On Eve Of Vote, Holder-Winfield Goes Shopping

Thomas MacMillan PhotoIn the dairy aisle, Gary Holder-Winfield wanted to buy butter. With only $28 budgeted for the week, he reached instead for the 89-cent margarine.

On any other trip to Stop & Shop, Holder-Winfield said, he would have bought butter without thinking twice about it. But on Tuesday morning, a day before voting on a new statewide minimum wage, Holder-Winfield wasn’t doing his normal grocery shopping. He was taking part in the “SNAP challenge.”

For the week, Holder-Winfield, a New Haven state senator, is restricting his weekly food budget to $28, the amount that a single person might receive under the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

Holder-Winfield is timing his challenge to coincide with the state legislature’s consideration Wednesday of a bill that would raise the minimum wage from its current $8.70 an hour to $10.10 by 2017.

Holder-Winfield’s first selection at Stop & Shop Tuesday? A bag of rice.

“You can make a lot of rice,” he said.

Perusing the options in the rice aisle, Holder-Winfield predicted he might get some grief for choosing white rice over brown. Living on $28 per week, the question isn’t which rice is most healthful, but “what’s the cheap rice?”

The minimum wage and food stamps are connected, Holder-Winfield said. Many people worked full-time minimum-wage jobs end up needing SNAP to make ends meet. Other necessary expenses like rent and gas can eat up an entire month’s minimum wages, leaving no money left over for food.

It’s called “supplemental,” but SNAP is for some their only money for food, Holder-Winfield said. That’s why, as he takes the SNAP challenge, Holder-Winfield is limiting himself to only $28.

“The point is to demonstrate how difficult it is,” Holder-Winfield said.

He arrived at Stop & Shop on Whalley Avenue at 8 a.m. on Tuesday with a game plan already in mind. He said he is tackling the challenge more realistically than other politicians have in the past.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy took a similar challenge last spring, and took some flack for not buying bulk foods and instead spending his money on things like an airport bagel. (Read about Murphy’s week on a food-stamp budget here, here, here, and here.)

Holder-Winfield opted for the 2-pound bag of Stop & Shop brand white rice. “If I had more money, I’d buy the larger amount,” he said. Rice is cheaper per pound when purchased in bigger bags.

In the same aisle, Holder-Winfield picked up a 69-cent can of red beans, to make beans and rice. He noted that dried beans would be cheaper, but he wouldn’t have time to soak and cook them.

Holder-Winfield said he could also use the beans to make a chili, to put over spaghetti.

“I grew up in housing projects,” Holder-Winfield said. He said his family never needed assistance, because his mom had a good job. But she had three kids, and Holder-Winfield’s dad left the family. “Unexpected stuff came up. We never went shopping without coupons.”

In the meat section, Holder-Winfield picked up a pound of ground turkey for $3.49, to make his chili.

In the produce section, Holder-Winfield looked around for something cheap to “fill me up.” He grabbed a bag of apples for $2.99.

He selected a $3 bag of spinach. “I can use the spinach in a lot of things,” he said. “I can sauté it in the morning with an egg.”

At the other side of the store, he added a $2 carton of eight Grade A white eggs to his shopping basket.

He selected a package of margarine to cook with, then headed to the pasta aisle to get an 88-cent jar of Francesco Rinaldi for his chili, and 79-cent 1-pound box of pasta.

To add flavor to his beans and rice, Holder-Winfield grabbed a 99-cent can of chicken broth.

He set down his shopping basket and took stock. He was up to about $19. What else could he afford to buy?

“I would love to worry about food groups,” he said. “That’s not what I’m thinking.”

He decided to pick up another pound of meat. It was the most expensive item, but it would make his chili go a lot farther. He also picked up another 69-cent can of beans, and a 1-pound bag of frozen vegetables, for $2.

Before heading to check-out, Holder-Winfield reflected on his shopping experience: “What we learned is for that amount of money, you can get food. But it’s difficult to get food and you have to make choices.”

Those choices have to be purely financial, he said. “You can’t think of what’s healthy.” Holder-Winfield said he loaded up on more “carbs” than he normally would, which might go to his waistline. And he would normally cook with olive oil, but that’s far too expensive.

People living on limited resources might be able to buy enough food, but can they afford to eat healthfully? Holder-Winfield asked. “Even if they can make it work, what are they eating?”

