Week on Food Stamps: You were supposed to suffer, not innovate!

Last week, legislators across the country decided to take part in the Food Stamp Challenge, a project to have elected officials live on the same budget as a person on food stamps for a week. About a dozen Utah civic leaders and elected officials decided to take the challenge and see how they'd do. Rep. John Dougall decided to up the stakes and avoid packaged and canned food while still eating a balanced diet of fresh produce and meats.

What he did was amazing. He managed to eat what sounded like real food that anyone not on food stamps would scarf down willingly (albeit in lesser quantities). Meals were a good balance of protein, carbs and fats with lots of fruits and vegetables. He accomplished this through feats of proper meal planning and deal-shopping. And how did some of the other participants react to this?

With disgust and disdain. Apparently Rep. Dougall wasn't suffering enough for their tastes (which is to say, not at all) so they let him have it in at least two columns in the Tribune. Commenters on the stories joined in the melee to badmouth his efforts. (Dougall did a great job, however, of offering up a detailed rebuttal.) What makes me sad is that he took a serious challenge, decided to make it harder and still ended up coming out more-or-less on top.

What Rep. Dougall proved is that with proper meal planning, you can make your budget stretch out pretty darned far and still manage to eat real food. I can't for the life of me figure out why these detractors have refused to take the value of that lesson and say "hey, good idea. Now how do we get it to the people that need it?" The FDA has also managed to put together a meal plan for a family of four to eat on the cheap. (The real paper is down, but you can still get it out of Google's cache.)

I say that Rep. Dougall is owed a hearty congratulations for doing what everyone said couldn't be done. I give a big fat raspberry to the people who are more concerned with suffering for the sake of suffering rather than trying to find innovative ways to live on a meager budget. I guess we know who really cares about the poor now, don't we?

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80 Responses

  1. Shauna says:

    Reminds me of that part in Liar Liar

    Fletcher: Your honor, I object!
    Judge: Why?
    Fletcher: Because it's devastating to my case!

  2. Kristi says:

    I'm not sure how much you can have with food stamps, but I know a person can eat on $3.00/day.  Easy.  This is one of my favorite sites http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/ that shows how much it doesn't cost to eat.   It takes effort, but it can be done.  Just better be sure you like potatoes and rice.

  3. Shauna says:

    Awesome! I'm addicted to that site, too. We've been trying lots of her recipes since we started with the food budgeting. They're not all as tasty as I'd like, but they're definitely cheap. I've been planning to experiment with jazzing up a few of her recipes to see if I like them any better without increasing the costs too much.

  4. Jesse says:

    We've tried some of the recipes from Hillbilly Housewife and, while cheap, we kind feel like they need a bit of extra "zip" to them. The lentil soup could have used a ham hock or piece of salt pork (both very cheap) and the dumplings needed more herbs. The breadsticks are pretty good, but they're more of a quick bread akin to biscuits than a breadstick.

  5. Kristi says:

    Yeah, see I can't do her recipes.  Like you said, I need more "zip".  but it's a great place to go for menu planning for me. And you guys actually visit her, that is so cool! 

  6. John Dougall says:

    Nice write up.  Everywhere I go I have people telling me how their family eats on a budget of less than $1.05/meal per person.  The press makes this sound impossible, but to everyday citizens it's just common practice.

  7. Tom says:

    I have to agree.Buying food on that budget (especially for a family) is easy enough. Kudos to Rep. Dougall for demonstrating publicly it can be done. In addition to potatoes (an obvious answer), one of my favorite low cost foods is black beans.  Insanely cheap, and good source of protein.

  8. I'm in my week of doing the challenge and can tell you that I managed to buy groceries for my family within budget and we're eating quite well – salmon, shrimp, salads, vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc. – and so far, my analysis of nutrient-density shows we're pretty much meeting nutrient requirements for vitamins, minerals, etc. Eating well can be done on the amount provided to those needing assistance – careful planning is critical!  I'm detailing our week on my blog if anyone wants to see how we're doing!

  9. Dean Calbreath says:

    It's interesting that the "healthy" diet that Rep. McDougall touted included a peanut-butter-jelly sandwich as DINNER on one day and lunch the next. As someone whose family was on welfare rof a year, I can testify that yes, PB&J is a staple. But I wonder how Rep. McDougall would feel if he had to eat that as a dinner for a year or two instead of a week.

  10. Jesse says:

    I suppose that depends heavily on how much you like PB&J. Makes me think of the old Shel Silverstein poem about the king who really liked his peanut butter.

  11. Dean Calbreath says:

    I have another story in mind. there's a kid's book where a raccoon refuses to try any meal except jelly sandwiches – until her family forces her to eat jelly sandwiches morning, noon and night. Although she enjoys it at first, she soon yearns for something – anything – besides jelly. In real life, of course, the food-stamp families aren't forcing PB&J on their kids. But they have no choice. Even Rep. Dougall – who is so praised on this page for his creative menus – had no choice. As someone who has actually experienced this situation first-hand, this page makes me LOL.

  12. Jesse says:

    So what is it that makes you upset about praise for the meal planning that Rep. Dougall did? What I see is that he kept a very strict budget while managing to eat something a bit healthier than Ramen and boxed mac and cheese. That's no small feat, yet you're unimpressed, even hostile towards what he did. I don't get it.

  13. Dean Calbreath says:

    If you don't get the silliness that a "healthy" diet consists of eating PB&J sandwiches day in and day out, I'm not sure I can explain it to you. Yes, his recommended diet was healthier than Ramen and mac and cheese. But that's an awfully poor standard to judge things by. As I've said, I'd be more impressed hearing how he (or you) would feel after living on that diet for a year rather than a week.

  14. Shauna says:

    I'd feel like getting a better job.

  15. Jesse says:

    So I guess the American Academy of Pediatrics is wrong when they call peanut butter a healthy food for children and teenagers? Maybe nutritionists are off-base when they note that peanuts help lower LDL (bad cholesterol), protect against heart disease and maintain healthy body weight? I'm not inclined to believe that the experts are actually idiots who don't know what they're talking about. I'm more apt to trust what they say about peanut butter than I am to take your word for it.

    The weekly challenge is probably the hardest challenge of all. It's a piece of cake to have variety when you can plan for and shop for an entire month, freezing many of the things you won't use immediately or storing things with a long shelf life (i.e. eggs and some produce like broccoli).  Getting as much variety as he did and managing to eat a bunch of fresh foods is just about a miracle.

    What you have consistently failed to demonstrate is that the food he ate constituted being unhealthy. (I've already derailed your "peanut butter" argument, so give that one a rest.) You've got a lot of accusations and "facts" with nothing to back it up. Show me the money!

