Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

The SNAP Challenge: An ineffective way to understand social programs

Jonah Lewis, a junior majoring in political science and sociology, is a Hatchet columnist.

Last week, students participated in GW Hunger & Homeless Awareness Week’s annual SNAP Challenge, living on just $4.15 a day for food – the average amount that Americans on food stamps receive.

While the challenge may partially educate students about how difficult it is to live on SNAP benefits, it’s a problematic way to advocate for one of the nation’s most important social programs. The whole event is an act masquerading as activism.

For starters, it makes a game out of people’s lived experiences. While it’s essential to push for expanding the SNAP program, this isn’t the way to do it.

In their initial Facebook post about the challenge, the organizers wrote, “Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor!” – a quote from “The Hunger Games.”

It’s inappropriate that organizers frame the SNAP Challenge as just that – a game of maintaining a budget, and a race to post to social media about it. This trivializes the actual experiences of people on SNAP, for whom participation in the program is no “challenge,” but a part of life.

For participants in the SNAP Challenge, failure means nothing more than losing the game and seeing briefly what it’s like to rely on food stamps. There are no real consequences, and any lasting lessons can be quickly shrugged off with a trip to the Whole Foods hot bar or a return to disposable GWorld dollars.

People actually on SNAP do not get to just fail out. They’re often forced to go into debt to buy food or go hungry, negatively impacting their education or work productivity.

Students can pretend like their week living on SNAP-like benefits gives them an understanding of the program. But unless they’ve really been on SNAP, it barely scratches the surface.

Many SNAP beneficiaries live in food deserts, where full-service grocery stores are inaccessible and residents must rely on corner stores or other retailers for food. In fact, the average SNAP recipient lives about 1.8 miles from a grocery store and does not own a car.

In contrast, the Mount Vernon Campus is located only a few blocks away from a Safeway, and the Foggy Bottom Campus has both a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s within blocks, making it much easier for any student who lives on campus to access diverse food options.

While many SNAP beneficiaries work multiple jobs and raise children, students, on the whole, have much more flexible schedules to shop for and prepare food.

Instead of the challenge, GW Hunger & Homeless Awareness Week organizers could invite SNAP recipients from the D.C. community, or even students who were once recipients of SNAP benefits, to speak and educate us about the issue. We should amplify the voices of the people who are on SNAP to understand their experiences.

Maybe then we’ll learn why the SNAP program is a crucial part of our social safety net and should be protected and even expanded. We need to be concerned about the masses of people already on SNAP, for whom living on less than $30 a week is not a “challenge” to be won but a reality to live.

What SNAP doesn’t need is privileged GW students playing poor for a week to bring attention to it.

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