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North Shore dietician battles with $26 weekly food budget
A North Shore dietician struggled to live on just $26 a week for food — the same amount given to people on welfare.
While taking part in the Welfare Food Challenge, a province-wide event from Oct. 16 to 22 that highlights the inadequacy of welfare rates in B.C., Kathy Romses ate relatively healthy meals but admits she was frequently hungry and “frustrated.”
Equipped with a stove, fridge and a dietician’s wealth of knowledge on nutrition, she’s much more prepared than most people on welfare, especially those living in rundown rooming houses.
“I always knew $26 wasn’t very much, but to actually go out and shop and live on it was a huge learning curve,” she tells The Outlook. “I went shopping beforehand and figured out skim milk powder was actually more expensive than the fluid milk. I weighed out my flour… to make sure I had enough to make tortillas, and I made my own yogurt.”
Many people on welfare, she says, don’t have the cooking facilities to prepare healthy food so they have to rely on cheap, ready-made meals. And getting groceries from the food bank, she adds, isn’t an option for everyone because of the long lineups.
The $26 budget for food is calculated on a $610 monthly allowance given to welfare recipients, which must also cover rent, bus tickets, phone calls and personal hygiene.
Members of Raise the Rates, the coalition organizing the second annual Welfare Food Challenge, say many people on welfare are living in “extreme poverty,” which causes bad health, stress and emotional harm. They want the rates increased to include basic healthy food.
According to the Dietitians of Canada’s report Cost of Eating in B.C., it actually costs $52 per week for a woman Romses’ age to eat, double what the government is providing for welfare recipients. This is based on living in a family of four; the amount goes up for single-person households.
“My husband says ‘You can get those instant noodle soup packages for 25 cents each’ and I said I am not eating that because it’s really unhealthy.
“…I don’t want to become unhealthy and I think that’s what people on income assistance are forced to do. I could not do this long-term. It’s not sustainable.”
The 2012 Welfare Challenge called on MLAs to live on $610 a month, the welfare rate for a single person. This includes $375 for rent, which Raise the Rates says isn’t enough since even rooms on the Downtown Eastside usually cost $425 a month.
Jagrup Brar, MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, took up the challenge and ended up borrowing money and selling possessions to get through the month. In the end, he had a difficult time concentrating, his energy-level declined and he lost 26 pounds.
“…he lived on the $610 voluntarily, he started the month fit and healthy and he only did one month,” says Raise the Rates organizer Bill Hopwood. “Imagine what welfare does to people over a long period of time.”