  16. Dean Calbreath says:

    Good Lord! This is truly crazy. Take a look at what you're saying. Shauna, yoy say "I think I'd consider getting a better job." So you really don't think that thought occurs to people? You really don't think people would get a better job, if they could find one? In San Diego, where I'm located, 60 percent of the jobs that were created over the past five years pay an average of $25,000 or less. (And considering that our median housing price is more than half a million dollars, that's even less than it might be in your neighborhood.)  So even if you're lucky enough to get one of those jobs and get off food stamps, you're still facing a major hurdle when affording . Jesse, you're right that peanut butter is a healthy food. I've never said it wasn't. I made a point of saying it was healthier than some alternatives. I eat peanut butter myself on occasion. I'm not criticizing peanut butter per se, and I'm surprised that you think I am. But to think that a working ADULT  would rely on a PBJ meal for lunch or dinner, day-in, day-out, for what could be several years – and not just a single week, as Rep. Dougall suggests – sounds like Marie Antoinette saying "let them eat peanut butter." Even for teenagers and children, the Association of Pediatrics does not recommend peanut butter as a long-term daily meal. Instead, it is recommended as among a broad number of alternatives, including lean red meats, fish, poultry and iron-fortified cereals. This assumes, of course, that the families have enough money to afford the other alternatives. Check out what lean red meat and iron-fortified cereal is selling for these days, and you'll see why Rep. Dougall couldn't make his $21-per-week spending plan without relying on PBJ as a daily staple. I challenge you to find a recommendation from the Association of Pediatrics that recommends PBJ be used as the main course for the dinner of a working adult (which is what Rep. Dougall used it for) let alone as an lunch every single day, for an adult or a teen. You say I've got accusations without facts. I don't know what you're talking about, cuz I haven't seen any facts from you. I've lived the life. I know what it feels like. You haven't. Maybe it's your turn to "show the money." But not to me. Find someone on food stamps in your city and show them the money. They'll appreciate it.

  17. Shauna says:

    Yep. California is damned expensive. I know, I used to live there. Quite difficult for someone with no college degree (like myself) to make a living that can get you into decent housing. You'll never believe how I solved that problem…

    I MOVED.

    Good grief. I hope you don't honestly feel that people are really that helpless to effect change in their lives for the better. We all have hurdles and struggles and budgets. And sometimes we have to eat just what's in our pantry like beans and rice 4 days in a row for lunch and dinner because we don't have money for food. Or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Macaroni & cheese and Top Ramen. What I've just described is the diet of just about every college student on the planet.

    Please tell me just exactly how many people have died from hunger on this kind of diet? None? Really? Shocking! 

  18. Jesse says:

    I guess my childhood memories of powdered milk and liver while living in a run-down area of Montgomery AL are totally fabricated. So are those several years of living on $10/hr with a $400/mo car payment and rent to boot. Yep, I have no idea what hardship is like at all. Glad you reminded me that I made up my own personal history.  Oh wait…

    Lean red meat is not tough to buy on the cheap. Let's take a look at this week's grocery circulars, shall we?

    Albertson's is selling boneless beef rump roast for $2/lb. or (presuming a standard 5 oz serving) $0.66 per serving. They're also selling whole bone-in chicken breasts for $0.99/lb. or $0.33 per serving. Smith's has whole tilapia for $0.89/lb. or $0.30 per serving. Last week we picked up boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats for $1 per box. It seems that anyone who gets mail (and really, that means everyone) can take about 5 minutes to look through the ads and see what's a good deal for the week.

    Next please. 

  19. Bill says:

    How about growing some of your needs. An orange tree in SD or Sac. for that matter, is the gift that keeps on giving. Cherry trees, apple trees, apricot & peach trees do the same even in colder spots like Utah. Asparagus, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, beets, and green beans take very little effort. Learn to fish. There is nowhere I've been in the US where one can't catch edible protein on a regular basis and if you do it often you get good at it. In the mean time no one has a right to live in the most expensive areas of the country and then complain about the rest of us not giving them enough so they can  continue to live there

  20. Jeremy says:

    Rep. Dougall did a great job showing that even if you only relied on food stamps a decent menu is possible. True…he did have to eat a few PB&J sandwiches.  I wonder what Dean would consider to be a better solution.  Besides complaining about too much PB&J what specifically should we do to make things better for the poor in our country?  Would an extra dollar per person per day be enough?  Do you advocate for more?  How far do we go?  How much more generous should the government be when using tax dollars to pay poor people because of their poverty?

  21. Dean Calbreath says:

    What is a better solution? Providing more than $1 a meal would be a good start. If you think $1 a meal is "generous," you've got a very narrow definition of generosity.

  22. Jesse says:

    The better solution is something I already said: provide some meal-planning tools so that folks can eat on the cheap. That's what Rep. Dougall did and it worked out pretty good.

  23. Dean Calbreath says:

    Bill: Yeah. Growing orange trees is nice. I've got two on my property, as well as a loquat and pomegranate tree. But I'm not poor. On my comfortably middle-class salary, I'm able to afford  a house with a yard – or at least I was able to afford it when I moved in 10 years ago. I couldn't afford it nowadays, when the median price is half a million dollars. If you think the average food-stamp recipient could afford a yard where they could grow trees, you may have an unrealistic view of their income level. And that's true whether they live in San Diego or a poorer part of the country. Jesse: I also had a youth of powdered milk and innards (although thankfully not too many innards – my grandmother ate most of those). When my sister graduated from college, her definition of having "made it" was the ability to walk into a store and buy a gallon of actual, real milk. Your quotes from the Albertson's food list prove my point. It's easy to get fatty, sugary foods. But that's a reason that people on food stamps have a higher degree of obesity than the general public. The food that they can afford is laden with fat and government-subsidized sugar. Fat cuts – such as the rump roast – are much cheaper than lean. Rump roast provides you with 102 percent of the recommended maximumm of fat. Once you scrape the fat away, you have a lot less meat, and a lot fewer servings of lean than your calculation suggests. Similarly, in-bone cuts are much cheaper than bone cuts, because there's much less meat on them.  Once you take the bones out, I'd question if you could get the three servings you're suggesting. Twenty percent of Honey Bunches of Oats – 6 grams out of every 30 – consists of sugars. Sugar is the third largest ingredient in the cereal. Brown sugar comes in at fifth. Honey is seventh. Corn and barley syrup is eighth. That's not exactly a healthy meal, although plenty of people eat it. And cereals like that are especially attractive to the poor, since sugary cereals are cheaper (sugar is a heavily subsidized product in America, thanks to a strong sugar lobby in DC, but that's another topic).

