Ted Simons: Arizona's economy may be improving, but groups that work with struggling families say that too many Arizonans are going hungry. The situation is prompting some people to volunteer to walk in the shoes of food stamp recipients, at least for a few days. Producer Christina Estes, and photojournalist Steven Snow tell us more.
Juan Mendez: I represent district 26, which encompasses north Tempe, northwest mesa and a large part of the salt river, Maricopa Indian community.
Christina Estes: This state representative Juan Mendez is taking the snap challenge. Issued by the Arizona Community Acts Association.
Angela Schultz: Snap stands for supplemental nutrition assistance program. A new federal name for the food stamp program.
Christina Estes: More than one million people in our state rely on snap to feed their families.
Angela Schultz: One in five Arizonans struggle with hunger. It is more drastic when we look at kids in Arizona, one in four kids in Arizona go to bed hungry.
Juan Mendez: You grow up with a lot of trauma, trauma of not knowing where your next meal is going to be.
Christina Estes: Mendez knows what it’s like to go hungry.
Juan Mendez: I grew up in poverty.
Christina Estes: His family used food stamps and that prepared Mendez for the snap challenge. Living on the average weekly budget of 29 bucks.
Juan Mendez: I had developed a lot of food habits. I buy in bulk. I make my own meals, my own rice and beans. So I can stretch my meals already. But there are simple things that I got used to that I could not imagine that I would not be able to afford $29, like cheese. Giving up on things like cheese, things like milk. I'm used to organic vegetables, used to fruit.
Angela Schultz: Definitely more expensive to buy fresh produce.
Christina Estes: Angela Shultz misses her organic fruits and veggies, and good bread.
Angela Schultz: The bread was 99 cents, it was wheat bread but it was stale tasting and I'm used to buying more oat bread. It’s just less quality in the food I’m getting.
Christina Estes: A lot of worrying that she and her husband won't make it five more days.
Angela Schultz: We bought a thing of oatmeal. There was less in there than we realized. He woke up frantic, we don't have enough food. Look at this oatmeal. And we only have enough sandwiches, we only have enough sandwiches for two more days.
Christina Estes: All snap recipients will see fewer benefits starting November 1st. That is when a boost from the federal stimulus will expire. According to the center on budget and policy priorities, benefits for a family of three, cut by $29 a month. Lawmakers say that's not enough. During the recession, the number of people on food stamps soared. Right now, one in seven Americans relies on snap. The program costs taxpayers $78 billion last year. Recently the Republican led house of representatives voted to cut the program by $40 billion over 10 years. It has little chance of advancing in the Senate.
Juan Mendez: More people that we have falling into poverty, the more people that have to use services, means your tax money will have to be spent on that. If we can alleviate people from falling into poverty on supplemental programs it will get them back to work quicker.
Christina Estes: Working with a food stamp budget can leave challenges on the job. Mendez says sometimes he leaves the office early because he lacks energy. Shultz says being hungry hurts her performance.
Angela Schultz: In conversations, I'm just forgetting like where or like a sentence that I just said. I will forget that and need somebody to remind me of that. That is interesting. I wasn't expecting that. I can just imagine how difficult it must be to be in a constant state of hunger and have to try to go to work and be a good employee.
Juan Mendez: How are you doing today?
Christina Estes: He stretched his budget by skipping his daily favorites, coffee, avocados. Shultz used her last $3 to buy junk food because it costs less than healthy meals. Both ended the seven-day challenge with gratitude that the eighth day would be much better.
Ted Simons: St. Mary's food bank says November's snap reduction will have a huge impact. Most people who receive food stamp benefits get emergency help from food banks. During the recession, St. Mary's nearly doubled the amount of food it distributed and has seen little drop in demand.
Ted Simons: Friday, the "Journalists' Roundtable," state supreme court decision boosts education funding in Arizona by millions of dollars. That story and more Friday on "Journalists' Roundtable." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.