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Cheerios, pasta, bananas, and lots of water...

Earlier today, a small group of politicians hit their local supermarket to do what they haven't done probably since their days in college: shopped as if they could only afford to spend $35 weekly on food.

It was a symbolic move - most can afford to spend more than that -- but it was part of the so-called Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

The purpose of the challenge, open to anyone who wants to join in: to give a sense of what it's like for those who rely on food stamps in Pennsylvania, where the average monthly food stamp benefit for one person is $113.

The issue is getting even more attention these days because of the Corbett administration's plan, starting May 1, to impose a new asset test on people before they can qualify for food stamp benefits.

Elected officials participating in the challenge so far: Philadelphia Mayor Nutter; U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, a Democrat; state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Philadelphia); and state Reps. Tony Payton Jr. (D., Philadelphia), Cherelle Parker (D., Philadelphia), Brendan Boyle (D., Philadelphia), Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Philadelphia) and Gene DiGirolamo (R., Bucks).

"Skipped breakfast this AM so I'll have peanut butter and jelly 4 lunch will cook tonight, day 1 food stamp challenge, will be hard," Payton said in a tweet this morning.

A few hours later, he added: "I'm already hungry again, time for my carrot snacks I cut and packed."

Aside from elected officials, about 120 others have joined the challenge, said Carey Morgan, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

DiGirolamo said in an interview today that he is trying to come up with healthy ways to meet the $5-a-day, or $35-a-week, threshold. It hasn't been easy. For breakfast, he had a single glazed donut; for lunch, a bowl of Cheerios with a banana; for dinner. it will be pasta - he's trying to figure out if he can afford to have one meatball with it. As for drinks - that would be water, water, and more water.

"It's a challenge," he said, "and it's particularly challenging if you are trying to eat healthy."

Under the Corbett administration's new asset test, households with people under age 60 will be limited to $5,500 in assets in order to qualify for benefits. For households with people 60 and above, that limit is $9,000.

Houses, retirement benefits, and one car would not be counted as assets. Any additional vehicle worth more than $4,650 would be counted.

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