  24. Jesse says:

    That rump roast is still 85% lean, about on par with mid-grade ground beef. Consider that you're going to cook or cut off most of the fat, thus improving the fat content of the meat, while sacrificing only about 1.5oz per pound of the total weight. Considering the cost per pound of leaner cuts is much higher, I'd say you're still getting a much better deal on the cheap cuts. (I notice, though, that your "102%" figure is based on eating an entire pound of meat. That's probably a bit excessive, hmmm?) When you think 1/3 of a pound servings, you're getting about 34% of your RDA of fat (well balanced for a single meal) and 60% of your RDA for protein, presuming you didn't cook or cut off any fat. I'm afraid some basic analysis leaves your point on beef falling flat.

    On the cereals front, oatmeal, grits and cream of wheat all make dirt cheap and healthy alternatives to boxed cereals and don't take long at all to make. From filling a pot with water to eating, grits are about a 10-minute process. Paired with a glass of juice and some eggs, you've got a rather complete meal for well under a dollar. Grits are reheatable as well (I know, I do it all the time) so it's easy to make some ahead for breakfast throughout the week.

    Again, I say that educating the folks on a limited food budget is a heck of a lot more effective than just throwing money at the problem. Money that would likely be spent on unhealthy convenience foods. (I've already railed on corn subsidies for this purpose, so we see eye-to-eye on at least one thing.)

  25. Dean Calbreath says:

    In terms of a fix, here are a few things that I think would work: 1) Add $4 billion to the Food Stamp Program, which is a BIPARTISAN proposal from the House Taks Force on Hunger. Considering that we've already spent $456 billion on the War in Iraq (not counting Afghanistan or domestic military spending), that's not a huge number. Maybe we could use some of the money that we currently use subsidizing corn, beet and sugar cane (I'm glad that we agree on the silliness of those subsidies). 2) Add incentives, i.e., grant more food stamps, to people who spend their allocation on healthy foods and give incentives to food stores in poor neighborhoods to stock their shelves with healthier foods. This is a proposal that has passed the California legislature and has the backing of Gov. Schwarzenegger, although it does not yet been put into action. 3) Ban the use of food stamps on high-sugar foods. This proposal recently passed the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, but would only work in conjunction with Step No. 2. Personally, I would add a ban on the use of fodd stamps for foods that have a high fat content, particularly trans fats and saturated fats. 4) Provide nutrition education to poor people who use food stamps. Again, this was part of the California legislature proposal as well as the San Diego County proposal. Again, it has not yet been put into action, partly because a) they're waiting for guidance from the Feds and b) they haven't worked out how this would be funded. If these four steps were taken, we'd go a long way to fixing the food stamp program. If Rep. Dougall took more of a look at reasonable fixes to food stamps, I think he'd be doing a much better service to his contatiutents than spending his time concocting a PB&J diet.

  26. Dean Calbreath says:

    PS: If anyone balks at the idea of spending a bit more money on food stamps, healthy-food incentives and nutrition education, I should point out that we're already paying for the current inadequacies of our food-stamp program through higher medical costs related to poor diets and lower productivity. And despite what Rep. Dougall suggests, I'm not sure how productive a manual laborer would be whose dinner entree consisted of a PB&J sandwich.

  27. Jesse says:

    I never thought I'd hear the day when $4B was called "not a huge number". That ginormous when you consider that's a proposed 25% increase in the funding for the program. What disconcerts me most is that this proposal is more of the same: throw more money at the problem instead of finding cost-effective ways to make the dollars stretch further.

    The FDA already has many guides on how to eat cheaply including shopping lists, recipes and meal planners (see link above). In particular, they have a balanced month-long plan that can feed a family of four for under $100, well under the minimum payments for food stamps. These plans also included nutritional information for everything being prepared. We don't need to spend a whole lot of money to get that information into the hands of the folks who need it and that's a lot more effective than trying to spend an extra $4B!

    The money issue is also greatly overblown. The $21/week challenge presumed you were receiving the absolute lowest amount of money possible and had no additional income. It seems absurdly unlikely that someone earning the bare minimum would not be able to supplement their food budget with other monies. Wouldn't they otherwise be receiving a larger amount?

    Stores already carry healthy foods. Beans and rice are great sources of protein, fiber and carbs while being dirt cheap. The chicken and fish specials I noted above are lean sources of high-quality protein. I can't name a grocery store that doesn't carry healthy foods. Can you? However, preventing food stamps from being spent on certain convenience foods sounds logical enough to me. I'd hardly call chips, cookies or sodas "life-sustaining".

    Rep. Dougall came up with plenty of solutions. It seems, however, that you just don't like them. Families (which comprise the majority of food stamp recipients) can leverage buying in bulk. Planning and budgeting means you don't overspend. Knowing how to cook saves lots of money. Portion control is key. How are those not good ideas? How do those not help out families on limited budgets? How can you complain about a 1,600-2,100 calorie a day menu that balances fats, proteins and carbs while including nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables? I'm flabbergasted.

  28. Dean Calbreath says:

    You're wrong on a number of counts, but let me start with the most important. You say that thet $21 a week challenge "presumed you were receiving the absolute lowest amount of money possible." That is absolutely untrue. The minimum food stamp payment is $10 a month, or $2.50 a week, or 35 cents a day.   The proposal floating through Congress would seek to raise the $10 monthly minimum, which hasn't changed since the 1970s, to $30 a month, which is still a pretty low figure. You complain that Congress' plan would be a 25 percent increase in the program. The fact is that families receiving the minimum food stamp allotment have taken an 80 percent hit over the past 30 years. Congress' proposal would not even match the impact of inflation on the minimum payment. $10 in 1975 would equal around $40 today. The other elements fo the bipartisan congressional proposal would: Peg benefits to inflation to stop the erosion of the purchasing power of food stamps Restore eligibility to all legal residents Raise the asset limits for eligibility so that families on food stamps are encouraged to save for college and retirement Allow families to deduct the full cost of childcare when determining their eligibility I'm not sure what about that sounds unfair. In terms of stores that sell unhealthy foods, the California plan is to bring a wider array of healthy foods to corner convenience stores, ranging from 7-11s to neighborhood liquor stores. Like it or not, those stores are much more accessible in low-income neighborhoods than well-stocked grocery stores. 

  29. Dean Calbreath says:

    PS- The "80 percent hit" was based on 1973 figures. Based on 1975 figures, it's only a 75 percent hit. Also, in terms of being flabbergasted by my reaction to a diet that would require a daily "meal" of PB&J, try it for a year and get back to me.

  30. Dean Calbreath says:

    PPS – In terms of $4 billion being a relatively little amount of money, compare it to the Pentagon budget, which spends that amount in four days. But there's no wastage there, right? By the way, there are 25,000 military families on food stamps. It would be nice if we provided more for the spouses and children of our soldiers a better diet than PB&J.

  31. Jesse says:

    Alright, so $21/week is an average. I still can't imagine that anyone receiving the $10/week minimum would not have some other source of income, so trying to make it out to be the sole source of income is very dishonest.

