Panera Bread founder and CEO Ron Shaich shared his experience living on the equivalent of the federal “food stamps” program with MSNBC host Chris Matthews on Thursday, following House Republicans’ move to slash it.
“We all take food for granted: I need lunch, I get lunch. I need dinner, I get dinner,” Shaich told Matthews. “Here, Food dominates my life. In this week that I’ve been doing it, I’m all worried, ‘Am I gonna have enough food? What’s gonna happen?’”
Shaich, who is currently making do on a $4.50 per diem for food — the average daily benefit provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — also told Matthews his anxiety over making his food supply last got him into an argument with his wife.
“She put too much pasta in the pasta she was making for me, and I was really worried I wasn’t gonna have enough for the week,” Shaich explained. “I’ve made one meal — I’ve had chick-pea stew for four days. The reality is, food dominates your life, and you begin to be unable to operate.”
On Thursday, the GOP-dominated House passed a bill written by House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) that would cut $40 billion from the program over the next decade and require adults between the ages of 18 and 50 without underage children to find a job or take part in a training program before they can qualify for benefits.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if passed into law, the new restrictions — which also include drug testing for SNAP recipients — would leave almost 4 million people without the benefits. But Cantor’s bill was quickly criticized by Senate Agriculture Committee chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
“Those of us who care about supporting farmers and conservation and jobs and nutrition understand what Eric Cantor’s all about,” she told Matthews. “It’s just one more time trying to stop us from doing anything.”
After Stabenow explained that 85 percent of people getting food through government assistance are children, senior citizens, or people with disabilities, Matthews took a swipe at Cantor, likening him to a Dickensian character.
“It’s not exactly a bragging right, either, when you have to go into the store and use food stamps, but added to that, sometimes [it's an] indignity, although it shouldn’t be,” Matthews argued. “But people are hard-up, in bad shape, they may have lost their job, their home, they’re relying on this. It just seems like [Cantor's] real name should be Ebenezer.”
Watch the discussion, aired Thursday on MSNBC, below.