Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles about how the impoverished American can overcome proposed budget cuts by utilizing other services and methods.
Donald Trump has proposed to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) by $190 billion over 10 years. The entire SNAP budget in 2016 was $70.9 billion, and the program provided an average of $125.50 per month in food per person enrolled.
Executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, Colleen Moriarty, informed that a proposed cut to SNAP that size would result in 120,000 Minnesotans losing SNAP benefits. There are only 400,000 Minnesotans utilizing the program, which is seven percent of the state’s population. That’s roughly half the national rate -- 13.4 percent of all Americans utilize SNAP benefits to obtain food -- two-thirds of which are children, seniors and the disabled. Trump has also proposed cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in the amounts of $15.6 billion and $200 million, respectively.
Moriarty was en route to Washington D.C. to accept a national award from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) when she spoke to GCN Live on Tuesday. FRAC is “the leading, national nonprofit working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States.” Moriarty’s receiving the award because of her SNAP innovations like a one-page application for seniors, securing state funding to give beneficiaries an additional $10 to spend at farmers markets, and a help line to answer calls from all counties in Minnesota. She’s concerned that the Trump administration seems to be targeting children and seniors to fund increased defense spending. She called Trump’s proposed budget cuts “devastating,” adding later that “this administration seems intent to target the people who need help the most.”
Trump’s budget still has to get out of the Senate, though, so it’s unlikely the cuts will pass as they’re proposed. But Senate Democrats won’t be successful in fighting for all the funding programs like SNAP, WIC and TANF have received in the past. They’re going to have to compromise, which means the programs will be available to fewer Americans. This guide will provide five ways to feed yourself and family if you lose SNAP or WIC benefits.
Visit the Nearest Food Bank
Moriarty believes those who lose their SNAP benefits will spillover to food banks, but she doesn’t think there’s enough donated food to go around.
“The emergency food system cannot accommodate that. It would break the system….I think some people say...let the charitable organizations handle it, but just five percent of all funding is a charitable response, and most of it comes from the federal government,” she said.
Regardless, if you were on SNAP and got kicked off, you still have to find food, and you most certainly qualify for a monthly visit to your local food bank. If you don’t have a food bank in your town, try a neighboring town. Food banks are very welcoming of everyone in need, so if you let them know you drove 30 miles to get there, you’ll almost certainly come home with food. This won’t replace the $125.50 you were getting from SNAP, as a typical, monthly visit to a food bank results in less than $100-worth of food for a single person.
I do qualify for food bank benefits given my income, and my first trip to a Minnesota food bank resulted in more than enough food for one person for one month. This was the case in Montana as well, and I suspect this will be how food banks will support the increased number of families that will have lost SNAP or WIC benefits. By cutting the number of items a single person can take home, food banks will be able to help more families, seniors and starving children.
The value of the nearly 40 items I was able to take home was roughly $103.49, mostly due to a five-pound bag of shredded cheddar cheese ($25), three loaves of bread ($9.95) and five packages of meat ($20.74) -- all of which I can freeze.
Meat is expensive, which is why it’s the best value at food banks. Only a few options have fallen in price since last year (chicken and bologna are two), and with budget cuts to agriculture looming, you can expect prices to continue rising. More on that in a later article, though.
If you don’t eat meat, there are vegetarian options like tuna, vegetarian refried beans and dairy proteins like cottage cheese. If you’re vegan, you probably weren’t on SNAP or WIC in the first place. If you were, at least you’ve nearly replaced the $125 monthly food allowance you had. If you can’t make it to a food bank, many offer delivery service as well. If you can make it, sign up for any nutrition or cooking classes offered. You’ll get some great information, healthy recipes and take home even more groceries.
But there’s an even better way to get more, lean protein in your diet that’s so easy even your children can do it.
Buy a Fishing License
Fishing licenses are cheap and easy to obtain. For as little as $15 you can fish all of Illinois’ freshwater for an entire year, and the average price in the Midwest is $20 annually. California has the second-highest annual, base fee of $47.01, but you pay even more to catch certain fish in the state, likely making it the most expensive license in the country.
TakeMeFishing.org is a fantastic place to get all the information you need about acquiring a fishing license, and in some cases, you can even apply and pay online. Many states even offer free or discounted fishing licenses to Veterans, the disabled or impoverished. I have a friend in Minnesota who lived down the street from a lake (almost everyone does), and he and his kids caught so much fish they cleaned it, froze it and had enough to donate to the needy.