After checking himself out, Holder-Winfield’s groceries came to $23.57. With $4.43 left over, Holder-Winfield said he’d probably buy a big bottle of water that he would be able to refill and keep with him.

Holder-Winfield loaded his groceries into his car. Then the real challenge began—living on the food for a week.

He said he’d skipped breakfast. He’d have to eat an apple and see if he could find a way to boil an egg at the Capitol.

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posted by: jim1 on March 25, 2014  2:37pm

This is nice.  But try to do it for the rest of your life!  Not knowing if you have any money coming in next week.  What if you get sick, food is then cut in half, or out. It just makes me mad when someone does this type of thing.

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on March 25, 2014  2:47pm

While I admire this effort… what would have been more telling if he and those that take on this challenge hang with a family that lives this way for real. They could give him tips on what to buy and where to shop.

I know this is quite illuminating for folks to be this close to food insecurity, but for many this is a e everyday reality.  I hope Gary’s experience will remind him of what his mother had to do to feed him, and I hope he is able to take this experience and let it be the driving force for legislative change.

It is possible for government to be compassionate as well as fiscally sound. I’d like to see legislators operate from a place of abundance rather than from fear based lack. There is enough. We must shift our perceptions from catering to the deserving to sharing for all.

posted by: Pat from Westville on March 25, 2014  2:55pm

True, jim1, but I don’t think Gary feels he knows everything about how difficult living on SNAP. But even a little snapshot experience like this can be an eye-opener. Just like when I broke my ankle a number of years ago and had a brief sojourn in the land of the handicapped.  I knew it was temporary using crutches to walk while doing therapy to complete healing of the ankle. But I suddenly realized how much thought had to go into a simple action like opening the door to an ATM,I only have 2 hands, I need one to hang onto both crutches, use the other to open the door, and so forth.

And a note to Gary: dry beans need not be an obstacle, there is the quick soak method(one I almost always use ‘cause I never remember the night before to start soaking). Put the dry beans in the same amount of water as if you were soaking overnight, bring to a boil, cover, shut the heat off. Let sit for an hour, then proceed with cooking.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 25, 2014  3:19pm

People wake up.Politicians and thieves are brethren.POLITICIANS ONLY CARE FOR THEMSELVES.NOT YOU.Why not bring the cost of living down in portion to incomes, then people can afford to live on what they earn.

posted by: cupojoe on March 25, 2014  3:41pm

This article illustrates why the good ‘ole U. S of A is going down as a country.

I recently checked out and read a great book from the New Haven Library called THE AMERICAN WAY OF POVERTY. Urge others to check it out.

Tax the for profit business corporation called YALE.

posted by: wendy1 on March 25, 2014  4:59pm

Too little too late!!!!!!!  Good for cupojoe, I agree and read that book last year.  I suggest people read Nickled and Dimed by Ehrenreich.  A living wage is $30 an hour not $10.

The rich still expect you to live with your parents and grandparents and work 2-3 jobs evidently at $10 an hour.  This is pathetic from one of US’s richest most educated states.

posted by: heightster70 on March 25, 2014  5:03pm

Look at what the “S” in snap stands for Supplemental. To me its meant to help you out it is not meant to be solely relied on.

posted by: Noteworthy on March 25, 2014  6:22pm

I hate this stunt. It is very misleading and it’s tired. Just because you’re getting SNAP doesn’t mean that’s your only income. In my poorest days, when I could have qualified for federal food stamps, I worked as a day laborer when the minimum wage was a lot lower. At another time, I ate green peppers and green beans soaked in water so they’d be plumper, and added some processed cheese and saltine crackers. Life is tough sometimes. I’m really not sure what this stunt is supposed to prove.

posted by: Art Vandelay on March 25, 2014  7:28pm

Mr. Holder-Winfield is getting a first hand look how his liberal socialist agenda has effected this state.  Had he promoted lowering taxes, creating an economic atmosphere conducive to job creation,  he wouldn’t have to worry about SNAP, people would be working and prospering instead of being on public assistance.

posted by: matticus on March 25, 2014  7:40pm

While I do applaud the efforts here, this is in no way reflective of how a person would shop on a limited budget of $28 for the week. I think Mr. Holder-Winfield made some poor choices in terms of stretching his dollar and what he will actually need to eat this week. 

