My SNAP Challenge: Day 7

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Well, here we are. Day 7 marks the end of my journey in this SNAP Challenge.

So many things to say here, but let’s take a quick inventory. I barely made it through on the food that I purchased on Day 0. All I have left from that is a banana, 1 packet of oatmeal, a handful of dried lentils and less than a cup of milk. If not for the family gathering on Day 3, I would certainly have run out. I lost about 5 pounds over the last week, though I would not attribute it all to the challenge but really more to the fact that I did not allow myself to eat obscene portions of unhealthy things.

I ran into “Maggie” at the library again and she was raving about her new-found cooking skills – seems she makes a mean cheese omelette. She thanked me profusely and went on to say how she was making plans for getting a better paying job and move away from SNAP. There is a new lilt in her walk and she holds her head up a little higher now. She is well on her way to being one of the success stories of SNAP.

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I have received so many notes, messages and calls from people about my journey. There are far too many to list individually, but suffice it to say that my ability to get through it all was bolstered by their support and coaching. For that I am eternally grateful. To the couple that left me eggs and crackers on Day 1 – you made this challenge a little less bland and you humbled me. To my friends and family who rallied together to help celebrate my son’s weekend home from college – thanks for not judging what I could bring to the table and honoring that I could just be at the table. Finally, to all of the followers that offered tips, advice and well-wishes – I have appreciated you being constant companions along this road.

My hope is that those of you who have followed my progress over the last week learned a little more about SNAP. Understanding this issue, seeing the face of this program, defining the struggles and addressing the enabling variables to dependency versus opportunity have given me the experience of getting closer to SNAP. I have been in a unique position to be an observer, a student, an advocate and a virtual participant. I have seen the realities of SNAP and also the opportunities that it presents.The challenge of food insecurity is very real in our communities, and it is not just another social ill that can be masked with just funding. There are the imperatives of awareness, education and strategy within this equation that need more visibilty. Further, food insecurity is not a singluar issue, but is only one cog in a larger machine that drives us forward.

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While some may look at this social experiment as ending, for me it is just a beginning. The fact-finding and experiential phase gives us a foundational platform from which to build upon. Biddeford has a little more than 15% of it’s population living at or below the poverty level. On any given month, we have anywhere from 15-20% of residents who qualify for SNAP. Working to find ways to decrease poverty in our city is both a moral imperative and good for us economically. Investing in our people is always a sound proposition that realizes real dividends and paves the way for economic development and business growth. It doesn’t do Biddeford any good to forge ahead with a vision to infuse big commerce onto the landscape when it comes at the expense of those that can least afford the costs. We are stronger as a city when everyone is on a path to prosperity and self-suffiiency.

To anyone who can say that they learned more about SNAP as a result of my experience, I encourage you to consider what you can do to be an integral part of the solution. Never underestimate the power of even the smallest gesture. One need not take on the full SNAP Challenge to help. We are all in this together.

Get Social. Get Thinking. Get Hungry!

Thinking Man (1)

My SNAP Challenge: Day 6

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I have to tell you all – this SNAP Challenge has been very interesting and has really opened my eyes to what this program is and what it isn’t. I am also learning that SNAP impacts so many people, places and things. This journey has allowed me to view SNAP through a different lens that opened a newer and broader window on what the challenge really looks like, the impact on consumers and who can (or should) benefit from it.

Living on a very limited food budget has been tough for me, but I must admit that good things have come out of it. It’s given me time to reflect on my current limitations while thinking of ideas to address SNAP from different angles and create new solutions to make it better, See, I’m extremely analytical by nature and very determined to fix or improve things. I built an entire business around those skills. As a business analyst, I’m the guy that businesses and organizations call to help them solve tough problems. Sometimes it involves improving their bottom line, sometimes it involves streamlining their organizational structure, and other times it involves charting a new course for becoming more customer-centric and literally every other imaginable challenge in between. This is the sandbox I play in, and I won’t lie – I’m damned good at it. So, I’ve been looking at this thing called SNAP in the same way.

