Newark Mayor Cory Booker is considered a rising star in Democratic Party politics. Though a doctrinaire liberal on many fronts, he possesses several positive traits, including a willingness to risk his own safety when he sees people in danger and the courage to call out his fellow party members when they irresponsibly bash private-equity firms which, while occasionally making mistaken investments, have a far better track record of success than, say, the Department of Energy's solar plays.
That makes it all the more disappointing that Booker, like so many other leftist politicians before him, is cynically taking the bogusly designed "Food Stamp Challenge." Such an idea isn't necessarily bad, as it has the potential for helping people make wiser, more nutritious and economical food choices. But to the left that's not the point. Instead, their mission is to convince the public that benefits are too low and that the numbers of those participating in the program need to increase. To achieve their aims, advocates make a fundamentally dishonest claim about benefit levels. And in a unique twist, the Politico appears to have proactively attempted to become part of the false message.
The Politico's writeup by Bobby Cervantes on the early stages of Booker's effort repeats a long-running lie, and also reveals that the online site has been trying to make itself a part of the story (bolds are mine):
Cory Booker food stamp challenge: On food stamps, off meat
POLITICO’s meal suggestions for Cory Booker during his weeklong food stamps challenge won’t help him much, the Newark mayor tweeted Tuesday.
Not helping much. I’m a vegetarian RT @tii_lc @politico’s photos of food stamp challenge suggestions for Cory Booker politi.co/TGTr0i— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) December 4, 2012
POLITICO’s menu for Booker — whose food stamp diet began Tuesday — included a slice of bacon, a meatball sandwich and a turkey sandwich, among non-vegetarian items such as carrots and yogurt. On Monday, Booker tweeted a photo of his grocery receipt, which included beans and corn and totaled $29.78, just under his maximum spending allotment for the week.
Book (sic) agreed to live off of food stamps to pay for a week’s worth of groceries, after a twitter followed challenged him to do so last month.
As has been true ever since I began following this scam (and that is the right word) over five years ago, the USDA does not consider the amount of the average benefit it provides to represent "a week's worth of groceries." What follows are the tables for the "Maximum Monthly Allotment" when first researched in 2007 and what it is now, both converted to weekly amounts for comparative purposes after dividing by the 4.345 weeks in an average month:
Maximum Monthly Allotments have increased by 29% in the intervening years.
If Cory Booker were taking the Food Stamp Challenge in good faith, he would be trying to feed himself within a budget of $46.03. But he's not, rendering him in this instance just another opportunistic political hack. Not that this would be a good idea nutritionally, but if it were allowed (they're working on it -- it's just not widespread yet), just about anyone could stay within the $46.03 limit by ordering six or seven 99¢ items off the menu at fast-food restaurants every day. Obviously, buying and preparing more nutritional foods can be done at home for much, much less.
The reason that the average benefit is $28-$30 is that the program assumes that a person or family will set aside 30% of their available income (determined through somewhat complicated calculations) for food.
Simply stated within the framework of an individual, and using a $30 figure (Booker's $29.78 is supposedly, but as demonstrated, not actually, "just under his maximum spending allotment"), the average single person participating in the program has $53.43 a week in available income as determined under USDA rules, meaning that the average benefit gets reduced by $16.03 (30% of $53.43). So instead of getting the maximum possible benefit of $46.03, the average single individual in the program gets $30.00 ($46.03 minus $16.03). To be clear, many do receive the full allotment, while others receive considerably less than the $30 average.
If Politico's Cervantes was genuinely interested in relaying facts about the food stamp program to the public instead of assisting Booker in his menu planning, we might get to learn these things. While he's at it, Cervantes could also inform readers that over 35 states have eliminated the "Asset Test" portion of the food stamp eligibility testing regimen, meaning that you can, as a couple in Ohio did in a case reported in 2009, have $80,000 in the bank, a paid-off $300,000 house and nice cars and still receive benefits. Cervantes could also be telling readers that about half of the states have raised gross income-based eligibility to well above the 130% of the federal poverty line (FPL) threshold which was in place until the federal government began giving the states permission to loosen their standards during the recession.
But I guess it's just too much work to explain these things. It's much easier to simply relay the "Food Stamp Challenge" hype, keep readers in the dark about how probably millions are either receiving benefits when they shouldn't be or receiving more than they should, and watch government spending expand as if there is no end to the available money.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.