    Crunching the numbers for the food stamp program comes up with a very different picture than what you paint. In 1970, the USDA spent $712 per person in 2006 dollars. In 2000, the USDA spent $1164 per person in 2006 dollars. Waitaminute… even accounting for inflation, spending per person still increased over 63%! Care to explain how spending far outpaced inflation over that 30-year span?

    I'm calling BS on your fiscal figures. 

  32. Bill says:

    Dean, the first thing you need to realize is that we owe them (the poor ) nothing. Once we have agreement on that then you can understand that whether we are giving them $1 a week or $75 a week it is generous. I once lived in Utah as a poor student. I picked an apartment specificly because there was an ajoining large field. I grew a garden while in that apartment. Now everyone probably isn't going to have a 45' by 75' ajoining field but a lot of places have something. Maybe they ought to look for a garden plot rather than a swimming pool. BTW a very interesting thing happened when I graduated from school that August. I left on August 20th for Wisconsin. As you can imagine there was a lot of Garden left to harvest. I went to my Bishop and told him that any having trouble making ends meet could feel free to harvest my garden no charge. I also let aquaintences know that I knew were on assistance. I came back 3 months latter and found that no one had bothered to pick a thing. No I don't owe anybody steak or even spam for that matter  and I would prefer it if the libs and rino's would keep their hands out of my back pocket and let me decide who where and when I want to help 

  33. Dean Calbreath says:

    Jesse: Yes, you're right, a person who receives the $10 minimum is also receiving outside income, just as they were in the 1970s. I've never suggested otherwise, although it was inaccurate of you to suggest that $21 per week was a minimum. All I'm saying in that regard is that it would be good to bring an inflation adjustment to that minimum. Why has the average payment risen, you ask? That's a good question, which has to do as much with changes in bureacracy as anything else. Over the past thirty years, we have made it increasingly hard to get food stamps. In California, for instance, it requires four separate visits to the food stamp office, of about one hour each, including getting your photograph and fingerprints taken. These four visits can only be made during working hours – no evening appointments, no weekends – meaning that the working poor have to take off time from their jobs. Combine the one-hour visits with the amount of time it takes to travel back and forth and that's a serious impediment to a working stiff. This has eliminated a large number of the working poor from participating in the program. Instead, you get the neediest of the needy. They get the maximum amount of food stamp assistance, which is why the average has moved up compared to the 1970s, when there were a greater number of working poor in the mix, drawing smaller payments. In California, only 43 percent of the people who qualify for food stamps participate. In San Diego, the number is 25 percent  – the lowest in the nation. People in the filed say that the main reason is the bureaucratic hurdles against the working poor. Bill: Just because we "don't owe the poor anything" doesn't qualify $1 a meal as being generous. Would you say the same if we paid a penny a meal? After all, we don't owe them anything, so they should be gratteful for that single red cent. LOL. I don't know what religion you and your "bishop" belong to, but my religion teaches me more responsibility than that. Ebenezer Scrooge sounds like a good role model for you.

  34. Jesse says:

    So you're saying that bureaucratic overhead in the food stamps program is the primary cause of an inflation-adjusted increase in spending of 63% over the course of three decades? And you want to give these chuckleheads more money, the same people who can't resolve eligibility requirements in a single visit? It sounds like Rep. Dougall's accusations of inefficiency might be dead-on.

    As for lower participation rates, it's hard to come by any data from the USDA on participation rates prior to 1990. However, other data sources can fill in the blanks. The poverty rate has been a constant since at least 1970. Aside from a major jump in participation between 1970 and 1975, the net change in participation is zero. (These aren't going to be straight-out "apples to apples" comparisons because of the impact of the 1994 welfare reform.) Population during this time period jumped about 40%, so presumably there is a lower participation rate. However, we see that participation rates have little impact on poverty rates. In fact, the poverty rate in 1994, when the welfare reform was passed, is several points higher than it is today despite over 35% fewer people participating in the program. If the goal is to help the poor, it seems that Clinton's plans to cut them off did a lot more good than your proposal to throw more money at the problem!

    By the way, the USDA's 43% figure has already been proved wrong by researchers at UC Berkeley. California actually is one of the top ten when it comes to participation in food stamps. Again, you need to get your facts straight and stop shopping data.

    BTW, the rapid-fire comments (2-3 in a row) sends some of your comments to moderation, thus some of them don't show up immediately until I check the queue. That's a function of our spam filter.

  35. Vanessa says:

    " I don't know what religion you and your "bishop" belong to, but my religion teaches me more responsibility than that. Ebenezer Scrooge sounds like a good role model for you." So, was cultivating a garden and turning it over to those in need the wrong thing to do? Should Bill have stayed behind and harvested the garden each year? People were told of the garden and welcomed to help themselves. The catch? They would actually have to help themselves. They chose not to. That was a little bit of a low blow, Dean. As a liberal I do have a different take on most political issues compared to most of those commenting on this topic. However, public assistance is an issue where I am torn. If you are consistently raising the standard, at what point do people tire of being on food stamps and pull themselves up by the bootstraps and work towards being self sufficient? Don't tell me that people are only on food stamps temporarily – I've watched a member of my own family work the system for over 16 years. I most definitely do not like seeing families who are starving or children who are not receiving the best nutrition. Its not pretty and its not fun. But, it can be done on food stamps – its just not pretty and not fun.

  36. Dean Calbreath says:

    No. You're not at all getting what I'm saying. I did not at all say that overhead was a reason for higher costs. I made no mention of overhead. If you want to look for expensive overhead, look at the $1 billion a day Pentagon budget. What I said was that the lower-benefit families (i.e., the working poor) have been squeezed out of the program while the higher-benefit families (i.e, the nonworking poor) have remained in, which is why the average has skewed upwards. This point has been made in a number of studies, notably by the Urban Institute, the USDA and the US Congress (when it was under Dennis Hastert and not Nancy Pelosi). The "chuckleheads" that have set up these hurdles are not the people who administer it but the politicians who want fewer people on the rolls – which is what you and Rep. Dougall want, right? Not that I would call you chuckleheads. Frankly, I trust the US Department of Agriculture more than I trust UC Berkeley on the food stamp issue, and the study that you're citing is three years old anyway. But let's say Berkeley is right, and that the participation rate is 57 percent. That still means that nearly half of eligible recipients are not getting food stamps. That reflects a decline from the 65 percent range in the mid 1970s and above 70 percent in the early 1990s. Assuming that the USDA is more correct than UC Berkeley – which I believe to be true for a number of reasons too intricate to go into here – the dropoff in participation is astounding. By the way, the steadiness of the poverty rate, which you cite in your letter, has no bearing on the food stamp participation rate. I'm not sure what point you're trying to make with it. There is no correlation. The participation rate is based on the percentage of poor people receiving the aid, so the fact that the poverty rate has been fairly constant has nothing to do with it.

