12 Members of Congress Live Like 49 Million in Poverty

12 Members of Congress Live Like 49 Million in Poverty


(Special from Crewof42)

Members of Congress are accustomed to making $174,000 a year and $476 a day before taxes. That changed for seven days for 12 members last week. For seven days they lived on $4.50 per day for food … for a week.  One in 7 Americans live on $4.50 or $31.50 a week for food, the average for a food stamp recipient in the U.S.

A record 49 million Americans live in poverty, more than at any other time in American history. Forty-four million Americans use food stamps.

Last April, House Republicans passed the Ryan Budget (named after the House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan) which would cut $127 billion from the food stamp program over ten years.  As the debt Super Committee nears its deadline on November 23, $1.5 trillion in mandatory “trigger” cuts to Medicare and defense over 10 years is a possibility. Next week a new poverty report will detail levels of poverty among minorities and the elderly. Social Security represents 41% of the income of the elderly. There are 55 million Americans on the program.

“As a person who grew up in public housing I knew what it was like to be poor but being poor when I was a boy was dramatically different than being poor now,” CBC Chair Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) said.  “This is a level of poverty we have not seen in this country since the turn of century,” Cleaver added.  Cleaver stuck to large apples and cheap eats while on $4.50 a day.

“Food stamps are the difference between chronic hunger and a basic meal for 45 million Americans. In the wealthiest nation on earth, this is immoral,” Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said.  Schakowsky participated in a week of self imposed austerity along with Cleaver.  Last week a report by the Brookings Institution showed that those living in “extreme poverty” grew by a third over the last decade.  Extreme poverty is defined by $5,570 earned by an individual or living on $11,157 for a family of four.  “I realized how differently people live who are on the edge,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), another member who ate on $4.50 a day.

More Americans use food stamps now than at any time in the 72 year history of the program which was started in 1939. The twelve members who lived on $4.50 a day for food wanted to spotlight attention on poverty as part of The Food Stamp Challenge conceived by the Fighting Poverty with Faith coalition.

Members skipped banquets, dinners and other food related occasions during their week on the food stamp challenge.

“Never three full meals a day. You had to choose between an apple and a banana … sometimes neither,” Rep. Barbara Lee said (D-CA). “I started looking up where all the food pantries were… All you do is concentrate on food — it’s survival.  All you do is think of how you’re gonna get through the day,” she said.  In her life before politics, Rep. Lee was once on welfare and wrote in a memoir published this year that, “being on welfare was a humiliating experience but it was also enlightening because I now know firsthand how stressful and frightening it is to think that you can’t meet your family’s basic needs for food…”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, is proposing a $9 Billion dollar cut to the food stamp program. “No program in our government has surged out of control more dramatically than food stamps. And nothing is being done about it,” Sessions told ABC News.  “Multimillion dollar lottery winners are getting food stamps because the money is considered to be an asset not an income,” Sessions said on October 20.

Republicans have chosen to couch the issues of poverty and income inequality by defining it as “class warfare.”  But the statistics are daunting.  The Social Security Administration recently released statistics showing that half of all working Americans are making $26,364 or less — the lowest average wage since 1999.  At the same time the number of millionaires increased by 20%.  Fifteen million Americans are now unemployed. In 2009, USA Today reported that half of all American children lived in a household requiring food stamps.

No Republicans are known to have taken the Food Stamp Challenge. Four members of the Congressional Black Caucus including Chairman Cleaver, Del. Donna Christensen (D-USVI), and Reps. Lee, Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) participated.



  1. Low drama. How about letting 12 families in poverty live like the participating members of congress. Is there going to be a book…"Po Like You"? Really?

  2. I agree with Rob. It definitely feels that way, but what’s even more disturbing is that people still elect that party to office knowing that they don’t care about people who are poor smh.

  3. The government is making the problem of poverty worse. They enable not all but, many people to continue living a destructive life style. They don't help where it's really needed. It's on size fits all. About 70% or so of every dollar collected for welfare is spent on administration, not the person who needs help. While a well run charity gives about 90% of all money collected to the needed, they also keep track of people just working the system. And that number is growing. Government is inefficient and it's very easy for people to work the system. Billions of our tax dollars also goes to help out illegal aliens. It's a total mess and getting bigger by the day.

  4. How about requiring Food stamp recipients to participate in budgeting classes! There are so many ways to save money while shopping and getting more for the money. There is nothing wrong with shopping sales, couponing and actually doing a little work to stretch that $4.50 per person. I don't receive benefits, I have a family of 5 and because of the ability to actually budget myself, I get through an entire week 3 meals a day per person on $125 worth of groceries. Granted we don't get to eat ribs, steak or caviar every night, but we eat healthy meals and have never gone hungry!!
    And most children attending school that receive food stamps, are automatically eligible for the Free Breakfast & Lunch program, which means that $4.50 stretches even further!!

  5. I am not on Food stamps, but I still feed my family of 4 (and 1/2), 3 meals a day for about $100/week. We actually have a HOMECOOKED, rib-sticking meal EVERYnight, consisting of meat, veggies and a starch. The kids eat breakfast at home every morning, and I pack their lunches. I can even offer them ice cream at night, and I spend LESS than what the gov't would give me in food stamps. I don't see what the problem is w/$4+ a day per PERSON.

    • I didn't see anywhere that mentioned that the $4.50 was per person… Many people are attempting to feed their entire family for $4.50 per day. Right now, my food stamps work out to $7.14 per day for one person, in Washington State. It's a lot more difficult than you think, especially if you have health issues that require a modified diet. I also think that the point of this article was to draw attention and garner empathy for the 49% of Americans living under the poverty line.

  6. I was a single mom of two kids and I made approx. $10,000 yearly. I remember standing in my front yard crying and begging the rep. from the electric company not to turn off my electricity. It IS humiliating. After my son broke his leg at a friend’s skating party, and they took him to the hospital, I couldn’t pay the bill. The collectors started calling and when I’d answer the phone they would tell me that I had no right to have a telephone when I wasn’t paying my bills. There is such a stigma attached to being poor, and when you are the “the working poor,” doing your best to support your family, and you hear people suggesting that you are lazy, is just so insulting. I have managed to get by without help from any government program, but I would never feel it I my place to judge those that do. Walk a mile in their shoes before opening an unkind mouth. We don’t know what difficulties others have faced. I do believe we need to tweak the system to make it work better for those who really need it, and remove those who are scamming the system.

  7. Ummm…

    I imagine 4.50 a day is more than just groceries, at least I know it is for me.

    I have about $150 a month after my bill are paid (I'm on Social Seciurity), out of which I not only buy my food, but any over the counter medicines I need, cleaning supplies for body and my "home", transportation to the doctors, etc. So why do people think that people living in poverty are not having problems making it?

  8. I have to agree that $4.50/day person can be challenging but shopping for foods on sale & using coupons is really a huge help. Cost of groceries across America is not the same….kudos to the people who have been able to it on the $4.50/day!