(Background is available here, here and here.)
Sadly, as $21 is the average, it's nowhere near accurate to say that a person on food stamps ONLY gets $21 per week - as the challenge attempts to imply. In fact, an individual with no other sources of income actually would get $35.67 per week. But, to be honest about the challenge means that you might actually succeed in living solely on food stamps - and that wouldn't jibe with this national campaign to 'prove' that the food stamp program needs more money - as is being debated in Congress.
But the Toledo Blade, goes right along with the story, today devoting a significant amount of column inches in 'reporting' about how difficult our commissioners had it on only $21. While not actually issuing a correction to their original story, they did clarify the truth about the amount of benefits:
"Mark Lino is an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food assistance program. He said that the $21 figure used in such challenges may be an accurate representation of the average received by food stamp recipients, but the figure doesn't include other income that would be used for food in such circumstances."
But even with clarification, they missed an opportunity to add context to a quote. They report:
"Mr. Lino said that the USDA estimates that, using national averages for food costs, it would take $126 per week to feed a family of four using a nutritious diet that conforms to the USDA's food pyramid."
But they neglect to state that a family of four, with no other sources of income, would receive $518 per month - $129.50 per week - which is more than the USDA estimates a family would need.
And the end result of this little experiment? Good question.
Rev. Kevin Perrine, program director of Toledo Area Ministry Feed Your Neighbor Program, said that they were trying to "make the leaders more aware of this issue, that it's in Toledo, and that it's something very prevalent right now." Which seems to imply that these three commissioners were not aware of the fact that many families in Toledo utilize the food stamp program through the county's department of Job & Family Services - a department they oversee. Or, if they were aware - which seems more likely, they've 'felt the pain' of living on a small amount of money.
In this respect, they were highly successful.
"If it wasn't for the generosity of others, we wouldn't have made it," Mrs. (Tina Skeldon) Wozniak said. "Two people invited us over for dinner. The neighbors across the street brought us fresh veggies from their garden. And later in the week, they brought us some bananas."
""I ran out of food," Mr. (Ben) Konop said yesterday. "I ran out of turkey. All I have left is granola bars." ... He ran out of food, he said, even though he fasted for 24 hours over the weekend for religious reasons."
And what happens now is that either they join in the effort to increase the funding for food stamps, and/or they go back to their normal buying habits.
Now, if they advocate for more funding, they can feel good about themselves for actually 'doing something' to help - but, with this scenario, they've "helped" by using other people's resources, as increased funding can only come from us, the taxpayers.
And what about those who use food stamps - or the individuals and families who don't use food stamps but do take advantage of the generosity of others when they visit their local food bank? Again, good question.
These individuals have no better idea (than they already did) about how to use their limited dollars efficiently or wisely to provide healthy and nutritious meals. And the food banks, while having this temporary blip in p.r., will still continue to struggle with meeting the demands of their clients.
But, to prove a point, here's a photo of the 31 food items I was able to purchase for $21.28. (I was a bit over, but figured that if a person didn't have an extra 28 cents, they could have purchased one less Jello.)
And just to prove my cost, here's a photo of the receipt. There's nothing special in my purchases, but I was able to get canned vegetables and fruit, plenty of pasta, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, tuna fish, and even Jello. And, if I'd had the extra $14.67 that a food stamp recipient would actually have, I would have bought the following:
* whole chicken for $3.86 (good for several meals for one)
* one pound of ground beef for $2.79
* two pork chops for $1.50
* quart of milk for $1.49 (I don't need much)
* 5 bananas for $.88
* one head of lettuce for $.99
* one loaf of bread for $.92
* a dozen eggs for $1.49
* one pound of carrots $.75
...proving that one person can comfortably survive in a healthy way on the amount of food stamps benefits they receive. In fact, I'd have plenty of left-overs to allow me to shop for more fresh fruit, vegetables and cheese the next week. There's just no way that I'd use all of the pasta, mac & cheese, Jello, peanut butter or all-purpose flour/pancake mix in just one week.
And the fact that my purchases in the second week would give me greater flexibility in developing a healthy menu is a point conveniently overlooked in a one-week challenge.
So here's my BETTER food stamp challenge. If the government takes an additional, say $21, for lack of better dollar amount, of taxes from each of us and dedicates that to the food stamp program, the end result, after deducting for bureaucracy and processing through the federal government to the state government to the local county offices, would certainly be less than $21.
So I challenge each and every one of you - take $21 and purchase appropriate goods and donate them to your favorite food bank or similar program. And make a commitment to do so on whatever regular basis you can. That's what I've done. Instead of just 'struggling' through a fake challenge, put your money where your mouth is. That will certainly do more to help those in need than some silly publicity stunt.