One of Tammy Benjamin’s favorite meals to make showcases her German heritage. She rolls cabbage leaves around a mixture of browned hamburger and rice and pours a tomato sauce over the rolls before baking.
The dish is filling, tasty, and – an important detail for this SNAP benefit recipient – inexpensive.
The Dickinson, N.D., woman grew up eating foods like cabbage rolls and knoephla and potato dumplings. Looking back, she realizes her ancestors weren’t that different from her – they were trying to stretch their food dollars, too.
“I do most of my own cooking,” says the 54-year-old. “What I’ve learned is if you want your SNAP benefits to go further, you don’t buy junk.”
Tammy has received SNAP benefits off and on since she was 16 when she was raising her oldest daughter. Over the years, she added three more children and now enjoys living near all of them and their families. She has 10 grandchildren, ages 16 to 5 months.
Tammy has worked at various jobs in communities across North Dakota: making pizza, bartending, custom combining and retail. Six years ago, back and knee pain forced her to quit working and she now receives disability payments.
She also receives SNAP benefits, known as food stamps. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been eligible for $192 a month.
“With the increased costs of meat and other things, it’s a little tricky to get through the month,” she says. “But it helps.”
Without SNAP benefits, she’d have to make choices between paying for food or medication. Even with food assistance, she carefully tracks how much she spends each trip to the grocery store. Sometimes she puts items back on the shelves because there’s no more money.
“I’ve had to do it for years,” she says. “It’s normal for me.”
Tammy also visits food pantries and participates in programs of the Great Plains Food Bank. These events allow her to get groceries that she otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford – chicken, hamburger, fresh vegetables.
“Even potatoes are very expensive right now,” she says.
As she watches food prices rise, Tammy says an increase in SNAP benefits would be beneficial. She no longer buys beef or pork because the costs have sky-rocketed in response to the pandemic.
“A little bit extra would really help people,” she says. “I’m not the only one who is struggling.”