In Your Words: Turning Down Free Food

ACAA staff members were invited to a special meeting today, over lunch.

What does it mean to be invited to a meeting with a free lunch included when you’re on the SNAP Experience? Simply put, it means you admire the spread and then open your lunch sack to eat whatever you packed for the day. In this case, the lunch we turned down was this:


























And let us not forget these:











Instead of taking the free lunch (did we mention the cookies???) we opted for things like this lunch brought by a staff member:











Bagel thin ($2.99 for 6), turkey ($4.33 for .62 lb), 1/3 of a pint of Greek yogurt ($2.44 for the pint) and a cup of grapes ($0.49/lb).

People often ask about the logic behind passing on free meals during a week on a SNAP budget, wondering why anyone would say no to free food when living on a very limited selection of groceries and often battling ongoing hunger. According to Feeding America, 27.6% of adults who are eligible for work and receiving SNAP are employed. Historically, SNAP enrollment has increased in tandem with the unemployment rate; as more participants gain employment the reverse will happen with households seeing a reduction or complete elimination of benefits due to increased income.

The average household receiving SNAP benefits nationwide includes at least one child, elderly person, or a person with a disability. They receive about $130/month ($126 in Arizona as of July 2012) and have a gross monthly income of $731. In order to be eligibile for the program most households are required to have gross incomes at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or $33,525/year for a family of four.

The Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona released a report in May 2012 measuring  “…how much income  a family of a certain composition in a given place must earn to meet their basic needs.” For a family of 4 in Arizona, that amount ranges from 203% of Federal Poverty Guidelines ($46,870 annually) in Graham and La Paz Counties to 255% of FPG ($58,798 annually) in Maricopa County. (The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Arizona, Appendix C)

So what does this all mean, and what does it have to do with free lunch? Not only is the SNAP benefit level not sufficient to cover a full month’s worth of basic food needs (research shows us it covers approximately 70%), but for those households that are working, incomes are well below what is needed to meet their basic needs. Those employed and receiving SNAP are, quite simply, far less likely to be provided with opportunities for free lunch during their work day. We recommend declining offers for free food and drinks in recognition of the fact that a free meal at work is not something the typical SNAP household member would have access to with any regularity.