The idea is to 'challenge' various elected officials and media to live on $23 during a one-week period of time. The $23 is the average supplemental support that families on food stamps get - per person.
I've covered this issue in depth, starting with why the media was blind to the food stamp challenge, what the real goal of the 'challenge' is, what sponsors of the challenge say about it, and my suggestions for a BETTER food stamp challenge.
When this bogus challenge was issued last year, bloggers and media rightly debunked it, showed it as a lobbying effort disguised as outreach and demonstrated how it was possible to live on this amount, even though no one - repeat NO ONE - has to live on this dollar amount a week when they are on food stamps.
So what's a group to do in light of these facts? They add a twist. In light of the undeniable facts, they say you can live on this amount of money, but not healthily.
"Critics of the challenge have said that it does not accurately reflect the amount of money some food stamp recipients receive and that the program is intended to be a supplement, not a family's entire food budget.
As the Rev. Steve Anthony, executive director of Toledo Area Ministries, pointed out when I agreed to the challenge, the budget makes eating healthy foods very difficult.
"You'll find that in order to fill your stomach you will have to resort to cheap, starchy foods," he warned me. "It won't be a problem getting the volume. It's getting the nutrition.""
So now it's not about being able to live, it's about being able to purchase a healthy diet.
But even that is false. As I demonstrated in my BETTER Food Stamp Challenge, I was able to purchase vegetables and fruit - even Jello - with my $21 (the amount of the challenge last year):
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.
There are three things to remember about this bogus challenge:
1) It's all about getting people to advocate for more money to be spent on handouts. Some will characterize my use of the term 'handout' as mean, inappropriate or something worse. But that's what it is. Taxpayers are paying for recipients to be able to purchase food, despite the fact that many of us already help the poor on our own. This challenge is sponsored by groups who spend a large part of their time advocating for more money for this program. It's a marketing gimmick for a lobbying effort - and it is a disservice to the recipients.
2) When government controls the money you use to purchase your food, they will expand to control what you can buy with that money, making people slaves to the bureaucracy that always knows better than you do. Food stamps can only be used to purchase food items - that makes sense. However, as today's Blade article shows, various groups are putting pressure on government to increase the amount of control over what people buy.
"Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist in Bangor, Maine, and president-elect of the Maine Dental Association, recently called for soda pop to be added to the list of items that can't be purchased with food stamps.
"Younger children that have been introduced to soda have a much higher risk of developing tooth decay than children that have not been exposed to soda," said Dr. Shenkin.
He said taxpayers should not have to subsidize poor nutrition "and then pay again for the health care expenses that are associated with it," such as tooth problems and obesity. "Nobody is taking away choice. You have the choice to buy it with your own money," Dr. Shenkin said."
3) Government knows only expansion of a program, and recipients gladly participate in that process. In this instance, what people are getting is never enough. People who are dependent upon the largess of others shouldn't have to be restricted in what they get. No, they should be able to have what others have, without having to work to get it. Sound familiar?
As the Blade reporter wrote:
My colleague, Blade Religion Editor David Yonke, who also participated in the challenge, said he did not experience hunger, but described the week as "a matter of living without options."
He continued, "I couldn't buy name-brand grocery items. I couldn't afford fast food, let alone a restaurant meal. I had to do without a lot of the things I take for granted, like soda pop and coffee and an occasional candy bar."
Will the next expansion be some 'right' of food stamp recipients to have coffee and an occasional candy bar? Are they somehow discriminated against because they can't purchase a fast food meal, so the program has to allow for such luxury?
And rather than tell me what it's like to live during this bogus challenge, I'd like to know what it is these 'participants' have done since then to help address the problem? Do they make a point of spending $10 each time they go to the grocery store to purchase some extra food to drop off to the food bank? Do they donate funds to food banks or other programs that feed the needy? Do they change their behavior? Or do they just write about it and hold press conferences on it - being used as pawns in this marketing gimmick and calling it a day?
If you really want to help people who need such help - do so. With your own funds or time or talents that you have. But don't fall prey to lobbying efforts and then use them as an excuse to take more money from the dwindling supply the rest of us have.