  37. Dean Calbreath says:

    Vanessa: Okay. the Scrooge thing was a low blow. But I didn't say that in reaction to his garden experience, in which he (and you apparently) judged all poor people by the reaction of a handful of acquaintances he told about his garden. Instead, it was a reaction to his last sentence: "I would prefer it if the libs and rino's would keep their hands out of my back pocket and let me decide who where and when I want to help." It did sound to me like a statement from a Christmas Carol, which is why I made the reference. Imagine if everyone felt that way. My reference to religion is cuz I don't remember the verse in the Beatitudes that says "Blessed are the people who keep their back pockets closed." Instead, I remember the one that says "Blessed are the poor." The fact is that most poor people I know – definitely not all, but most – are willing to put in solid work for their next meal, if they can find work. Frankly, I've run across more MBAs who misuse our lovely economic system (and at a much higher cost) than poor people, but you don't see anyone photographing and fingerprinting them.

  38. Jesse says:

    Actually, the poverty rate has everything to do with it. Let's see… a bunch of people get cut off from the 1994 welfare act, the number of people on food stamps drops… and the poverty rate drops from ~15% to ~13%. There may not be direct causation, but I can see one heck of a strong correlation that if people don't have that reliable safety net anymore, they're going to do what it takes to make ends meet. In short, it gives people more incentive to work. How is that a bad thing again? I mean, we effectively dropped the percentage of people in poverty by 15% in a decade. I'd think that's good news and makes a strong case for getting the able-bodied off the welfare rolls.

    It's easy for you to lay the bureaucratic blame at the feet of a Republican Congress… except that the food stamps program is administered by the states and California is definitely Democratic. This says nothing of a Democratic president being the one to sign off on major reform either. Or can you find a way to explain that away as well? Playing the partisan card in this instance does not help your case.

    Yes, I don't like public assistance programs. My opposition is based on crunching the numbers and determining that, in the last four-plus decades, they have done nothing to cause a substantial decrease in poverty rates in the United States while growing at rates far outpacing the rates of inflation or participant growth. In that vein, I support making eligibility restricted only to those very few who truly cannot help themselves. Given that I already hate waste, why would it make sense for someone like me to want MORE bureaucratic nonsense to decrease participation while inflating administrative overhead? That makes no sense at all. Your accusation is without logic or merit. Period. 

    Can you cite where all of these supposed figures from the 1970's come from? I spent a good half hour combing through the list of reports from the Urban Institute and found nothing with data prior to late in the Reagan administration. The USDA has nothing prior to 1990. Since I've already found plenty of your other "facts" to be inaccurate, I'm not willing to take what you say at face value. (As an aside, I don't see how you're going to take the USDA figured to be more accurate than UC Berkeley. UC Berkeley is a notoriously liberal college and the USDA has an incentive to come up with "worst case" data to justify budget increases.)

    By the way, knock it off with the non-sequitur references to Pentagon spending. They have nothing to do with the discussion at hand and no relation to the issue of food stamps. I do not tolerate that kind of obvious logical fallacy.

  39. Vanessa says:

    I will be the first to admit that I am practically pagan so it really is interesting that I'm correcting someone who is using biblical quotes as a portion of their argument.  You say that the phrase you're thinking of is "blessed are the poor" but the full quotation of that Beatitude is "blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"  I really don't see how that is refering to someone being financially down on their luck, but rather someone who does not have an overwhelming sense of spirituality in their life.  But, I digress. This is a discussion regarding the feasability of survival on public assistance rather than some sort of seminary…  I've been in dire financial situations in my life, and so has my family.  When I was about 10 and my sister was 1, my parents were starting their own business. Things were very bad during that time. We were on food stamps and WIC for my sister. Granted, I was only 10 so I was not aware completely of how the budget was worked out and exactly how the shopping list was compiled, but I do remember that we never went hungry and that the family sat down for dinner together every evening. I had PB&J sandwiches in my lunch at times and so did my dad, but not for dinner every night. We wouldn't have been able to do that consistently – my mother is Type 1 diabetic.  What I do remember is that we purchased generic brands a lot – the old school type with the bright yellow labels with bold black print. I remember a lot of soups being made, and I implemented many of these things when I was first living on my own.  When I was 20 I moved from Sacramento CA to Boston MA – a much much much more expensive cost of living in 1996. I went to school there at Bunker Hill Communtiy College (you may recall – that was where Robin Williams' character taught in the movie "Good Will Hunting"). I worked full time at a call center and my take home pay each week was roughly $175 if I didnt work any overtime. Sounds decent for a college student, right? Not when my parents are not contributing to my college education or to my living expenses at all. Oh, but there are federal grants for education – not necessarily so for a 20 year old. At that age, the income of ones parents are still taken into consideration for any and all financial aid. So, I had to pay in full for my own tuition, books, rent ($400/month at that time), groceries, transportation ($50 monthly bus/subway pass), etc. Tuition in Boston at that time was something like $75 per unit – absolutely SHOCKING for someone from CA where the community college tuition at the time was about $11 per unit. Then, there were the books. You're an educated man, I presume, so you're aware of how much college textbooks cost. I didn't take out a single student loan during that time.  In my apartment, I was in charge of the meal planning for my roommate and I. A typical weeks dinner menu (it was a free for all for lunch) went like this:  Sunday -bake a whole chicken, serve with a green salad (translation – 1/2 a head of butter lettuce and 1 tomato) and a piece of toast Monday – cut off remaining meat from the chicken and make an asian inspired dish (some firm tofu and rice noodles with some soy sauce. if I had a little extra money, some peanuts and hopefully a little bit of peanut sauce — absolutely crammed full of protein and very low fat). An alternative to this would typically me to cook the chicken on the stovetop with some onions and make a sandwich, or turn it into some sort of casserole. While dining, start the process of making a chicken stock – throw the remaining chicken carcass in a stew pot with some water, salt & pepper, and let it boil down. Put that in the fridge overnight.  Tuesday – strain the bones out of the chicken stock you made the night before – there is still some meat in there at this point – leave that in the stock. Add in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, the "california medley" works well for this, a cup of rice, and you have a nice chicken & rice soup. Serve with the remaining 1/2 head of lettuce and tomato for a side salad, and a piece of toast.  Wednesday – there would usually be some of the chicken soup left over at this point, so I would thicken up the stock just a tiny bit with maybe 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, throw some bisquick on top and have chicken and dumplings. A bag of frozen spinach or broccoli or green beans was often a tasty, and healthy, addition for the side dish.  Thursday – spaghetti – tomato sauce is very cheap, and lean ground beef can be found on sale quite often. I would also do a chili instead of spaghetti quite often. Kidney beans are very affordable, especially dried. Serve with side salad of 1/2 a head of butter lettuce and 1 tomato.  Friday – often would be the leftover spaghetti or chili and the other 1/2 head of lettuce and a tomato for a side salad.  Saturday – this was honestly a variable. Sometimes it would be broiled chicken breasts with baked potatos and side salad, sometimes it would be a burger or some sort of bean soup (dried beans – very cheap and decent source of non-animal protein), and on the very rare occaisions that we were able to scrape together $5 each for cheap pizza delivery we would splurge and take advantage of the coupons/flyers left on our front door.  Also, I have an expensive habit – I smoke. At that time I'd say that 1 pack would last me roughly 2, MAYBE 3 days and cigarettes were $2.00 per pack at most – ahhh, the good old days.  It most definitely not easy to do all of this. I clipped every single coupon that I thought I MIGHT use before its expiration date and kept them filed in a series of business envelopes which I stole from work and I only did my grocery shopping on double coupon day. I would read the magazines of the women I worked with to get ideas for meal planning and household budgeting. I didnt buy a half dozen different cleaning products. I bought one – ammonia, it will clean darn near anything. I didnt take all of my clothing down to the laundromat where it was $0.75 per wash and the same for the dryer. If items weren't overly soiled, I would wash them in the bathroom sink with bar soap and let them hang dry in the shower. When I did take items to the laundromat, I would bring them back wet and let them dry in the shower as well to save money. I learned that Bisquick is fantastic. Not only does it make pancakes, but thin it out considerably and you have a crepe like creation, you can make biscuits, and as I mentioned before, you can make chicken and dumplings.  Was all of this the most healthy of diets? No, probably not. However, do you see a lot of refined sugar up there? No? Do you see extraordinarily high fat content? No? Do you see PB&J? No? Realy? Neither did I.  Do you see dinners where every meal has a protein and a vegetable and a carb (even if a simple carb rather than a complex one)?? Yes, yes you do. If I ever wanted a dessert I would have lowfat yogurt – generic store brand.  There was reasoning behind all of the choices I made – why butter lettuce instead of iceburg? It does cost a bit more, after all. Well, thats easy – it tastes better than iceburg and has more nutritional value. But what about the dressing poured all over it? Thats full of fat AND costly. It doesnt have to be – drizzle a tiny bit of oil (1/4 to 1/2 tsp, roughly) and splash with red wine vinegar. Its not only cheaper, its also healthier. At that time I used regular vegetable oil — I couldnt afford olive oil or balsamic vinegar.  But wait, certainly I had to drink something at some point. I must have loaded up on kool-aid, right? NOPE – I didnt buy sodas or any other sugary drinks – I drank water or iced tea (a box of store brand black tea is quite affordable) and in the morning I would have 1 cup of black coffee. Is that my favorite way to drink coffee? Heck no. My favorite was to go to Dunkin D
    onuts for a "Large Hazelnut, light and sweet" (thats large hazelnut flavored coffee with creamer and sugar for those of you unfamiliar with the east coast "coffee calls"). But, I needed my morning java and was on a budget.  It CAN be done in a healthy fashion – it just takes creativity, planning, resourcefulness, and some extra time and effort. 