1. Why by fresh spinach for $3.00 (more than 10% of the budget) when you can buy frozen, or cheaper still, canned for under a buck. The Stop and Shop website has frozen vegetables for 88¢ for 16 oz. this week.

2. Why a carton of 8 eggs and not a full dozen? I know the brand he selected is generally higher priced than other brands.

3. Ground Turkey, really? Chicken legs and thighs would probably have been cheaper, and gone further. Actually boneless, skinless breasts were $1.99/lb this week.

4. Another pound of Ground Turkey? Btw, I would have been interested in the price of ground beef (the cheapest they had).

5. Also, stop and shop brand butter was on sale this week , 2 lb for $4 (a good price). Had he bought frozen spinach, he could have been able to afford a pound of butter. 

A quick visit to the stop and shop website would have revealed plenty of better values for his buck. (for those without web, a printed circular in the store would have revealed the same.

Why was there no discussion of what was on sale? Often people on limited budgets are more driven by better bargains at the store, not what they would prefer to eat at a given time. Overall, I think this was poorly executed. So, $28 is not much money and I am sure one could not actually live on that. But the choices made here are not indicative of how a shopper would approach buying groceries.

posted by: robn on March 25, 2014  8:20pm

Its a good thing GHW wasn’t shopping for drugs because its highly illegal to do that when one is so near a school…that is…until GHW takes office and allows more lenient sentencing for drug dealing close to schools.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 25, 2014  9:15pm

posted by: heightster70 on March 25, 2014 5:03pm

Look at what the “S” in snap stands for Supplemental. To me its meant to help you out it is not meant to be solely relied on.

Wake up.They will never cut snap.Do you know why.It is a cash cow for corporate welfare.
JP Morgan’s Food Stamp Empire

How the welfare state became a profit center.

EBT cards allow states to make Supplemental Nutrition Assistance ...handles have been contracted to pay the bank up to $560,492,596.02 since 2004. ... the campaign coffers of politicians who control the program’s trajectory.


Why JPMorgan Wants to See More Americans on Food Stamps

Every time an American signs up for food stamps in one of 23 states, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) adds to its revenue stream.

That because JPMorgan Chase contracts to operate as the processor of the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards in those states. JPMorgan earns a fee for each recipient, ranging from 31 cents to $2.30, depending on the state, every month for the term of the contract.

JPMorgan’s seven-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the official name for the federal food stamp program) contract with New York state, for example, brought in more than $126 million of revenue to the big bank.

Florida has paid JPMorgan more than $90 million since 2007. Pennsylvania’s seven-year contract exceeded $112 million.

It brings a whole new meaning to “corporate welfare.”


posted by: Art Vandelay on March 26, 2014  12:37am

GHW could stretch his SNAP $$$$ better at ALDI’S instead of Stop & Shop.

posted by: NewHavenMom3 on March 26, 2014  12:18pm

Wow…I feel odd…I voted for him…was shopping and waiting for him to finish at the freezer section and he did look familiar, but I didn’t want ti interrupt ...he never introduced himself either…

posted by: Art Vandelay on March 26, 2014  12:37pm

You were duped.  Once he got your vote he could care less about you.
He has much bigger fish to fry.  He’s not your father’s Democrat, but a Socialist Marxist Progressive bent on destroying the foundations for which this country was founded.  His goal like so many other Democrats is to transform this nation into something resembling the modern day Europe.  He envisions a society where one size fits all and everyone is equal.  Property, personal wealth, and trying to be the best you can be do not exist in the world he Malloy or Obama envision.  So far they have conquered the education system whereas they have brainwashed future generations into believing what they are doing is right.  They conquered the inner city vote, and are now on the path to taking over our healthcare system.  In addition to healthcare they are going full steam to abolish the 2nd Amendment.  I STRONGLY recommend reading Mark Levin’s book entitle “Liberty & Tyranny” to understand who these people are and their objectives.  In order for our country to survive as our founders envisioned, every Socialist Progressive needs to be voted out of office.

posted by: Noteworthy on March 26, 2014  1:00pm

One more shot:

Add another voice to the food selection - when poor, you’re buying frozen and canned at Walmart, Sams or Aldi. And everything you buy is on sale, or cheap, or a BOGO - buy one get one. You also shop at the beginning of the month because the deals are better. It’s a long distance from roots to stunting.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 26, 2014  1:38pm


I’m worried that you may not be joking.