You might think you need a bunch of expensive gear to fish, but that’s not true at all. You can use a stick, some fishing line and a hook to start. If you want something that will last, though, visit your local pawn shop. You can almost always find fishing rods and sometimes tackle at a reasonable price. If not, you can get an entire fishing tackle kit for $10 at most retail outlets. And you’ll need a fillet knife and sharpener, which you can also find at a pawn shop. For a tackle box, just use what you can find and throw it all in a five-gallon bucket. That way you can turn the bucket over and have a seat while you fish.
When it comes to bait, just dig up some worms where you see fresh, moist soil. You can also use your first catch as bait if it’s not worth eating. Fish eyes tend to work well because they reflect light, but they can be a pain to cut out. Try to utilize the scales of the fish to draw the eye of other fish. Here’s an instructional on how to fish. Here are some knots you should know. Here’s how to fillet a fish.
The most tolerable freshwater fish to eat and easiest to catch tend to be Sunnies, Crappies and Bluegills. Catfish aren’t terrible, but you have to be careful about their fine bones, so chew slowly. If you manage to hook a trout or walleye, you’ll be eating pretty well for quite some time.
If the fish are biting, you can generally take home one, one-person meal per day per person fishing ($5) minus the license fee ($15-$50) and fishing tackle expenses ($11 pawn shop rod + $1 in fishing line + $10 in fishing tackle), which comes out to a payback period between eight and 15 days, depending on the fish, of course. That’s a pretty good deal considering fishing season never ends if you have an ice auger ($40), which makes the payback period just eight days longer. Don’t forget to check Craigslist and the pawn shops for augers as well.
Start a Community Garden
If you live in a duplex, quadplex, or condo and have any lawn space, get together with your neighbors and ask your landlord if you you can install a community or urban garden somewhere. Try to convince her by saying it would mean less lawn for her to mow, and it would increase the value of the property.
While the biggest problem with community and urban gardens is loss to the grazing of animals and humans, I think you’ll find there’s always a bit of food out there when you need it. If you’re worried about losing food to grazers, plant foods they wouldn’t eat raw, like peppers and onions. You can also ask your landlord to install a motion-activated light overlooking the garden. That should spook some animals, and if you put up a security camera, some humans. The security camera doesn’t even have to be hooked up; it just needs to look like it’s sending a signal somewhere.
Since you and your neighbors likely keep different hours, get a rough idea of when everyone is available to do some gardening. You’ll find it gives kids something to do, too. Be sure to place the garden where it gets the most sunlight. And try to put the garden in a place where every tenant can see it from a window in their apartment.
If you live in an apartment building downtown, you probably don’t have room for a community garden. But there are a lot of foods you can grow indoors, including everything you need for a salad (carrots, mushrooms, lettuce, mandarin oranges, tomatoes) and guacamole (avocados, tomatoes, lemons, onions, cilantro). You can also grow herbs like basil, chive, ginger, mint and rosemary, and fruits like strawberries, grapes, figs, papaya, mulberries, watermelon, nectarines, peaches and apricots.
You can grab window sill planters at Wal-mart for under $5 each and seeds for about $3.50 per package. Harvest times vary by plant, but you can expect to harvest onions every three weeks, lettuce once a month or so, and carrots every two months. Fruit takes a lot longer, and here’s a guide for herbs.
Americans throw away 40 percent of their food, so if you’ve lost your SNAP benefits and can’t make the four previous recommendations work for you, there’s plenty of edible food to be found in dumpsters. Here’s a guide on how to prepare for dumpster diving.
While I’ve only ever “dove” in a dumpster for flowers, I worked many years in grocery stores and know the delis in those stores toss a lot of perfectly edible food out at the end of each night. So be aware of your local grocers’ business hours. If you get there just as they close, you’ll end up with a plethora of fried foods ranging from day-old chicken to pizza sticks right on top of the trash. If you get there early, I bet you can even convince one of the high schoolers working in the deli to wrap the food in a separate bag so it doesn’t get trashy.
Any restaurant that offers a buffet will also create a lot of edible trash, so frequent those places around closing time and see what you can score. And don’t just look for food in dumpsters. People throw away all kinds of valuable things that can be resold.
So there are five ways to feed yourself and your family despite budget cuts to food assistance. Next up in our series to help you make it through the budget cuts, we’ll look at how you can work around the proposed cuts to housing and urban development.
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