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Newark mayor to honour Twitter challenge to live on food stamps for at least a week

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NEWARK, N.J. - Newark Mayor Cory Booker said he and a Twitter follower will try living on food stamps for at least a week.

The idea stemmed from a back-and-forth conversation between Booker and a woman who goes by the name TwitWit and uses the handle (at)MWadeNC. They began talking about the idea Sunday night while discussing the role the government should play in funding school breakfast and lunch programs.

Booker said Tuesday he intends to follow through with the plan. TwitWit said it is "great idea" but wants more information on how it will be carried out.

During their Twitter exchange, TwitWit wrote, "nutrition is not the responsibility of the government."

The conversation soon changed to food stamps.

"why is there a family today that is "too poor to afford breakfast"? are they not already receiving food stamps?" TwitWit wrote.

"Lets you and I try to live on food stamps in New Jersey (high cost of living) and feed a family for a week or month. U game?" Booker responded.

"sure, Mayor, I'm game," TwitWit wrote back.

"Great. Lets do this. I hope you live in New Jersey. Lets film it and see how we do," Booker responded. He later wrote, "We will have to get a referee — DM me your number so we can see if we can work out details."

Booker, a prolific Twitter user who has 1.2 million followers, said Tuesday evening he is committed to living on the equivalent of food stamps, but could not say how he will approximate the benefits, execute the idea or how long it will last.

The average monthly food stamp benefit was $133.26 per person in New Jersey in fiscal year 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"We're going to set up the rules," Booker told reporters. "And that's what we're researching right now. This will not be a gimmick or a stunt."

Booker said he wants the challenge to be a chance "for us to grow in compassion and understanding" and dispel stereotypes.

In an interview with The Associated Press Tuesday night TwitWit said she is a 39-year-old married mother of two from North Carolina. She spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because she said she has received threats since her Twitter discussion about food stamps.

She said she is willing to participate in the challenge but wants to know the ground rules before committing. She has not heard from Booker's office and is upset she has not been included in the research process.

"To hear he's planning and setting things up, it makes me feel like I'm a little bit of a prop in the game," she said.

She thinks she and Booker should approximate living on food stamps for a month.

TwitWit said she does not oppose food stamps. But if more taxpayer money is allocated for food stamps, she believes, more people will require them.

"There is going to be a lot more of us needing those food stamps if it doesn't stop," she said.

She thinks many people are mischaracterizing her conversation with Booker, which initially centred on funding school meals.

"I don't have a vendetta," she said, and urged people to work together. "I'm looking at things from a different angle."

TwitWit, who describes herself on Twitter as an Army veteran who is "fighting against any and all forms of socialism/communism," said her own family is barely getting by and is "six months away from being in debt and on welfare ourselves." She is between jobs and said her husband is in the computer field.

"Most of us are in the same boat," she said. "Some of us just aren't getting the assistance."

This is not her first Twitter interaction with Booker. She said Booker started following her in 2007. She had never heard of him before.

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