blog daily on this-- what did they eat, were they full, how did they feel, etc. How often did you have to eat items that are over the daily recommended allowance of fat, sodium, etc.? Was it something you could do for months?

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    First and foremost I'm really greatful that I've learned how to be really creative with ramen noodles! Actually, that is second. Really first, I'm greatful that I don't have to live on $21 a week for groceries, although not far from it. I'm intrigued by this idea of the rest of us trying this out, and learning what it really means.
    Question. Would it count if I priced out what I already have and used that for a week, up to $21, or is this a completely from scratch idea? Having been raised by a single mother with little income, as an adult, I've never shopped without buying something extra (staples, dry goods) for when times are lean, so I've got a pretty good stash. What do ya'll think?

  • ws (unverified)

    Gee I hope the congressman and others keep up this experiment. I believe there's lots more for them to learn. As they engage in the experiment, if they were to rub elbows with the people that really exist on it, they would learn some of the ways used to supplement that meager budget. For example, there's a running schedule of feeds at churches and other non-profits. Also, foodboxes. And maybe the congressmen haven't yet heard of Food Not Bombs. Serves at least 2-3 days a week, even more in some cities at parks and so forth. Just do a web search for locations in your city.

    And there's the common practice of dining on doggie bags that some restaurant patrons carefully set out in discreetly conspicuous places such as newsboxes and refuse containers upon leaving a restaurant. I saw this happen tonight once again. Just keep your eyes open for the crisp white paper bags. The congressmen would really be getting some great insight if they enhanced the authenticity of their experiment by exploring a few of these methods of surviving on the foodstamp budget.

  • Curt (unverified)

    Evan:"Next, I'd love to see our electeds try to live a week without a car, like many Americans do."

    I'd like to see more Americans live without a car. I bicycle to work -- my car is a freaking luxury. Anyone that sees their car as a necessity has goofed up priorities -- besides the fact that they're doing a poor job of planning for when the oil bubble bursts and they won't be able to drive anymore anyway.


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    You could try that and see how it works. However, it's not quite the same since you probably do what a lot of us do -- pick up those staples when they're at really low prices. A lot of poor people don't have the ability to buy and stock up on items like that. It ends up being they buy it when they need it (often times not when it's cheaper), get it via donation (family, friend, food bank, etc.), or they go without.

    But I'm always interested to see people try to live on the $21/week. It's really difficult to do, and not something you'd want to have to do all the time.

    I'm very glad that our family can spend considerably more on groceries now (including what we were able to contribute on top of our food stamps, we had between $30-45 week to spend for a family of 3). We now eat a lot of fresh veggies and fruit, lean meat, etc.

  • Jon (unverified)

    In households in the middle income ranges, you go over $100/week.

    Per person? How? Maybe only if you eat out three nights a week. I have 5 members in my family. My household income is nearly $90k/yr. We eat VERY well, and we spend about $160/week for ALL FIVE OF US. We have fruit, we have lean cuts of meat, we eat a ton of chicken. Its not hard folks. Maybe the state should be teaching the folks on food stamps how to shop. And FWIW, at one point we were on the dole too...

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