Monday, November 24, 2008

Bogus 'food stamp challege' is back - with a twist

Yes, it's that time again when various organizations and entities start in with their bogus 'food stamp challenge.'

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.


Barb said...

good article, maggie. I really think it would be good if gov't did limit pop bought with stamps. My friend on foodstamps would blow theirs on junk food --like a little kid herself. I sort of think if you want gov't freebies, you buy gov't control.

I've also noted they can't buy toilet paper and toothpaste with foodstamps --which are considered groceries. Food baskets for the poor do well to remember what the food stamps cannot buy that people do need.

Maggie Thurber said...

Excellent point about what food stamps won't cover...never thought about such essentials as toilet paper, toothpaste, paper towels, etc...

gordon gekko said...

I thought about doing this last year and then I remembered that I already did this once.

Only we called it college.

Norma said...

I've also written on this topic, and I challenge anyone to go to the USDA site and look at the ridiculous grants. Food Stamps (SNAP) were never about replacing a food budget, but about supplementing. Plus, the Thrifty Plan on which it is based, is not at all difficult. There is so much waste in these USDA programs it is pitiful. They even have housing programs.

Norma said...

Had to look for it, here's the one I wrote based on the challenge that appeared in The Lutheran.

Mad Jack said...

If you really want to help people who need such help - do so. With your own funds or time or talents that you have.

Why is the voice of reason ignored more often than not? Lower taxes, and allow people to support charity as they see fit.

I vividly remember a time when I had less than twenty dollars and managed to buy groceries.

Tim Higgins said...


If our politicians and local do-gooders would like a real challenge, perhaps they would accept this one:

Pick a subject, any subject, and discuss it rationally for a week; without bringing in the concept of compassion, suffering a reduction of lifestyle, or class envy.

My feeling is that few of them would survive on a strict week long diet of logic and reason.

Maggie Thurber said...

Amount of $$ food stamp recipients get to supplement their purchases: $23

Amount of media coverage of politicians and reporters taking bogus challenge: 100s

Tim's comment: PRICELESS!

Carol said...

IMO - part of the problem is that people, by and large, are lazy.

If one is willing to actually by the ingredients for a recipe, they can wind up making many more dishes other than that single recipe. Hence the expense of a particular meal is actually spread over several meals.

With the advent of prepared foods, pre packaged meals (just add chicken/beef, etc!) and all the ads that promote "quick and easy" preparation ... we have become lazy. Pure and simple.

A large bag of noodles (approx. $1.20) when combined with a meat, a can of vegetables, and a can of some kind of soup as the gravy (casserole style) can easily feed a family of 4 for 2 meals. Total cost --- around $3.00. That's around $.75 per person/per meal. You can't do that at McDonald's or BK.

But that takes a little planning and preparation.

Makes me wonder ... is Home Economics even offered in schools anymore? Hmmmmm

Once upon a time, long ago, I had to learn how to cook everything I ate in an electric wok. Necessity certainly became the mother of invention. But we are no longer prompted to be creative and innovative since all we have to do is fill out a form and wait for a card to come in the mail.

Not long ago I was in a Kroger - behind a food stamp user - and they were buying frozen crab cakes, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, and lots of other branded items. Made me wonder, and consider, that if they were not so 'brand conscious' that their dollars would have gone so much further.

mlp198321 said...

You all raise very good points, but you stereo type too much!There are people out there who DO need more assistance. I am a young mother of a 1 year old, my husband and I both work low paying jobs, and are both struggling to finish college. We receive food stamps, but it is not enough. We do not buy name brand, or junk, and we usually buy what ever meat is on clearance, just to make ends meet. We each have roughly a 130 mile round trip 3 days a week to college and back, and if you add in rent, utilities, diapers, wipes, personal hygiene items, gas to get to school and work, and laundry money, we are always short somewhere. I do know there are a vast number of lazy people who don't work and get large amounts of assistance, and I think that needs to change.I think that food stamps are a large factor in our nations obesity issue, more so than Mc D's or Burger King!I know that if you do not have a job,or a low paying job,you can get food stamps until you gain employment and/or you receive enough pay to be over the income limit.But this policy has no time limit, therefore you end up with free loaders who do nothing to put food on the table other than fill out the forms every 6 months and mail them back! I would not object to controlled spending, since I do not abuse the privilege of state assistance. There should be a better criteria for recipients. Also there should be a time limit. I know when my husband and I are done with college we will not need food stamps any more, but I know I am one of a small majority of people on welfare. This needs to change. There are too many parasitic people living off of government charity.

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