  40. Vanessa says:

    Also, two of my good friends work for the welfare office in Sacramento County. You want to hear stories about the volumes of people who abuse the system and I could go on for days. 

  41. Shauna says:

    My reference to religion is cuz I don't remember the verse in the Beatitudes that says "Blessed are the people who keep their back pockets closed."

    Your presumptions about people should worry you. Just because Bill (my father) said that he would prefer to be able to decide for himself how generous he would like to be, when, and to whom, does not mean that he chooses to keep all his money to himself. In fact, my father is VERY generous with his money and would simply prefer to give the money to the churches or charities of his choice rather than allowing the government to be so careless and ridiculous with his contributions.

    Just because a person doesn't like how the welfare system is run, it doesn't mean they're selfish and greedy. Shame on you.

  42. Shauna says:

    And FURTHERMORE, I can imagine if everyone felt the way that my father does. I can tell you there would be a hell of a lot less poor people. Since you don't know him AT ALL, let me educate you a little bit about my father:

    1. He is the most hard working person I know and cares about providing for his family. While in college, with a small family, my dad worked 2 jobs ON TOP of going to school full time so that my mom could stay home and be with the children. He raised 5 children without my mom ever needing to work. And though I can remember not having everything I ever wanted, I know that we had everything we needed.
    2. He's smart with his money and lives on less than he earns whether he earns very little or a lot. He learned all this from HIS father who never paid a dime of interest in his life because he believed that if you didn't have the money for it, you couldn't buy it. He's worked hard to pass along this legacy (with limited success – stubborn children!).
    3. He believes that if a person has exhausted all their resources and still cannot make ends meet, it is the responsibility of the family members to help first. And he has shown tremendous generousity in taking care of family members. Not just children, but brothers and other family members including the family of his deceased brother. He's too modest to boast his generousity (which is why I'm stepping in) because he doesn't do any of it for recognition, but rather because of his immense sense of responsibility. He's also generous with his time, taking care of his mother's finances completely since his father passed away.
    4. When family cannot meet the needs, he believes that church and other community efforts may be necessary. He donates WELL beyond what is generally accepted as a minimum in our church because he knows that the funds will be handled properly and effectively. He let a member of his church/community move into his house for FREE because she was dying of cancer and living out of her car. She's been living there for well over a year, having recovered from cancer. To my knowledge, she still does not pay any rent. He donates a considerable amount of time to an old widow, fixing things around her house and attending to her needs.

    My dad never said that he'd like all the poor people to suffer. He said, he'd rather handle his money as he sees fit and not have it handed out for him. To answer your question, if everyone felt as my father does, people would help themselves. And when they can't help themselves, their families would help them. And when their families cannot help them, members of the community family would help. I wish everyone did feel as my father does.