Mark Levin is always the least smart person in the room, even if that room is a nursery.

Obama is not a liberal, progressive, socialist or marxists, he is a centrist who thinks the public good is only acheived through coddling corporate interests. He hasn’t restricted gun rights, he has expanded them. The Affordable Care Act was a giant handout to health insurance and pharmaceutical companies - nothing like what they have in Canada or some European countries.

If you’re interested in a politician with an ounce of integrity, I’d suggest Elizabeth Warren. While I disagree with her sometimes, she is at least earnest and has the general welfare of people in mind.


posted by: getyourfactstraight on March 26, 2014  7:28pm

Oh please Gary lets get real about all this. And if you car so much perhaps you talk to the present mayor you supported about being more sensitive to the taxpayers of New Haven. Most of us are going to end up on SNAP if something isn’t done soon to ease the taxpayers burden.  This was a political stunt that just makes me sick. You are a typical politician.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 26, 2014  7:49pm

@Art Vandelay

They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in America?
Fidel Castro

posted by: Art Vandelay on March 26, 2014  9:36pm

@Jonathan Hopkins,
If Obama is a centrist, then who IYHO is a leftist?  I strongly suggest you read “The Amateur"by Edward Kline. Spending 20 years in the church of Reverend Jeremiah Wright and leaving as a “Conservative”?  I doubt it.
I don’t agree w/Mark Levine on everything, but I think he’s on the right track about the direction he’s taking this country.

The Progressives who control this country will never give Capitalism a chance.

posted by: 14yearsinNHandgone on March 27, 2014  7:20am

I wholeheartedly agree with Babz, I had the EXACT same thoughts.  Same with Art and Noteworthy.

This is the same pathetic stunt that Chris Murphy pulled.  Take a small amount of money, find a reporter to tag along, and go into a grocery store and “play poor”.

People on SNAP/EBT shop at Walmart and Aldi’s, Gary.  Many of them go there and load up on soda and processed foods as soon as they get their money.  If you want to see what poor people are living on, go to Walmart on the first few days of the month.  Don’t go to Whole Foods and say “Oh geeze, a poor person could only buy one apple with the $28 they get per week!”

This is a stunt.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 27, 2014  9:25am

posted by: Art Vandelay on March 26, 2014 9:36pm

The Progressives who control this country will never give Capitalism a chance.

What Progressives.Power elites own the government and use it to serve their interests and protect a corporate plutocracy.Both Democrats and Republicans are two teams in the same league, serving the same cabal the corporatist plutocracy.The top one percent own 21 percent of the nation’s wealth.

The forces of a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.


posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 27, 2014  11:31am


Elizabeth Warren is perhaps the closest thing to a leftist or progressive at the national level. Most politicians (Democrat or Republican) at the national level is a corporatists. Politicians who coddle corporate interests receive campaign funding, then they repay those interests with legislation geared towards helping those corporations that funded their campaign. Politicians that don’t coddle corporate interests don’t get elected because the fall victim to smear campaigns and the out-funding by corporate-backed politicians.

It isn’t an illusion that the economy isn’t benefitting most people, but you’re wrong if you think its the fault of leftists, or socialists or marxists or whatever. There is very little difference between Democrats and Republicans - D’s think if you incentivize corporations enough, they will do the right thing; R’s think if you let corporations do whatever they want, they’ll do the right thing. Neither approach has achieved a positive result.

Don’t get distracted by minor differences between parties - they are insignificant compared to what a political system run by corporate interests looks like versus one that has the general welfare of people in mind.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 27, 2014  11:59am

Jonathan Hopkins on March 27, 2014 11:31am


Elizabeth Warren is perhaps the closest thing to a leftist or progressive at the national level. Most politicians (Democrat or Republican) at the national level is a corporatists. Politicians who coddle corporate interests receive campaign funding, then they repay those interests with legislation geared towards helping those corporations that funded their campaign. Politicians that don’t coddle corporate interests don’t get elected because the fall victim to smear campaigns and the out-funding by corporate-backed politicians.


My bad you fogot this man.

Bernie Sanders.