Thoroughly Debunked 'Food Stamp Challenge' Just Won't Go Away; Media Continues to Swallow False Premise

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Here we go again.

It has been 19 months since Mona Charen and yours truly obliterated the legitimacy of the basic premise of the "Food Stamp Challenges" that began popping in various parts of the USA last year. The false premise is that the USDA's calculated benefit for recipients is all they have to buy food.

It has been over a year since Colorado couple Ari and Jennifer Armstrong proved they could live even on the artificially low "Challenge" amount (which at the time was $21 per person per week).

Nonetheless, Maggie Thurber at Thurber's Thoughts tells us that the bogus "Challenge" is back in Ohio's Lucas County, home of Toledo.

Maggie notes that this time the "Challengers" are throwing in a new wrinkle (second bold is mine):

The idea is to 'challenge' various elected officials and media to live on (i.e., buy food -- Ed.) $23 during a one-week period of time. The $23 is the average supplemental support that families on food stamps get - per person.

..... When this bogus challenge was issued last year, bloggers and media rightly debunked it (predominantly bloggers -- Ed.), 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.

Maggie's link is to a column by Toledo Blade reporter Kate Giammarise, who chronicled her attempt to buy food on $23 a week. As you will see, that is much lower (43%) than the program's actual benefit levels for those who have no other resources.

In hopes of feeding the info-undernourished "Challengers" some facts, I'll add a "twist" to my presentation.

From the USDA's site, these are the much higher Maximum Monthly Allotments (i.e., benefits) for varying household sizes, effective October 1, 2008, followed on the right by the weekly costs per persons of various ages of what the USDA calls its Thrifty Meal Plan:

FoodStampMMAtable100108USDAthriftyMealPlans1008

How totally unsurprising that the two sets of numbers line up so well, in fact erring a bit on the side of generosity (especially considering economies that can be achieved when buying for multiple household members).

I should also note that the Allotment amounts listed above are an average of 8.5% higher than the previous year. That's because their increases are pegged to an index that measure inflation in food costs, not overall inflation.

As has been explained frequently, the $23 per person per week the "Challenges" are using is less than the amounts in the Maximum Monthly Allotment table because the program is means tested, as the USDA also clearly states on the page containing the allotments table (bold is mine):

The net monthly income of the household is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment for the household size to find the household's allotment. This is because food stamp households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their resources on food.

As to nutrition -- If you go to the USDA's "Cost of Food at Home" page and click on the PDF for October, the most recent month available, you'll see that the table's first footnote says the following (bold is mine):

The Food Plans represent a nutritious diet at four different cost levels.

What about that sentence is so hard for the "Challengers" to understand?

What I said back in March, with minor updating, still holds:

Those who have a problem with benefit levels need to tell us what, if anything, is wrong with the formulas that reduce Maximum Allotments, and work with federal legislators to change them. But instead of doing that constructive work, politicians and advocates have spent over a year taking part in media-grandstanding “Food Stamp Challenges” and other silly exercises, all based on the bogus assumption, without providing any proof, that the net benefit is "all that participants have for food." By insisting on (excuse the expression) feeding us this garbage, they’ve squandered their credibility. If they really believe that Food Stamp recipients are being shortchanged, they have, by posturing on a false premise, helped to perpetuate that situation, and have done nothing to alleviate it.

I've just set up "Food Stamp Challenge" as a Google News Alert.  Despite the thorough debunking, it's obvious that new "Challenges" are going to continue to periodically pop up, annoy, and deceive. It's also obvious that many media members will continue to swallow their disinformation.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.