*Have a question we didn’t answer here? Please drop us a line at kkahle@azcaa.org, and we’ll get you an answer! Thank you!

What is the amount of the SNAP Experience Budget and how did you decide on that amount?

In July 2012, the average individual on SNAP in Arizona received $29.14 in SNAP benefits per week, amounting to $4.16 per day or $1.38 per meal. For simplicity,  participants in the Experience are allowed a food budget of $29 for the week of the Experience.

In many cases, competing priorities of utilities, rent, child care and medical expenses
prevent Arizonans from spending out-of-pocket monies on additional food. For these SNAP participants, $29.14 a week for food is the often insufficient reality. The SNAP Experience aims to provide as accurate a portrayal of the experience of living with SNAP benefits as possible. We recognize that SNAP is intended to supplement the monthly food budget (thus the federal name Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Although we know that many households rely solely on their SNAP benefits to purchase food, calculations of food costs and average food consumption per person show us that SNAP benefits could only reasonably cover about 70% of the average person’s food costs each month. (The Thrifty Food Plan, on which SNAP benefits were originally based, actually made this same assumption that the household would cover 30% of food costs while the supplement would cover 70%. More information can be found on that here.)

We encourage all participants in the Experience to use only the $29 allotted to pay for all their food costs for the week of the Experience. However, Experience participants can choose to supplement the $29 budget with a maximum of $12 more to use as they please for food purchases not typically permitted on SNAP (hot and prepared meals or disallowed purchases such as alcohol products, for example). Experience participants who choose this option are asked to not exceed $41 in total weekly expenses, and to track how the additional $12 is spent.

Should my whole family participate?

The decision to include your family members, particularly minors or medically frail adults or children, in the SNAP Experience is yours alone. ACAA encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the Experience, but please take into consideration what is best for those in your household before asking them to participate.

If you choose to have multiple members of your family participate in the Experience, you will figure your week’s budget based on your household size (# of members participating). Your total budget should not exceed the amount listed below in the Budget (center) column. If you choose to also include the bonus ‘out of pocket’ money, the amount in the Supplement (center) column is amount you may add to your budget, and you should not exceed the amount in the Total Max column for the week:

# in household                     Budget                        Supplement            Total Max

2 people                               $53                               $23                        $76

3 people                               $76                               $33                       $109

4 people                              $97                                $42                       $139

5 people                              $115                              $50                       $165

6 people                              $138                              $60                       $198

7 people                              $153                              $66                       $219

8 people                              $175                              $75                       $250

over 8                                 +$22 per person           +$9 per person    +$31 per person

The SNAP Experience is a great opportunity to talk with your family, particularly your children, about healthy eating as well as meal planning and preparation on a budget. You may also want to use this week to start or continue talking to your family about poverty, hunger, and giving back within the community. We encourage Experience participants to consider taking the Experience further by donating time, money, or food to your local food pantry or food bank, or volunteering to serve a meal at a shelter, soup kitchen, or senior center.

What items can be purchased with my $29 weekly budget?

Experience participants should spend their SNAP budget of $29 only on items eligible for purchase through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. As per USDA guidelines:

Households CAN use the SNAP benefits to buy:

Foods for the household to eat, such as:

  • breads and cereals;
  • fruits and vegetables;
  • meats, fish and poultry; and
  • dairy products.
  • Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat (NOT recommended for the Experience unless it’s a plant which is ready to harvest, such as fresh basil).

Households CANNOT use the SNAP benefits to buy:

  • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco;
  • Any nonfood items, such as:
    • Pet foods;
    • Soaps, paper products; and
    • Household supplies.
  • Vitamins and medicines.
  • Hot or prepared foods (ex: rotisserie chicken, pre-made sandwiches, etc.).

What can the optional additional $12 be used to purchase?

The SNAP Experience is based on a budget of $29 for one week, which amounts to the average benefit an individual in Arizona received in July 2012 ($126.29/month * 12 months /52weeks, rounded). Experience participants, however, are permitted to use an additional $12 throughout the week to help supplement their SNAP budget. This amounts to an additional 30% of the week’s budget (rounded).  This additional money can be used for any purchase you wish, including purchases that are not allowed on the SNAP budget (see above). You may opt to use this money, or you may opt not to use it to experience what it’s like to rely solely on SNAP for your week’s food budget.

