The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program made headlines last week when Gwyneth Paltrow and GOOP announced they were going to live on $29 for the week (the amount a New York state resident receives weekly for SNAP).

Predictably she gave up (as most of us would). Not everyone is in that position. 47 million Americans are currently on some form of food stamp (46,029,343 in January 2015 to be exact). 1.4 million of those people are in the five boroughs of NYC. This challenge to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow was part of the #FoodBankNYCChallenge co-hosted by Mario Batali.

If you want to see what you can really do on $4 a day, check out Good & Cheap from Leanne Brown. What started as a cookbook (the #1 all-time cookbook on Kickstarter) is now in it’s second edition.

Source: USDA

You might be saying, “What is SNAP?” The food stamp program is currently split into three categories: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), WIC (Women, Infants & Children), and EBT (Electronic Bank Transfer allowing SNAP to be sent directly to retailers through a debit card).

This is separate from other programs like SNA (School Nutrition Association) which is the program and debate around providing free school lunches and in some cases breakfast as well.

The political right and conservatives might rail against food stamps and argue that federal assistance needs an overhaul but they should know that it was President Johnson that signed food stamps into law in 1964 (after a pilot program initiated in 1963 from President Kennedy). Food stamps celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2014. A new budget proposed in Congress last month by House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga) proposes cuts that would effectively remove 11 million people from food stamps. This is a $74 billion dollar debate, and it’s complicated.

It’s not easy to get on food stamps, or to stay on food stamps. SNAP expires every three months and requires paperwork on top of paperwork. We’re talking government paperwork. I went to the SNAP website and tried to apply, I don’t qualify, but I looked at the forms and downloaded them and tried to navigate the site. It’s not easy. Imagine if English wasn’t your first language, or you didn’t have computer profiency, or you worked two jobs or were on disability or any other amalgamation of situations and think about the intrinsic challenges of trying to secure that you and your family can have access to quality and healthy food.

Nonprofits are not always able to step in and save the day.

Source: Congressional Budget Office

There is a lot more to know and understand about how these policies are put in place and how they get implemented, this is by no means an exhaustive explanation or one from an industry expert. But as I looked to educate myself on this topic, I thought I would share what I found. It’s not enough for me to take one article or what I read at face value, I want to dig in and understand an issue and its many complexities. That is what makes us smarter, more civically engaged and more compassionate Americans. Which was the nexus of the food stamp program to begin with.

If you liked what you read, please RECOMMEND this post.

This essay was adapted from a post I wrote for my newsletter. Subscribe to receive weekly updates about food, food tech, food trends, food policy, food security, agriculture and international development.

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