  43. Dean Calbreath says:

    Jeff: You say my statistics wrong. In the above e-mails, I can't find where you've disproven any statistics. Instead, I see you misstating statistics, such as your previous insistence that the $1 per meal average was actually a minimum, when the minimum was closer to 3 cents. The congressional proposal would raise the 3-cent minimum to 9-cents. This is what you're spending so much time arguing against???? I'm happy that you back Berkeley because it's "notoriously liberal." I'm sorry, but that's not the standard that I use to judge data. I still think the USDA is more accurate, which – if you notice – has not been particularly eager during in the current administration to stuff the welfare budget. On the other hand, as you'll see below, even the Berkeley statistics back up what I said, since you're only quoting from one half of the relevant info. Specifically, you quote what they say about current participation rates, but not PAST participation rates. Before we get to that, I have to note you're 100 percent wrong (again) when you say the USDA has no participation stats from pre-Reagan. Take a look at page 20 of the House Ways and Means Committee report on food stamps from 2003, found at the following address: http://waysandmeans.house.gov/media/pdf/greenbook2003/FOODSTAMPS.pdf You will see that the participation rate was 65 percent in 1975 and 65.6 percent in 1980. In only one year between 1975 and 1997 did it drop below 60 percent. For several years it was above 70 percent This data is based on information collected by the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA, which you say was not collecting participation rate data prior to the Reagan administration. Wow! I wonder how they came up with these stats! The Ways and Means report wasn't the only place I found these stats, by the way. It was just the first place, after a five-minute Google search. I'm surprised you didn't uncover them during your exhaustive search. Should I question your commitment to the facts? No. That would be rude. Easy, but rude. If you're really interested in more info on food stamp data, which is not made up (such as your assertion about the lack of data), the Economic Research Service of the USDA has a nifty Web site chock full of data on food stamps. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/FoodStamps/ Even if you accept the Berkeley measurement that you're fond of, 57 percent is well below the national average. But the fact is that Berkeley estimates that during the last years of the Clinton administration, the participation rate was at 80 PERCENT (instead of the USDA's , so they too agree that there has been a sharp drop. I notice that you don't cite that figure, which reflects a drop of 29 percent drop in participation (23 percentage points divided by 80), which suggests that nearly one out of three eligible and previously participating food stamp participants were squeezed off the rolls during the Bush years. The reason I bring up the Pentagon cost is that for some reason, people spend a lot of time complaining about spending $4 billion a year feeding the poor but don't say a word about $4 billion in four days on armaments. (Not enough of that goes to feed, clothe and house miiitary personnel, many of whom rely on the food stamps that you think are so generous). To me, that reflects some skewed priorities. But I'm happy that you're satisfied with them. And there's still not a connection between the poverty rate and the participation rate. The participation rate is a percentage of the poverty rate – not the general population – so it should remain constant, regardless of whether the poverty rate raises or lowers. In other words, let's say that there's 100 people living below poverty and 80 of them are on food stamps (as was true during the final years of the Clinton administration, according to Berkeley). Let's say 20 of them got out of poverty. There are now 80 people below the poverty rate. All things being equal. Naturally, it's probable that some food stamp recipients got out of poverty too, or otherwise the participation rate would be 100 percent – 80 out of 80. Instead, you would more likely expect that a proportionate number of food stamp recipients got out of poverty, so that maybe around 64 peoople would remain on food stamps, resulting in an 80 percent participation rate. Instead, according to the Berkeley study, we've had a reduction in the poverty rate (for the sake of argument it's moved from 100 to 80) but we've had a sharper reduction in the food stamp participation rate. Instead of 64 users, there are 46 users (57 percent of 80). Hope that math wasn't too elemental for you, but that's how I read the Berkeley stats. Dean

  44. Jesse says:
    1. My name's not Jeff. It's Jesse. If you're going to argue with me for a week and a half, bother to learn my name.
    2. Paragraphs are your friend. I'd think a journalist would understand that principle. It's hard to read responses with no separator between thoughts.
    3. One more blatant ad hominem out of you and you're gone. Period. This is my playground and you play by my rules, capiche? Insulting my father-in-law's generosity was strike one. Insulting my ability to do Google searches is strike two. (I'm a freaking computer nerd with a stack of certifications. I'm not a technological idiot.) No strike threes.
    4. I already proved you dead wrong on the costs of food items using the week's circulars AND proved you manipulating the numbers when it came to nutritional information. (A 1 lb. serving? C'mon.) And now… another lie. You stated that the per-meal minimum is $0.03 per meal… but above you stated that the minimum is $10 per week or $0.48 per meal. Which is it? This is three instances where you've cooked numbers in a very obvious fashion. Why should I trust your numbers without linked sources?
    5. Citing that Berkeley is a "liberal campus" was to remove any doubt of bias in the other direction. Third-party review is very valuable and I'm more inclined to believe someone without a dog in the fight. Always pick the source with the least chance of bias.
    6. I never said that the USDA had no pre-Reagan participation rates. I said they're hard to come by on their food stamps website and doing additional searches there yielded nothing. (I know, silly idea to think that food stamp data would be on the food stamp website. Yeesh!)
    7. Looking at the report you linked (thanks for that; Google sometimes isn't all it's cracked up to be), the purpose of the food stamp program is stated right on the front page: to "make up the difference between the household's expected contribution to its
      food costs and an amount judged to be sufficient to buy an adequate low-cost diet." Do you contend that the program doesn't do that? Or does it just not do that to your satisfaction?
    8. The participation rates on p. 20 do not indicate what percentage of those eligible are participating. Since this data doesn't take ineligibility into account (either via income/assets, citizenship, etc.), the numbers don't mean a whole lot, now do they?
    9. The report also notes that participation dropped as a result of the strong economy of the late 90s and only increased slightly as a result of the recession in 2001-2002 (which, in case you didn't notice, we're pretty well out of).
    10. The report also fails to indicate what impact private charities have on those normally eligible for food stamps, a very important factor. You can't count someone with an adequate food supply from food banks, churches and other charities as being "unserved". Without that data, you're acting on an incomplete picture and making assumptions that private citizens do nothing to help others. Are you that jaded about the American public?
    11. Again with the non sequitur. Have I once stated anywhere on this blog how I feel about defense spending, foreign military policy or anything even remotely related to either? (The answer you're looking for is "no".) You're more than happy to presume that I fit the archetype you've concocted in your mind and make assumptions. The truth is that you don't know a thing about my position on the matter and even if you did, you're engaging in a classic bandwagon fallacy. You presume that because the same groups of people generally tend to oppose public assistance and support defense spending that I'm somehow a part of that group. (By the way, you're wrong; I'm an isolationist and I don't believe in foreign military bases, war without an official declaration from Congress or the validity of the War Powers Act as an instrument for, er, "confrontation" or whatever they call it. Lump me in with Ron Paul more than George Bush.) Stop bringing up things that have nothing to do with the point at hand, okay?
    12. When it comes to declining participation rates, a UCLA study shows that the decline in participation is pegged to low unemployment and changes in how TANF pays benefits. That's not inconceivable that a family that's got food on the table wouldn't apply for food stamps even if they are eligible. Given the strong economy of the late 90's and of the last several years, it's no wonder participation rates have dropped as low as they have. If you're eligible for food stamps but don't need them, why bother applying?
  45. Jason says:

    I'll have to agree with Shauna in the fact that I too lived in California.  I find it shameful that house prices are as expensive as they are, and for what reason? "Because it's California" is the reason everyone tells me. I lived in California for a short time as well, and frankly I DON'T ACCEPT that as an answer to what I refer to as "real estate rape." So I did what Shauna did. I MOVED. I now live in a 2000 sq foot home just east of Mesa, AZ with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and 2 stories. The value on my home: $210,000.  That same home in Victorville, CA (which mind you is a town in the middle of NOTHING) is $480,000.  So if housing costs are an issue and are the reason why you can't afford food, THAT is what you need to fight about, not the cost of food, or even the system that helps those without pay for food. It makes no sense that people are moving OUT of California by the THOUSANDS, and yet prices of homes are going UP.  But the people of California just accept their position (which is bent over) when it comes to these outrageous prices.  

