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Empower Missouri's SNAP Challenge Shows The Difficulty Of Feeding A Family On Benefits

Patrick Strattner | Getty Images
The #MOSNAPChallenge invites legislators to shop for a three-day supply of food for a four-person family using the average SNAP benefit, $1.33 per person, or $47.88 for 36 meals.

For Missouri families needing government assistance to pay for food, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a necessity. But it’s not always enough.

Empower Missouri's #MOSNAPChallenge campaign invites state and federal legislators to shop for a three-day supply of food for a family of four using only the average amount of money available to families enrolled in the program. That’s just $1.33 per person per meal for a family of four, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services.

Jeanette Mott Oxford (at left) and State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman joined Wednesday's talk show to discuss SNAP benefits. Not pictured: Shavanna Spratt.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio | Courtesy of Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman
Jeanette Mott Oxford (left) and state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman joined Wednesday's talk show to discuss SNAP benefits. Not pictured: Shavanna Spratt.

On Wednesday's St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske delved into the nonprofit organization’s campaign and discussed various legislative efforts aimed at increasing SNAP benefits, such as the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2019

Joining the discussion were Empower Missouri Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford and Shavanna Spratt, a stay-at-home mother who relies on SNAP benefits to feed her 18-month-old child. State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, who participated in the challenge and documented her experience on Twitter, also joined the program. 

Coleman described the experience as eye-opening. She spoke frankly about moments when she “cheated” during the challenge.

“I love, love, love Coca-Cola. And I didn't buy any for the week that we were doing the challenge because I didn't want to spend the money. I couldn't have fed the family if I had bought the soda. And so I didn't have any,” she said. But after finding herself making an emergency room visit after her son accidentally burned his hand on the stove, Coleman needed a break.

“I stopped at the gas station and bought a coke and a candy bar. I needed that treat,” she said. 

“And I think there are so many times we demonize people for making those kinds of decisions,” she added. “People who are receiving benefits are people in our community; they are our neighbors, they are our friends, they are our loved ones … I think it's really important that we have that perspective and that we don't demonize people for the choices they make.”

As for Spratt, she explained that she enrolled in the program after losing her job while coping with a difficult pregnancy. Her daughter is allergic to gluten, dairy, eggs and nuts, which makes it even harder to stretch her SNAP stipend.

“Everything that I have to buy for her is usually more expensive,” she said. Spratt makes ends meet by utilizing special deals around town, such as farmers markets, or reaching out to those close by who can help. 

“I'm doing this all day my daughter can survive. [SNAP] is something that I need to help her survive. And when I am stable, I'll be off of it,” she added. 

“I think people judge when they're sitting on high seats. Like, you don't have to deal with it, but you never know … when you would have to need something. And so if it's there for people to utilize when they need it, it's important.”

Mott Oxford added that representatives across party lines have signed up for the challenge, which goes through Oct. 25. 

Elected officials interested in participating in the challenge can sign up here.

Listen to the full conversation: 

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Alexis Moore and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.