Newark Mayor Booker Commits to Food Stamp Diet

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November 23, 2012; Source: Associated Press

“Lets you and I try to live on food stamps in New Jersey (high cost of living) and feed a family for a week or month. U game?”

This tweet was from Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker. This kind of public theater can be useful, as many of us are aware, in raising public consciousness, and Booker already has a large digital audience. The mayor’s challenge was directed at one of his more than 1.2 million Twitter followers who has been arguing with Booker about food stamps on Twitter and who told that Associated Press that she is a 39-year-old married mother of two. She has conditionally taken him up on it but says she is waiting to see what the rules will be. Booker says he is researching that.

“We’re going to set up the rules. And that’s what we’re researching right now. This will not be a gimmick or a stunt.” Booker says he wants the experiment to be an opportunity “for us to grow in compassion and understanding” and perhaps to clear up some misperceptions. The woman interviewed by the Associated Press, who says that she is the person behind the Twitter handle TwitWit, states that she hasn’t heard from Booker’s office but is frustrated that her input hasn’t been sought in researching the rules for the challenge.

Average food stamp benefits vary from state to state, as can be seen here. As of Fiscal Year 2011, average benefits in New Jersey were $133.26 per participant; in North Carolina, they were $124.58 per participant.

What do our readers think of this situation? –Ruth McCambridge

  • Karen J

    Living on food stamps for a week or a month is a great way of stepping into the shoes of others, in this case, others who are less fortunate or dare I say, privileged. My hope is that this development of empathy translates into some kind of action that helps those who subsist on $4/day. It’s no joke. Kids in our country are starving. We need to find ways to teach poor families to shop and cook healthy meals on almost nothing per day. If you haven’t seen this, it’s a wake up call:

  • Terry Fernsler

    Since you asked…

    A week is certainly too short a time. I’m tired of the well-off “slumming it” and then declaring themselves experts on subjects of poverty, malnourishment, etc. The long-term psychological and physiological effects cannot be understood first-hand in even one month. Rather than an outsider trying to experience a lifestyle forced on many, I feel it’s better to use the resources “outsiders” have to fix the ridiculous problem of people going hungry in such a resource-rich nation. Redistribution of wealth? Why not; we are already redistributing the wealth of working people to an elite few.

    But short of a re-redistribution of wealth, the Mayor could be spending more time talking to the poor. In a city like Newark, the Mayor should be spending at least a part of EVERY DAY talking to poor folk, and less time to the lobbyists (even in local government, developer’s lobbyists dominate) to learn.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Terry: Your point on the long term effects of trying to live in poverty conditions is well taken. But regarding your comment about developers’ lobbyists, you’re quite right, though some of the lobbying is done by developers themselves. The real estate development industry occupies much of the time and interest of municipal officials who are hungry for any glimmer of ratables. Do realize as well that in our nationa focus on campaign contributions for state and federal campaigns, we often overlook the amazing flows of money from the real estate industry to mayors and city council members. Having been a city official located not far from Newark, I remember it well–and I shudder.

  • tim

    nice for publicity…but be sure to include the fact that people sell their food stamps for $$$$. What you need to look at is not what can I buy, but who is using this program to supplement a cash drug “job” and such. The misuse is the story you doofus, not the needy. The needy is a no-brainer. Hello?

  • tim

    …and further more, wouldn’t a better use of your time be to cut misuse and fraud and taking that money and getting it to the needy? When we spend money on billboards and radio commercials, advertising the food stamp program, isn’t it better we NOT advertise and use those HUNDREDS of thousands on the poor?? The poor will find you. We don’t need to advertise to the people who know a programs exists. God…the waste. Will it really ever get to a manageable point? Is this what we have become? A gov’t that advertises its entitlement programs? Our founding fathers would be ashamed….as am I. And so should you.

  • Kenneth Ackerman

    The Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies sponsored a Food Stamp Challenge earlier this year. Information is available on how the Challenge worked, which can be adapted for use in other states – see our posting on Virtual CAP for more details –

  • Tony

    Pretty sure Mayor Booker lived a poor neighborhood “From 1998 to 2006, Booker lived in Brick Towers, a troubled housing complex in Newark’s Central Ward. Booker organized tenants to fight for improved conditions. In November 2006, as one of the last remaining tenants in Brick Towers, Booker left his apartment for the top unit in a three-story rental on Hawthorne Avenue in Newark’s South Ward, an area described as “a drug-and gang-plagued neighborhood of boarded-up houses and empty lots.”[72] Brick Towers has since been demolished and a new mixed-income development was built there in 2010.[73]

    and is a super hero