Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A BETTER Food Stamp Challenge

Well, I'm again writing about this bogus "Food Stamp Challenge" in which elected and community leaders are challenged to live on $21 per person per week, which is the average amount of food stamps that recipients receive.

(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.


BizzyBlog said...

Great post.

Brian said...

I concur with Tom, this is a great post.

Additionally, your blog is by far one of the best in Ohio! Keep up the great work Maggie.

Maggie Thurber said...

wow - many thanks to both of you!

Tim Higgins said...


Shame on you for presenting facts and figures which leave no wiggle room for our three galant volunteers. Can't we all understand that this was never about the facts or the truth, but instead about caring and compassion.

(By the way, I hear that Emmy nominations for "Best Supporting Role in a Failed Government Program" are forthcoming.)

Allow me to echo a sentiment and ask to to keep up the great work.

Maggie Thurber said...

Price of the bogus challenge: $21

Price of the actual food stamp amount: $35.67

Tim's comment? Priceless!

Hooda Thunkit said...


There ya go again being logical, practical and reasonable.

You're just not as much fun as the clowns we've chosen to (God help us) lead us...

Besides, idiotic and illogical "bogus" challenges and experiments play better to the MSM. No room for truth and honesty here...

Roo said...

Maggie - Shame on you! LOL There ya go - trying to mingle logic and fact with reality and manipulation. Haven't you learned that that doesn't happen in Toledo/Lucas County?

Keep up the good work - and remember - if ya need help holding some feet to the fire just call me. Seems I've gotten good at that lately. ;)

BizzyBlog said...

At the end of the Sept. 25 Blade piece, Konop said this:

Mr. Konop said. "I thought it exposed a bit of a dark side on some people, and just some mean-spiritedness. But the vast majority of feedback has been positive."

What. A. Self-Righteous. Pretender.

Robin said...

With stories on the news about local food banks running out of food, I'm sure they would appreciate $21 (food or cash) from people.

I think Kroger still has those cards you can scan at the check out to donate money to food banks.

Maggie Thurber said...

Bizzy - welcome to my world...you see, if you focus on facts, figures, actually achieving a goal rather than just 'feeling good' about it, you get criticized for being mean-spirited...

This is what passes as thoughtful commentary in Toledo - and is obviously what the electorate prefers...after all, it's so much easier to 'feel' than to 'think.'

Lisa Renee said...

Nice challenge Maggie, and one that I support as well. It's critical right now with the increased demand and the lack of available food our local food pantry's are reporting.

Frank said...

Thanks for the information once again Maggie.
There are other worthly organizations that can help feed families in Lucas County (and across the US). One of them is called Angel Food Ministries. My family can get some very good staple items for $25.00 per month. If you want to get the monthly specials, it usually runs between $15-18 per special. There is some very good items that are in these packages as well. They range from pasta, various types of meat, veggies and even dessert type items. There is no limit on what your income is and you can use food stamps to pay for your food.
If there is a draw back is that you need to order about a few weeks a head and then go to the site to pick it up. There is at least one here in the Toledo area that has had it going for the last 6 months or so. To find out more, you can go to www.angelfoodministries.com

Maggie Thurber said...

Frank - I heard about them on the radio - that they have meat and other perishable items...glad to know you've had personal experience with them that was positive. Thanks for sharing the information!

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