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Your take: Could you live on food stamps?

Today the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, popularly known as food stamps, will take a fairly substantial hit, with the maximum benefit from a family of four falling from $668 to $632, amounting to $432 less per year in benefits. Overall, the cuts will shrink the average payout per meal from around $1.50 now down to about $1.40, according to CBS Moneywatch.

SNAP has become something of a political football in recent months. Republicans in Congress want to make deep cuts to benefits, especially when it comes to food benefits for able-bodied adults, to get rid of some of the U.S. government’s red ink. Democrats generally want to keep in place additional SNAP funding originally packaged with the 2009 stimulus, citing its positive effects on the still weak U.S. economy and the needs of the millions of Americans still unable to find work.

This year celebrities and politicians on both sides have done the “SNAP Challenge,” which involves trying to live on the food those benefits will buy for a short period of time, either to call attention to how difficult making ends meet on a SNAP food budget is, or to try and prove that it’s no big deal.

I don’t know if I’m quite ready to take on the SNAP Challenge myself, but the cuts taking effect today [3] definitely had me wondering if my family could make it on even the maximum benefit of about $1.75 per person, per meal.

We consider ourselves fairly thrifty people when it comes to grocery shopping. We always eat all our leftovers, we rarely waste food thanks to my wife’s ability to salvage food that may be close to past its prime, we clip coupons and we almost never buy premium brands of anything. Still, this month my family spent $655.09 at Publix. That’s already more than the maximum benefit, and most families on SNAP get far less because they have some money coming in.

In addition to our Publix purchases, we participate in a discount produce-buying club that costs us $50 a week. By the time you add that in, we’re spending $855.09 a month on food, or $2.38 per person per meal, nearly a third more than the maximum monthly benefit for food stamps as of today. And although we have two kids, they’re 5 and 2, so they don’t have the appetites they will when they’re in their teens.

For me it’s telling that almost the entire amount I went over was the fresh produce we get every week. It suggests to me that if we ever have to take advantage of SNAP, we’d be on our own when it comes to furnishing our kids with fruit and veggies.

It’s true that the S in SNAP stands for “supplemental,” meaning it’s designed to shore up your grocery budget rather than be the sole source of food for families. But however the program is intended, there are tons of people who are still hurting from the worst financial crisis in 80 years, and they rely on SNAP to put food on their tables, a task that will be a little harder from now on.

What do you think? Could you make it on $1.75 per person per meal, the maximum SNAP benefit for a family of four? What do you think you’d have to give up? I’m especially interested in hearing from people who have received SNAP benefits.

(Photo: Clementine Gallot)