How can I stretch my weekly SNAP budget?

The USDA recommends that SNAP recipients buy raw ingredients whenever possible, to maximize their benefits. However, you can plan your meals however you choose: buying food for the week, shopping multiple times during the week, buying in bulk where affordable, and buying produce frozen, canned, or fresh. SNAP benefits can be combined with coupons and store discount cards, but if you don’t already get a newspaper you may wish to consider whether you could afford to buy one for the coupons while living on a SNAP budget.

If I don’t have enough money for the week, can I go get a food box?

While many SNAP participants stretch their budget through the assistance of food co-operatives, food pantries, and food banks, we respectfully request that Experience participants not do so. Our reason for this is simple: your need is temporary for one week and done for the purposes of the SNAP Experience, but for thousands of individuals and families, those resources are a life line. Using a food box or other food donation during your Experience makes it more difficult for a household truly in need to get assistance. We do, however, encourage you to seek out a food bank, food pantry,
or other meal provider and volunteer during the week of the Experience to gain first-hand perspective on the amazing work done by these providers and the process of getting assistance that those in need face.

To find a location to volunteer, please visit http://www.azfoodbanks.org/images/uploads/Complete%20Directory%2001-11.pdf

How do the MyPlate recommendations from USDA play into this Experience?

In the past, Arizona and many other states have hosted the Food Stamp Challenge (see
more about that here: http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/snapfood-stamps/snapfood-stamp-challenges/). Times are rapidly changing, and while we see sharp increases in Arizona in SNAP enrollment (23% more individuals received SNAP in July 2012 than in July 2009) we also see increasing obesity in our state. The USDA recently replaced the old Food Pyramid with the new MyPlate icon in an effort to more clearly illustrate a healthy approach to food. Since its release in June of 2011, many have debated whether the MyPlate recommendations are obtainable for low-income households.

We asked this question:

Can an individual or family eat what could be considered a healthy and balanced diet on a SNAP budget?

The Arizona SNAP Experience was born from this conversation. We invite participants
to experience what 1.1 MILLION Arizonans deal with every month: Trying to eat a healthy, balanced diet on a SNAP budget.

We hope that SNAP Experience participants will follow the MyPlate guidelines as closely as possible throughout the week of the Experience. As you plan your week and incorporate the MyPlate recommendations into meal planning, shopping, and your daily intake, reflect on the experience. Is it easy or difficult to follow the USDA’s recommendations with your SNAP budget? How well are you able to adhere to the recommendations? Does your diet tend to fall in line with the MyPlate recommendations when you’re not participating in the SNAP Experience?

For more on MyPlate, please see the MyPlate Information Sheet or go to http://www.choosemyplate.gov/

How can I participate in the Arizona SNAP Experience?

  1.  Register for the SNAP Experience by sending a completed copy of the registration form to kkahle@azcaa.org  by Friday, September 9, 2011. Then check your e-mail for blogging information and resources to help you budget your week and stretch your food dollar!
  2. Purchase food and beverages using your Experience budget during the week of September 12 – 18, 2011.
  3. Record spending on the Budget Sheet. All food purchased and eaten during the Experience, including food not permitted to be purchased with your benefit and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
  4. Eat only food you purchase for the project:
    1. Avoid consuming food that you already own (this does not include spices or condiments).
    2. Avoid accepting free food from family, friends, or at work or social gatherings.
  5. Contribute to the blog by sending entries to kkahle@azcaa.org.  See the Blog Prompts for ideas on how you can contribute. And don’t forget to bookmark us and check in all week!
  6. Spread the word about your experience on your Twitter and Facebook accounts!

One thought on “FAQs

  1. I’m on nutrition assistance and it’s not easy. You have to be creative, disciplined, resourceful and patient. You look for the bargains, take a chance on expired foods, and eat unhealthy because it’s cheap. I know I’m being judged when I bring out the card. I hope this Experience opens some people’s eyes.

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