Forty Days of SNAP

Our family's Lenten food stamp challenge

“So, how much do you get in Food Stamps?”

That’s been the question folks have been asking me this week. Let me be clear:  We’re not receiving real Food Stamps or SNAP benefits, we’re just setting our family’s food budget during Lent to mirror the following pretend scenario.

There’s a simple answer and a complex rationale. First, the simple answer:

$396 per month

To put it another way, that comes to about $1.10 per meal, per person for our family of four.

One dollar, ten cents.

We have calculated that with the federal SNAP Prescreening Eligibility Tool.

The pretend scenario goes like this: We are a family of four. Parents are able-bodied. One parent works full-time (40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year) earning $11.50 per hour. This is the total family income of $23,000. The Federal Poverty Level for a family of four in 2012 was 23,050. The second parent cares for the dependent children and assists an elderly parent who lives nearby. This parent receives no income from these jobs.

According to the CalFresh (California’s version of SNAP) website, “All able-bodied persons (ages 18-49) without dependents must work 20 hours per week (monthly average 80 hours) or participate 20 hours per week in an approved work activity or do workfare. If not, these persons receive only 3 months of CalFresh benefits in a 36-month period.”

I calculated the rent to be $850 (imagine 2 BR apartment on Marconi Avenue in Carmichael, CA) with utilities not included. No additional assets, unearned income, dependent care expenses, child support, or savings.  Like many American families, we live paycheck to paycheck.

Under this scenario we would qualify for food stamp assistance of between $390 and $399 per month. This falls in line with many other Food Stamp Challenge budgets.

That is our starting point. But our execution of this discipline and challenge gets still more complicated.

Free lunch. Sometimes.

The children are ages seven and three. The older child goes to a local public elementary school.  Families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. For our 40 days of SNAP, we will be asking our daughter to eat school lunch every day. While this will cost us a little extra out-of-pocket ($2.75 per lunch), for the purpose of the challenge, it will allow us to save some money on our Food Stamp Challenge budget. This will likely be the topic of a future blog post as our daughter does not often eat school lunch (and considers it a privilege). However, there are some school lunches she doesn’t enjoy, but her experience may reflect those kids who have few choices. (For more details of breakfast and lunch in San Juan Unified School District, visit their Nutrition page.)

Any family with preschool age children who lives under the Federal Poverty Line qualifies for Head Start preschool. Our son, age three, attends a daycare that provides his lunch at no additional cost. Our scenario will imagine him attending a Head Start with free lunch. Here, too, we will save a little on our food stamp challenge budget.


During Lent this year, our kids have two weeks off of school: Presidents’ Week (a.k.a. “Ski Week”, February 18-23) and Spring Break (March 25-29).  This means two weeks with no free lunch. It should give us some additional insight to the food needs of families that can change week-to-week.

Sundays – Feast Days!

Sundays are feast days, set apart from the season of Lent. As this exercise is primarily a spiritual discipline, we will not be including what we consume on Sundays in our Food Stamp Challenge budget. This means we must make some calculations and adjustments by subtracting

There are 14 days of Lent in February (not counting Sundays). Since February has 28 days, our Food Stamp Challenge budget for February will be exactly half of $396. We will receive on February 13 $198 for our food budget.

There are 31 days in March, but only 26 of them are days of Lent (four Sundays and Easter Sunday on March 31). Therefore, we will use the following calculation to find our March food budget:

26/31=.83871 x $396 = $332.13

$332.13 will be our budget, paid to us on March 1. What happens if we run out?

Our budget for 40 days of SNAP is $530.13, about $1.10 per meal.

There are a few more benefit calculations to consider such as WIC and TANF, and other real needs during Lent including meals at work and on the road as well as meals with other family members and friends, but those will be topics for another day.


Single Post Navigation

5 thoughts on ““So, how much do you get in Food Stamps?”

  1. Laura King on said:

    Keep us updated as you progress thru the season. The one thing not included in your calculation is that you are both smart, creative people. You know how to cook from scratch and how to make boring sing. I would join you, but I’ve been there, done that. In the 80’s I received about $250 per month in food stamps for myself and my two daughters. I like flour.

  2. Pingback: Not a big deal, but | Forty Days of SNAP

  3. Wow that snap estimated me getting $140 more than I am receiving. For my huaband who works 2 jobs and grossing $1340 which is not close to his take home, you would think we would get more than $198 with having a 1 yo child…. how are you supposed to eat healthy when fresh fruits, veggies, and meat cost(which is a lot higher than in California) so much? I bake my own breads and rolls and cakes and other goodies from scratch(no boxes here), but it doesn’t make feeding my family a healthy meal any easier.

    • Thanks, Nicole. SNAP benefits have been cut by congress in the last year, so the amounts we mention are likely even lower by now.
      Are you also receiving WIC assistance?
      I’ve found that shopping in ethnic food stores and at farmers markets offer pretty good deals on fresh veg and fruit, but you do have to be savvy shopper.
      Our prayers with you as seek to care for your family!

    • Jojo King on said:

      It all depends on where, when and how you shop. It also depends on how you store food. I live in California and we discovered many ways to do this.
      1.Buy in bulk and freeze (buy a freezer – trust me it is a great investment).
      2. Keep your eyes and ears open. In most produce stores they usually give discounts on really ripe food (organic too). Always make sure to check out all corners of the store or ask around. I often find a lot of local and organic stuff (great for smoothies, stews and soups – or baking like with banana or pumpkin bread) and the stuff is like a dollar a bag which is waaaaay cheaper than the products equivalent (on the shelf.. often also cheaper than the stuff that’s not organic).
      3. Store properly (ask internet) and therefore waste less food. You can then freeze the food (fruits especially- smoothies).
      4. Google how to cook for now and later (great for carrying lunches to work)
      5. Add on a kid or two to take care of as you watch your – extra income.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: