The Herald Bulletin

October 19, 2013

Tim Kean: How much is $36 to you?

Tim Kean
The Herald Bulletin

---- — On Nov. 1, 2013, all households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will see a reduction in their levels because of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 2010. Benefits for a family of four will be cut by $36 a month, and the average benefit level will drop to less than $1.40 per person per meal.

This message is getting national attention. It is going to increase traffic at food pantries, soup kitchens, and tailgate distributions.

To a family making $100,000 a year that is about 45 minutes of pay. To a family making $50,000 a year it’s about 1.5 hours of pay.

To a family trying to live on a full-time job making $9 per hour, that is half a day’s pay. Considering it takes approximately $17 per hour for a family of three to earn a living wage in east central Indiana, the economic recovery we have been experiencing seems a little further away from reality for over 74,000 people in our region who struggle to put food on the table.

I wonder how many names of struggling families are known by our federal legislators. I wonder how many names are known who have written significant checks. Each has one vote. I don’t know exactly how much the legislators earn, but I doubt that many would feel the pinch if they lost $36 this month, I don’t know that for sure, but I think I’m safe with that.

Whether you agree that we should help struggling people or we should let 'em fend for themselves is a debate and an attitude that goes back a few thousand years ago. I know what I am called to do. The hundreds of pantry volunteers feel that call. Many of you feel the same call and have stepped up as well.

In our recent Annual Agency Conference many expressed the concern of more people needing assistance in the coming year. This struggle is less about food and more about a job that covers living expenses versus something less. Food becomes one of those compromises families have to make because of the job situation, or lack thereof.

I drive a small car, so $36 is a tank full of gas that will cover my need most of the week. If I get a sandwich and a drink for lunch then $36 is about the cost for a week. Some days I get by for about $3 if I get something off the dollar menu, but don’t tell my doctor.

It costs more than $36 if I go to the doctor and I have insurance, so I may not go as often, but don’t tell my wife. All those decisions are up to me because I have the $36 in my pocket, but what if that were taken away? If I was marginally getting by or struggling, then what would it mean? If I would ask what this cut accomplished by the people who voted for it, they would probably say I saved the taxpayers $36. But who among us is sacrificing for this savings?

Tim Kean is executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. His column appears the third Sunday of each month. He can be reached at