One of the things I brought home from the presentation yesterday morning is a packet of worksheets to fill out to see if one can live on a food stamp budget for a week. It's an interesting concept, but I found some flaws in it.
It's strictly financial. You start out with an assumed amount that you would be receiving. First of all, they go easy and assume that you have no income, so they give you the maximum amount. For an individual this is $152/month, which works out to $38/week to eat on. The idea is to calculate your spending, and you can eat what you want as long as you are within your spending limit. The main problem with this is that someone asked about going out and getting ice cream, and the presenter said to just figure it into the budget. That doesn't work in reality: the ice cream place doesn't take food stamps. So to really do the simulation of having no income and living on food stamps, you have to forego eating out for that week.
The other problem I have with activities like this is that they only provide a glimpse of one aspect of life on poverty level. There are a lot more realities, and they are very complex to try to describe. I have it easy: I rent from my parents, and this creates a nice illusion for me that I live very well. I do live well for very little cost; and part of what is stressful for me is the memory and knowledge of the lifestyle that I once lived and could return to if my parents sell the building and I need to find another place. Giving up my cats would be hard--heart-breaking actually. Part of the reason is that in that lifestyle I would need something to enjoy more than ever. There is really very little for a person living that lifestyle to enjoy, and my cats help me stay sane when life gets difficult. Practically speaking, my budget could change very significantly. I would have a different rent amount, utilities, all of my current expenses, and I may or may not be able to afford a Net connection (something I consider important in my job search process, marketing my services and eventually my CDs, etc.) I would have very little money left over for transportation; and even paratransit trips can add up quickly.
A note on paratransit... It's possible physically for me to use the fixed-route system. However, I live in a town where many areas do not have sidewalks or appropriate street crossings. One bus stop I tried using was located across the street from my destination, and there were no intersecting streets for at least a mile. The street had no sidewalks and was a busy road. Crossing without a light would not have been advisable, and walking along the shoulder was not either. There are many reasons why in some areas people who are blind do need paratransit service.
So the food stamp exercise can only be the tip of the iceberg in understanding poverty...
I downloaded Nickel and Dime from Bookshare. I'll be reading it this week.