Why Your Congressmen Are Tweeting Pictures of Their Grocery Receipts

They're making a point about SNAP benefits.

Why, you might wonder, are U.S. Congressmen like Jim McGovern tweeting photos of their grocery store receipts? A weird public shaming diet? A pocket tweet?

Nah, though that’d be hilariously strange. Two dozen House Democrats, as well as state officials like Massachusetts Health & Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz and his family are all participating in a publicity bid called the SNAP Challenge. For one week, they’ll attempt to live on $31.50 per person, the average benefit under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to protest proposed cuts to the program in a farm bill facing Congress. That’s not a lot of money for anyone, but let’s stipulate that some of the congressmen seem extra-challenged by the constraint. Here’s what Rep. McGovern had for lunch this week:

That’s pretty tragic. But at least McGovern seemed to have some sense of what to buy. His receipt is filled with rice and beans and frozen veggies. Other representatives have been pictured purchasing fresh berries and Smartwaters. (They know there’s this thing called a tap water, and that it’s free, right?) A commenter suggested the Buzzfeed post “14 Democratic Representatives Who Want You to Know What They Had For Breakfast” should be renamed “14 Democratic Representatives Who Don’t Know How to Go Shopping.”

Indeed, it is in these politicians’ interests to highlight how difficult it is to live on $31.50 a week, the average benefit even without the cuts, but they also risk making it seem too difficult, and looking a bit out of touch in the process. After all, a lot of people do shop on a budget, and they recognize the rookie mistakes of those that don’t. (Fresh berries?) Critics also point out that the S in SNAP stands for supplemental, meaning it’s not intended to cover the full price of your grocery bill, just to soften the blow.

McGovern addressed some of those critiques in an op-ed for the Worcester Telegram:

Some argue that SNAP was never intended to be people’s only source of food; it is supposed to be supplemental assistance. They are right. But for many families, after their expenses for housing, utilities, transportation, child care and health care, SNAP is the only money left to put food on the table.

And to those who say that the SNAP Challenge is just a stunt, I say, try it yourself. Take a week and spend only $31.50 to feed yourself. Feel, if only for a little while, the struggle that millions of Americans face every day.

Basically, walk a mile in one man’s gimmick before you say it’s a gimmick. What’s the harm? Also, do not suggest, as a certain Fox News personality did, that the SNAP Challenge sounds like a great summer diet. You will not attract sympathy.