Over the last several days, I have come to view SNAP as something more than a bridge to healthy eating and sustenance for individuals and families needing help. There is another side to SNAP that doesn’t really get talked about much, doesn’t make many headlines and is really an unintended consequence of the program.

You might want to sit down for this one. Ready? OK, here’s the thing: SNAP actually plays a role in stimulating the local economy. I’ll just let that sink in for a few seconds… Yep, you just read that correctly. Some of you are already questioning whether or not I’m losing my mind or if I need a Snickers bar because I’m not quite being myself as the television commercial goes. But it’s true. SNAP actually stimulates your local economy.

When food stamps get spent, we all benefit. Despite critics’ focus on the costs of SNAP, research has shown that these dollars are among the best forms of local economic stimulus. Food stamp spending generates local buying activity, jobs in the farm and retail sectors and beyond.

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Every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in the economy in terms of economic activity. If people are able to buy a little bit more in the grocery store, then someone has got to stock it, shelve it, package it, process it, ship it. All of those are jobs. It’s the most direct stimulus you can get into the economy during tough times.

Food stamps are an excellent stimulus. When it comes to bang for the buck — the amount of economic activity generated for every public dollar spent — they’re arguably one of the single most effective forms of government stimulus available, and are vastly more beneficial than tax cuts.

This has been repeatedly documented. An analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, “SNAP benefits are one of the fastest, most effective forms of economic stimulus because they get money into the local economy quickly.” The director of the Congressional Budget Office agrees.

It just requires a little thought. People who receive food stamps aren’t sticking the money in a mattress or a money-market fund; they’re spending it and doing so immediately because — you guessed it — they want to eat This injects demand and capital into the economy quickly, helping the beneficiaries and stimulating the economy.

So, what does this all mean for a city like Biddeford? Well, let’s first look at what SNAP benefits CAN and CANNOT buy:

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There are communities that have been pioneering very successful local programs to double the value of SNAP (food stamp) dollars when they’re spent at local farmer’s markets and small grocers for fresh fruits, vegetables. breads, cereals, meats, fish, poultry and dairy products. Funded through available federal grants working in tandem with the USDA (which administers SNAP), local farmers and grocers get paid to honor SNAP benefits by doubling the buying power of each SNAP dollar on acceptable purchases. So, think about this: SNAP recipients get to buy more healthy foods with their monthly benefits, local vendors and businesses increase their volume of patrons and sell more product at market price,and farmers have an incentive to grow more, raise more livestock, and sell more in the local marketplace. Think Supplemental Food Benefit meets Buy Local meets Local Farms Support – the dollars stay local. Keeping the money here stimulates the local economy by feeding recipients who need it most, pulls people out of poverty, keeps local businesses profitable, expands the small business landscape, and, ultimately, creates jobs. And it doesn’t stop there. Better economic sustainability translates into more discretionary cash, which translates into the ability to spend it at other local businesses, which translates into the ability to invest in wise growth and expansion within the local business sector.

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There is absolutely nothing precluding us from following, or even enhancing, this model to use and expand an existing, already funded program to grow our local economy right here in Biddeford. This is but one of a myriad of things that I propose we explore and implement in the new chapter of our story.

We have a choice to make. We can embrace the status quo and hope for something to magically happen or we can think outside the box to make bolder moves that make us stronger and reap bigger dividends now.

The business professional in me always looks for the solutions that give the biggest bang for the buck and puts you in a position to be financially solvent so that you can grow sensibly while benefiting from new revenue streams. We can dream, or we can act. The smart money is on making things happen by leveraging and uniting your existing resources now. Longer term visions that have us buying assets based on speculation and potential with the hope of business influx isn’t a strategy – it’s a gamble.

So, you see, SNAP is not just an answer to one tough problem. It’s a means and a tool that can be wielded in such a way that it solves many problems if you have the right leadership, courage and will in place to think beyond the core issue. We cannot sustain the popular view that food insecurity is merely another social ill that we just have to throw money at to solve. Every successful businessperson will tell you that the key to success is to continuously put your money to work for you. A holistic view of how we grow economically is the best investment in ourselves.

A conceptual look at prosperity with associated words, blue toned.