  46. Jason says:

    Also, as someone from rural Georgia, with parents bringing up roughly $120 a week from their jobs at the local cotton factory, I know what poverty is like. Did we ever starve? Nope. Why? Good planning. I can make a meal for 6 for $4. A full on, overportioned meal at that. And I use those values daily. 

  47. Bill says:

    to Dean about #13— Having spent 2 years living on $90 total per month in London England, not having a car, sharing a kitchen with 2 other families, a toilet with 3 other families, a tub with 9 other families and having a portable heater that was moved from room to room, I find it interesting that you feel the only problem is that some of us need to be educated with your real world experience and we will come around to your thinking. I want you to know that I did this willingly and it was not a burden and that I didn't starve. I have also seen real poverty in St. Petersberg (not Florida), Jamaica, Mexico City, and many world centers. The US is not quite up to speed with the Europeans yet, in poor sense of entitlement, but we are definitely headed that direction. It needs to stop. I am in favor of teaching people to fish and in helping out temporarily while need exists during the process. I am in favor of coming down like a ton of bricks on dead beat dads while helping out permanently if necessary those with circumstances (illness & death in family) beyond their control I see the problem as much larger than just spending piles of money on a problem. I see the biggest problem as sense of entitlement that allows our culture to justify a lot of other ills such as theft when their needs, (as they have determined them) are not met. I see that the sense of value of property and the cost to earn it, declining with the end product being damage to schools, graffitti, and other destructive practices(not always by the poor, but sometimes by spoiled little rich kids) to be another. I realize that my education is not the same as yours but you do yourself a great injustice when you think it inferior and that I just need to understand the "real" world in which we live to become a convert  

  48. Bill says:

    Jesse, I did put paragaphs in and the program took them out. IT"S NOT MY FAULT  LOL

  49. Dean Calbreath says:

    Jesse: First, sorry I called you Jeff. Won't happen again. Second, sorry my paragraphs aren't separating on your screen. They separate when I type them into your message box, but then when they appear on your screen they run all together. If you've got any suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them. I'm using the standard "enter" key on my keyboard to make paragraphs. Third, sorry for the criticism of your Google skills. It only came after you accused me of making stuff up – stuff that I found after five minutes on Google. I don't make stuff up. You can quibble with my interpretation of the facts, but I don't make stuff up and I was little heated when I was responding to what you'd said. Similarly, when you say that "as a journalist" I should know the value of paragraphs, believe me I do. Since you want me to avoid ad hominem attacks, I'm going to refrain from sarcasm. But let's both try, okay? I know this is your site, and I'll respect the rules you set, but let's both do it, okay? Fourth, you're misquoting me. I never said that the minimum was "$10 a week." I never said that the price per meal was 48 cents. I don't know where you got that. I don't know how you could have possibly gotten that from anything I wrote. Please do a search of what I've written. The minimum is $10 per month, not per week. What I did say, in No. 28, is "$10 a month, or $2.50 a week, or 35 cents per meal." When I was writing that, I slipped a decimal point in my calculations. In a 30 day month, there are 90 meals, so the average per meal is closer to 3 cents per meal (I slipped a digit and rounded up to 35 cents instead of 3.5 cents) Fifth, you point out – as you've repeatedly pointed out before – that if somebody's getting that minimum $10 payment, they obviously have some other income as well, and then you ask if I agree. I have repeatedly agreed with you on this. I don't know why you ask. And yes, my problem with the $10 per month payment is that it has been frozen sinxe the 1970s without keeping up with inflation, so that the families who are receiving the bare minimum are getting 85 percent less money in real terms than they would have in the 1970s. A $30 minimum, or 9 cents per meal, doesn't seem an unreasonable alternative to 3 cents a meal. I don't know why you think it does. Sixth, you say "The participation rates on p. 20 do not indicate what percentage of those eligible are participating." But the fact is that that's exactly what they do show.When it says "percent of poor population" the "poor population" that it's referencing refers to the people who are eligible for food stamps. Seventh, the Albertson's shopping list didn't disprove what I said. I was talking about the affordability of lean meat and high-protein foods and you responded with a price list of high-fat, high-sugar and bony foods. When you show me a price list of equally affordable lean meats, I'll concede the point. I still don't buy rum roast as lean. Yes, the 102 percent fat did refer to a full pound. I never said it didn't. But as I look at recipes involving servings of rump roast (not by the pound), I find that even after the visible fat has been skimmed and discarded, the fat per serving still comes to 39 grams, compared to 31 grams of protein. That's based on a pretty basic recipe, but it's indicative that this isn't exactly a healthy cut. Eighth, you're still not getting the concept of the participation rate. It's based on the poor population, not the general population. So when the poor population declined in the late 1990s, that shouldn't – in and of itself – cause a decline in the participation rate for food stamps. Please read the literature, whether from the USDA or Berkeley, because you're misunderstanding the participation rate. (I don't mean that as an ad hominem attack, but you're combining apples with oranges.) Ninth, the reason I mentioned the military in the first place is as an example of why a $4 billion annual add to a program is a relatively small number in the federal budget. You said it wasn't small. I said it was the equivalent of 4 days of Pentagon spending. It's not a non-sequitur. It's to show how big the government is and that in the grand scheme of things, the food stamp program is a pretty small element. And an argument that people should get a minimum of 3.5 cents per meal instaed of 9 or 10 cents because otherwise we'd be spending too much out of them seems out-of-touch with the budgetary realities.

  50. Dean Calbreath says:

    After rereading what I just wrote, I realize that I made a mathematics mistake again. Please forgive me. I'm not that good at math – "that's why I'm a journalist," as the saying goes – but this is my mistake made by my misuse of the calculator, and not something I'm "making up" out of a government report. When you divide 90 meals into $10, that's 11 cents per meal, not 3.5 cents or 35 cents. (I don't know how I got those figures, which I plugged into the calculator last week.) The Congressional proposal to raise the minimum to $30 per month would result in a 33 cent per meal subsidy instead of 11 cents. Like I've said, that still lags far behind the past 30 years of inflation. And even though my initial figures were off (and I have to admit I'm embarrassed by that) I still think it's hard to fault the notion of raising the 11 cent per meal subsidy to 33 cents. Unless anybody else divides 90 into $10 and comes up with a different number, please accept this as my final calculation. I imagine you'll want to be making fun of this, but at least I found the error and fixed it.

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