When I started my job, I knew I'd be working with unemployed/underemployed people, but I didn't realize that in order to qualify for our workforce program, participants would have to fall under the poverty line, as established by the state. The application for the program requires much information and corresponding documentation, including income verification. It's a lengthy, arduous, frustrating process. But one of the first things I learned was that if the potential participant is receiving any sort of benefit from Social Services, he or she is automatically eligible. We don't need to determine financial eligibility in that case because the state has already done it for us.
Yay for the state!
Most of our participants are receiving food stamps. Note that most of them are only receiving food stamps and nothing else from Social Services (except, in some cases, Medicaid for the children in the family).
Many of them (especially the parents of my kids) are working.
But they still need food stamps.
To give you an idea of what that means, the poverty line in Virginia is, for a single person, approximately $11,000 per year.
$11,000. So in order to be considered as living under the poverty line, an individual would have to take home approximately $175 per week, or $700 per month.
If an individual makes more than that, they are, according to the Commonwealth of Virginia, not living in poverty.
Yay for them, right?
Yeah. You don't want to know what the average rent is in Pigsknuckle.
A family of three would have to be living on less than $365 per week, take home, to be eligible.
That line? It's so far down, you could trip over it.
But that's the way it is. Those are the rules. That's what the state says. That's what we go by. And when I see the amounts my families get in food stamps, I wonder how on earth they're managing. I know what I spend at the grocery store for just Ryan and me. I don't buy much junk and I rarely buy meat, but I spend a lot more than a family of four gets in food stamps. And we eat out sometimes, too. I see these people barely scraping by, wanting to do better, stuck where they are for various reasons, unable to really and truly get a leg up, and my heart breaks for them.
I've been pretty broke a few times in my life... and I've spent many, many other times just living paycheck to paycheck. But I've never considered myself truly poor. I've never been eligible for any sort of assistance (at least I don't think I have) and, honestly, I wouldn't have sought it out if I had, as that's how I was raised. I don't ask for help easily. At. All. I've worked with grocery budgets so tight they squeaked, but there was always money for food... not fun food, but sustaining, reasonably healthy food -- for me, for my daughter, and even for my dog.
And I've always been grateful for that. And since starting this job, I am even more grateful.
So when my wonderful bloggy-turned-FB-turned-real life friend, Ronda, decided to do this Living Below the Line challenge, I was intrigued.
The organization that came up with the challenge is called The Global Poverty Project. You can read about them and the challenge right here.
In a nutshell, they determined that 1.2 billion people in the world today live in extreme poverty, with less than $1.50 (US) to feed themselves per day. So they challenged us to do just that -- to live for 5 days, spending only $1.50 per day (per person in your household) on food and drink. That's $.50 per meal. That's $7.50 for the whole 5 days.
I spent more than that on lunch today.
I'm going to do it. I'm not going to include Ryan in it, as she's swimming and there is no way I can feed her enough calories to keep her healthy and energized for $.50 per meal. Plus, she looked terrified when I told her about it. No wonder. It's kind of scary. I've spent the last couple of days popping in and out of stores, pricing various items, to see what I can get for $7.50.
I'm going to try to keep it as healthy as possible but I can tell you that it won't be easy. Healthy food is not cheap. Even cheap healthy food is not cheap. My goal is to stay as full as possible. I expect there will be a fair amount of rice and beans on the menu.
Here are my guidelines:
1) I can buy the whole 5 days' worth of groceries at once, but I can't spend more than the $7.50 in order to buy things in bulk and divide them by serving. I figure people living at this level of poverty don't ever have a month's worth of grocery money all at once. I suspect many don't have a week's worth either, but I'm making that concession.
2) I can't shop at places that require a membership (like Costco), as if I can't afford to eat, I can't afford a club membership.
3) I can't avail myself of any free food/drink at work, as if I can't afford to eat, it's unlikely I'd be working, especially at a job where free food is available.
4) I can't eat anything currently in the house. I have to start from scratch and only use the $7.50 for the 5 days.
5) If I eat or drink anything I didn't buy with my limited funds, I fail.
Honestly, I'm a bit nervous. I'm even a little bit afraid. I am certain I'm going to be hungry and that scares me. But I figure that's also a big part of the reason for the challenge... to let us see how it feels. And let's face it, I still won't really know, will I? Because I know that when I wake up on Saturday morning, starving, I can hoof it down to my favorite bagel shop and get a big bacon, egg, and cheese bagel and tea. And I know that if the hunger pangs are too much in the middle of the night, there is food in the cupboard that I can eat. So I won't really know.
I am expecting that it will affect my perspective. We'll see. And I'm going to blog about it each day, starting with Sunday, to tell you what I wound up buying. So check in if you'd like to know how it's going.
I'll warn you now that I might be cranky. Hangry, even. I apologize in advance for any snark or unpleasantness.
Stay tuned, my peeps...